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Study: National Broadband Map Doesn’t Include All Carriers or Coverage

Private-sector study suggests that not all Internet service providers are included on the federal government’s National Broadband Map.

Are there inaccuracies and omissions in the National Broadband Map? The question has been debated since February when the federal government made the map public.

The chatter continues. A new study this month from a fraud detection firm asserts that, based on consumer Internet transactions, the federal government’s map doesn’t include data on all Internet carriers and their coverage areas.

ID Insight, an organization that detects and prevents identity fraud, compared data in the National Broadband Map with data collected by its own organization’s database of national broadband availability, called Broadband Scout. The findings were published in a white paper called Verification Analysis of the National Broadband Map: Spotlight on Arizona.

“It’s not to say that the effort of the National Broadband Map isn’t valid,” said Adam Elliott, ID Insight's president. “Everybody at the state level and at the national level will agree and acknowledge that, ‘Hey, this is the first step.’ It’s a great start, but we know there are holes in it.”

Released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with help from the FCC, the National Broadband Map allows users to view broadband availability across the U.S.’ 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia. The map is slated to be updated once every six months.

To develop the map, the NTIA gathered data from each state and territory, which compiled individually a list of Internet service providers serving in each respective state or territory.

ID Insight collected its data through Broadband Scout by gathering and analyzing more than half a billion Internet transactions made nationwide. To perform the study, ID Insight used all Broadband Scout data gathered in 2010, according to the white paper.

When the NTIA collected data for the broadband map, some states only reported back on carriers that provided data, but didn’t report on carriers that failed to provide data, making the findings incomplete and inaccurate, according to the white paper.

For example, according to ID Insights, the National Broadband Map listed Arizona with a total of 53 carriers but only 39 of those carriers provided data for the national map — giving the state a 74 percent participation rate. Of those 53 carriers, Broadband Scout reported data on 48 of those 53 carriers found in the National Broadband Map.

Broadband Scout identified 16 more Internet service carriers in Arizona that weren’t reported at all on the National Broadband Map. Overall, Scout reported 64 carriers in Arizona whereas the state only provided data on 39 carriers.

The differences might be attributable to how the data was organized and classified. A person with knowledge of the National Broadband Map said ID Insight’s study aggregated data by census block group, a larger unit of area than the census blocks that were utilized in the National Broadband Map. ID Insights might also have included dial-up providers in its analysis, the person said.

The NTIA said in a prepared statement that it will continue to work to make the data as accurate as possible and encourages users to provide feedback to the map’s built-in crowdsourcing function so the agency can continue to improve that map’s accuracy.

“The National Broadband Map includes speed test data and various crowdsourcing tools,” the NTIA said in the statement. “We hope to continually improve the dataset by incorporating feedback from the public about their own experiences and individual records.”

The FCC wasn’t available for comment.

This isn’t the first time the map’s accuracy has been questioned. Government Technology reported that when the map was released earlier this year, a Nevada Telecommunications Association official said the broadband map didn’t accurately reflect broadband coverage in the state.

Update: An NTIA spokesperson added Wednesday, June 8, that the agency believes the National Broadband Map is the most accurate depiction of broadband available in the U.S., relying on more than 25 million data points. The data from the Nastional Broadband Map and ID Insights match 95 percent of the time, the spokesperson, said.


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
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