It's been over a year and a half since we last reviewed President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to direct the Federal Communications Commission to provide an accurate map of broadband availability. In January 2009, we rated the promise In the Works, since the stimulus bill that Congress was considering at the time included a proposal for a "comprehensive, nationwide broadband inventory map." Obama signed the stimulus into law on Feb. 17, 2010, so we wanted to see how things have unfolded since then.
It turns out that the FCC voted to change the standards for how broadband access is measured back in March 2008. Before then, 200 kilobits per second was considered "high speed." Following the vote, the low end for "basic broadband" is 768 Kbps. The FCC also now requires Internet service providers to report both the data upload and download speeds and the number of subscribers, among other detailed metrics.
So that part of the promise happened before Obama took office, which means our rating focuses solely on the promise to create a broadband map.
That part of the promise is well under way. The stimulus bill appropriated $350 million for the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Department of Commerce. As of March 5, 2010, the NTIA has awarded 54 grants, totaling around $102 million.
The money that comes from the grants will be used for broadband data collection and mapping activities. "Awardees will collect and verify the availability, speed, and location of broadband across the state. This activity is to be conducted on a semi-annual basis in the next two years, with the data to be presented in a clear and accessible format to the public, government, and the research community," according to the NTIA. Ultimately, the government plans to compile all of the state-level data to create and publish a national map of broadband availability by Feb. 17, 2011.
Critics of the program charge that it's too expensive and that the federal government is already distributing grants for broadband expansion projects, despite the map not being scheduled for release until early next year. Still, President Obama promised to direct the creation of a broadband availability map under new standards. Our research shows that the project is well under way. We rate this Promise Kept.