The White House unveiled a new interactive broadband mapping tool Thursday showing the majority of rural America is in need of access to high-speed internet above 25 megabits per second download speeds and 3 megabits per second upload speeds.

The tool was developed by the White House in partnership with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Department of Commerce.

The color-coded map (shown above) indicates areas in "need" (red), "no need identified" (green), and "no data available" (gray). where broadband is lacking, The map is intended to show where people are online at slow speeds and where large percentages of people lack an internet-connected device.

Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said that for the first time, it puts on a map data from public and private sources including the Census Bureau and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as nonprofit and commercial organizations. 

“For example, you can compare where providers have told the FCC about where they do and don’t provide service with actual speed test data from third parties like Microsoft and Ookla,” he told reporters. “That data shows what speeds people are actually receiving.”

He said the map also puts poverty and lack of broadband access on the same page as well.

The map comes as President Joe Biden negotiates with Republicans on an infrastructure bill, in which he initially proposed including $100 billion for broadband infrastructure investments, but has recently indicated he would accept less, according to Reuters.

Rural broadband advocates welcomed the new resource tool.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association said it has been difficult to determine precisely where consumers lack access to broadband for far too long, noting it has frustrated policymakers, service providers, and consumers.

“Today’s announcement of a new tool gathering certain indicators of potential broadband need provides another means of flagging where access issues may exist in advance of the FCC finalizing work on a more authoritative broadband availability map as directed by last year’s Broadband DATA Act,” she said in a statement to Agri-Pulse.  

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Updating the national broadband map at the FCC has been a contentious topic for the last several years, and Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the commission continues to work on fixing it.

In February, she launched a broadband task force to improve broadband data and maps. But task force chair Jean Kiddoo said updating the maps and data would likely take until next year.

Ramamurti noted the map does not replace FCC’s national broadband coverage map and actions to update it.

The COVID-19 pandemic this past year tested network capability and clearly showed lack of high-speed internet in rural areas hampered the ability to conduct classes, run small businesses, or practice telemedicine.

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