NTIA's new broadband map ruffles feathers at NCTA

NCTA – The Internet and Television Association accused the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of muddying the waters around broadband availability following the release of a new interactive map which combines public and private data about internet access.

The NTIA's new tool is focused on fixed broadband service and allows users to zoom in to the county and census tract levels to view coverage statistics. There, they can toggle on or off different layers of information illustrating speed test results, which areas fall below the federal broadband benchmark of 25 Mbps downlink and 3 Mbps uplink, and where high-poverty and tribal communities are located.

Data was pulled from U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), M-Lab, Ookla and Microsoft. An NTIA representative told Fierce the agency has been working to update its National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) in cooperation with the FCC since 2018, adding the new interactive map evolved from that effort. Work on the interactive version “began early in the Biden Administration.” There are currently no plans to create a similar map of wireless service, the representative added.

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“Any effort to close the digital divide starts with solid data,” Acting NTIA Administrator Evelyn Remaley said in a statement. “Now, the public can benefit from our platform to see which areas of the country still don’t have broadband at speeds needed to participate in the modern economy.”

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a statement the map was a “welcome new tool that provides valuable insight into the state of broadband across the country.”

However, not everyone cheerfully greeted the map’s release. A representative for NCTA – The Internet and Television Association told Fierce it has “long supported federal efforts to create a reliable, accurate broadband map” but said the NTIA “has obscured, rather than clarified, the true state of broadband with this mashup of disparate, and often inaccurate, data sources.”

NCTA particularly took issue with the inclusion of data from M-Lab and Microsoft, claiming their representations of available speeds were inaccurate.

Microsoft could not be reached for comment.

M-Lab director Lai Yi Ohlsen told Fierce in a statement "M-Lab's NDT test, Microsoft and Ookla all use different measurement methodologies, which means the data we provide all answer different questions. From our perspective, having all three of them available, alongside the federal data, is hugely beneficial because you can compare and contrast their signals and use all three as indicators. In terms of questioning whether or not data is 'true' or 'false', I'd encourage a more nuanced approach, asking instead what each methodology attempts to measure and what the characteristics of their data can and cannot tell us."


This story has been updated to include a comment from M-Lab.