Is There Hope for Broadband Maps That Suck?

Recently I’ve sat in a couple of gatherings of local government IT, economic development and other department managers who are planning broadband strategy for their respective towns or regions. One theme pops up frequently, and it’s about those broadband maps.

Connected Nation recently announced an upgrade to their mapping application that’s being used in S. Carolina. There’s another story, though. One state resident saw on the map that his home had AT&T DSL service. But when Joe Roget called the company, “They said they had no idea what I was talking about and that whatever map data I was looking at was totally wrong,” Roget reports to Stop the Cap! “The operator was frank with me, saying it was highly unlikely I would ever receive DSL from AT&T and the company was really not expanding DSL access any longer.”

Joe isn’t alone. I spend a lot of time at conferences, in meetings and on the phone with stakeholders from a variety of rural and urban communities across the country. Read a lot of articles about this map issue too. I’m convinced this problem exists in more places than the powers that be let on.

Millions of dollars and one National Broadband Plan later, the average county, city and town has trouble finding a broadband map they can trust to help them make informed broadband decisions. Communities can’t pursue certain broadband grants because the maps that granting agencies demand show (ERRONEOUSLY) these areas to be covered by broadband. Why? Because, it seems, a lot of these maps are plagued with inaccuracies. This should not surprise anyone. Luckily, at least one solution to this farce is coming into play.

Broadband planning suffers in states saddled with Connected Nation (a front group for big telcos), or in other states that created maps based almost exclusively on carrier-provided data. It is not in incumbents’ best interest to provide accurate data, so they don’t. Some smaller ISPs don’t provide data for these maps, probably because they don’t trust Connected Nation to prevent big carriers from peeking at competitors’ data. And unless their practice has changed, Connected Nation protects their telco patrons with NDAs that prevent some incumbent data from being presented to the general public.

Communities in California complain that maps include mostly residential data and not data for businesses. You can’t tie broadband strategy to improving the local economy when your maps don’t include businesses.

What tops the list in terms of making these maps fairly useless is the fact that they present advertised speeds, or speeds incumbents hope they’ll deliver – some day. Maybe. Big carriers and ISPs advertise speeds from some marketing fantasy book that the typical subscriber will rarely experience unless they’re the only using the network (only slight exaggeration). No amount of cosmetic UI upgrade will un-taint this data.

What if we get broadband data without asking incumbents?

Those of you who read my blogs and columns know I don’t do tech reviews in either. Usually. But once every few years I get amped on a product. In the case of broadband maps, I’m particularly incensed at the problems that plague what should have been the shining star of the broadband stimulus program. So I’ve partnered with ID Insight to provide data analysis and economic development planning services as needed by customers of their new product that uses independently-acquired broadband data to tackle the plague.

ID Insight created Broadband Scout for Business to address the deficiencies described above. Their data DOES NOT come from incumbents. It’s powered by the company’s national database of nearly a billion  transactions pull directly from Internet (e.g. purchases, sign-ups for Web sites and content, completed online surveys). Scout enables public, private and nonprofit organizations, economic development agencies and broadband project teams to:

  • sort data by county, city, census tract or zip code
  • sort data by businesses, anchor institutions and/or residential users
  • sort data by carrier or service provider, and by type of connection (wired, wireless, dial up, satellite)
  • include small providers you won’t even find on other maps
  • determine actual speeds of Internet services that users receive
  • determine which areas are served (and to what level), unserved and underserved

Because ID Insight collects data for Broadband Scout independently of carriers and ISPs, economic development agencies and other subscribers can:

For Planning Projects

  • determine real versus advertised broadband speeds;
  • use mapping software to create maps that accurately reflect true broadband coverage – or lack thereof
  • pursue grants and other funding with greater efficiency and success
  • take an accurate measure of broadband speeds that businesses are receiving
  • develop more effective economic development strategy

For Marketing/Broadband Adoption Programs

  • create marketing and broadband adoption campaigns with targeted messages that increase subscribers
  • better serve and subsequently maximize anchor institutions to drive community-wide broadband adoption
  • measure the effectiveness of broadband adoption efforts
  • analyze success of infrastructure projects and monitor progress of these projects

ID Insight is selling two packages: one consists of data for business and anchor institutions, and the second is just data for residential users. Pricing starts at $2,500. After a discussion to refine the scope of your need, ID Insight presents a letter of understanding so everyone is in agreement as to deliverables.

Go to the Broadband Scout Web site for more details:

5 Responses

  1. How does ID Insight (Broadband Scout) differ from Samknows? And what is the pricing? Have you or anyone at ID approached NRECA to take this to all their coop members to in turn distribute a meter to their customers/members (42m premises)? Would be a huge unbiased sample, no?

    • Unless the FCC made some major change to the SamKnows application, the main difference is that SamKnows consists of 10,000 devices placed on home computers around the US to create a system similar to the Nielsen ratings. Aggregated data from all the devices is extrapolated to create an estimate of coverage and quality of service throughout the US. These devices don’t go into businesses, so there’s no representation from this segment in whatever it is Sam thinks it Knows.

      With Scout, they’re using data from nearly a billion transactions. While the data is still extrapolated since not every single household is accounted for, there are many more data points per county or town than what SamKnows is capable of providing.

      Pricing is being revised as ID Insight finishes a portal-subscription model. And the company has no devices or meters to distribute. However, they and I are formulating a plan for local telcos and co-ops.

  2. All this “2nd order” market research is inherently inaccurate and grossly imprecise. We’re taking the approach of actually sending a questionnaire to everyone in our county to get high-quality results.

    The other day, I left a few questionnaires after a public meeting, someone took it home, copied it and passed it out. It went (locally) viral, and I got 166 specific responses from people who gave me their names, phone numbers, eMail addresses and info about the service they have (or need).

    That’s called “PRIMARY market research.” We’re now planning to send that to every address in the County. I expect about a 35-40% response from people who have some service, and 80-90% from those who don’t have any service available. We WILL define the “bright line” between the served and unserved, so we know where to go first.

    –Carol Anne

    • how exactly does someone determine and submit their broadband speeds in one of your questionnaires?

      • Robert

        My firm initiated a plan one year ago in conjunction with a Northeastern Ohio municipality to query and document the following information for commercial purposes only: address, suite; telco or cableco provided; switched or dedicated; Vendor and Products/Services, and speed (as promised for switched services). I’m happy to talk to anyone about the results to date,

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