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State Internet Access Mapping Projects & Programs

One of the biggest issues facing broadband deployment in the US is lack of decent data on the subject.

As a result, broadband maps tend to paint a rosy picture of internet access in the US, showing rural areas as moderately served and cities as 100% “covered.” 1

Meanwhile, US taxpayers still struggle to access affordable internet — just look to San Francisco’s digital divide, where as many as one in eight local residents cannot access or afford basic broadband service. Los Angeles and other major cities have similar issues, while rural state residents are stuck choosing between satellite internet and DSL.

State broadband mapping projects have recently become more popular as a more manageable alternative for states looking to see what areas actually do and don’t have internet service, and how regulatory bodies can appropriately remedy the situation at the state or municipal level.

In the 2020s, state-led programs are producing the most accurate broadband maps in the US market, including address-level and pricing data that is notably absent from federal maps maintained by the FCC. These maps are essential, as they provide data that can accurately determine where to spend government funds, where to encourage new providers to enter the market, and other solutions to delayed broadband deployment.

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California State Broadband Mapping Project

  • Type: government program, CPUC
  • Data: Census-block level data submitted directly by providers, including mobile providers, and census data

In addition to participating in the NTIA’s national broadband mapping initiative, California maintains a state broadband map based on data submitted to the state in similar format to the FCC Form 477 data.

While the FCC’s map is intended for general use for residents selecting services, the map lends itself better to researchers (like most government-maintained maps) with a complex desktop-only design and a wide variety of filtering options based on layering census data.

Census blocks are used as the most granular reporting level for the California maps since it matches cleanly to census data, which is the primary layering option available within the California maps.

Wisconsin State Broadband Mapping Project

  • Type: government program, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin
  • Data: FCC Form 477, provider submissions, State grant program data

Wisconsin’s state broadband map is unique in its focus on pricing as a barrier to entry for low-income populations. While other maps focus on coverage data and “availability,” Wisconsin’s default view is by price of service and access to low-income subsidy programs.

The project is run by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), the state regulatory body for utilities including telecoms in Wisconsin.

Mapping of consumer broadband discount and subsidy programs at state level through their internet plan finder tool.

Major providers like CenturyLink are already participating and reporting directly to the PSC.

North Carolina State Broadband Mapping Project

  • Type: Government Program, North Carolina Dept. of Information Technology
  • Data: FCC Form 477, subscription rate data, Census data

North Carolina’s broadband mapping projects are unique in that they use “layering” to accept that the underlying coverage data is flawed, and instead focus on what the larger problems are at the county level. For example, if adoption rates are low in an area with strong infrastructure but low median incomes, mapping can illustrate where the barrier to access may be pricing and public assistance programs, vs market competition or wiring on poles.

West Virginia State Broadband Mapping Project

  • Type: Government Program, North Carolina Dept. of Information Technology
  • Data sources: FCC Form 477, speed test data, FCC auction funding data

West Virginia’s state broadband map is unique in that it leans into speed test data as a layer for assessing which blocks are reported accurately, and which are over-reported in FCC’s Form 477 data.

Georgia State Broadband Mapping Project

  • Type: Government Program, Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative
  • Data sources: direct reporting from broadband providers, address-level

Georgia has developed what may be the most accurate broadband map in the US, and one that clearly shows the blind spots of census-block reporting used by the FCC currently. In fact, they’ve published a map that puts their data side-by-side with the FCC Form 477, so you can see exactly how large the disparity is in rural areas.

The project involves a large amount of direct address reporting by broadband providers in the state. It is the first state broadband map in the US to use address-level data to paint an accurate picture of broadband deployment. The primary limitation of this map is the lack of layering for price and subscription data, the latter being privately held by providers for competitive purposes.

Other Broadband Mapping Projects

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) partnered with eight states in 2019 to form data-sharing agreements which will improve the national broadband map under development by the NTIA as an alternative to the FCC maps. 2

States selected for this project are: California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia

Historical state broadband mapping projects

The nonprofit group Connected Nation ran a number of state-level broadband mapping projects in circa 2000–2010 for states including Illinois, West Virginia, and Colorado. These projects are now largely defunct, as most funding has moved to projects spearheaded by state regulatory bodies.

In the past, state broadband mapping projects were commonly run by grassroots groups or independent non-profits (who often had ties to the industry through their boards, which critics argue led to wasted government funds on groups unwilling to go against the direct interested of incumbent providers).

Broadband mapping projects are essential for economic development at the state level, as the federal government has again and again failed to update national maps to a standard that’s acceptable for communities trapped on the other side of the digital divide.

This is especially damaging for communities that are marked “served” by the FCC’s flawed Form 477 data collection process, resulting in unwired communities being unable to access much-needed infrastructure funding (or worse, doling out millions in taxpayer money to incumbent providers looking to offset maintenance of outdated DSL network areas). Even when private companies attempt to enter markets, they often struggle to do so without some form of government assistance — as seen in Google Fiber’s paused rollout in California.

This page is based on a database of state broadband mapping programs maintained by ConnectCalifornia. The last modification was made in January of January.

Page Summary
  • FCC broadband data over-reports provider coverage by almost 100% in California, according to estimates by Microsoft and other consumer groups.
  • State mapping projects are the only maps that currently drill to the address level or consider price as a factor for availability.
  • Private industry maps are virtually always privatized, or if public, based on shallow re-purposing of the flawed FCC Form 477 data and published for PR purposes.

Jameson Zimmer
Broadband Market Analyst
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Last Update: January 06, 2023
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