Exclusive: White House debuts new maps showing broadband vacuum

·3 min read

The Biden administration Thursday unveiled a new mapping tool that shows much greater gaps in use of high-speed internet service across the U.S. than the government's previous maps reported.

Why it matters: The White House is pushing for big spending to provide more, better broadband service to underserved areas after the pandemic made Americans more dependent than ever on their internet connections.

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

  • The new, zoomable map draws on a wider pool of data than existing maps by the Federal Communications Commission, which relied exclusively on industry-provided data that overstated broadband penetration.

Driving the news: The map raises questions about the gap between internet availability and actual usage, with usage reports indicating wide swaths of the country are not making a home broadband connection.

  • The new "Indicators of Broadband Need" map, developed by the White House and the telecommunications branch of the Commerce Department, pulls together different data sets from Ookla, M-Lab, Microsoft, the Federal Communications Commission and the Census Bureau.

  • The overlapping data points are meant to paint a picture of the areas that need more, better broadband. The map also includes data on places that reported a lack of connection by computer, smartphone or tablet and information on broadband usage in high-poverty communities.

"What it tells you is there's a lot of places in the United States that aren't using the internet at broadband speeds," a White House official told Axios, estimating that means tens of millions of people.

The big picture: The Biden administration originally proposed a $100 billion investment in broadband as part of the American Jobs Plan infrastructure package.

  • “As we release this important data to the public, it paints a sobering view of the challenges facing far too many Americans as they try to connect to high-speed broadband and participate in our modern economy,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

The intrigue: The map shows the gulf between the data set the FCC has used to map broadband availability and where Americans actually report using the internet.

  • The FCC relies on data supplied by internet service providers about where they could offer service.

  • Companies can report that a census block is served even if only one household has internet service — which leads to maps that overstates access.

  • "There's a large gap between what the carriers are saying is on offer to be used and what's actually being used," the White House official told Axios.

Yes, but: Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a broadband mapping task force earlier this year to improve the agency's data collection and mapping tools.

  • The FCC uses its maps to allocate billions of dollars of subsidies for broadband deployment.

  • The administration effort is not meant to replace those maps or guide broadband funding grants, the White House says.

What they're saying: "To ensure that every household has the internet access necessary for success in the digital age, we need better ways to accurately measure where high-speed service has reached Americans and where it has not,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.

  • The new map project is "a welcome new tool that provides valuable insight into the state of broadband across the country," she said.

Like this article? Get more from Axios and subscribe to Axios Markets for free.