The Most Revealing Broadband Adoption Maps We've Ever Seen

In the era of Google Fiber, there's more reason than ever to confront America's digital divide.

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Media Outlet: CityLab

San Antonio is one city on the list announced last week for potential expansion by Google Fiber, the newest entrant into the broadband market that has the potential of bridging these digital divides. In total, Google is in talks with 34 cities in nine metropolitan areas, in a bid to expand its industry-leading broadband speeds beyond Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, Utah.

The prospect of more Google Fiber – even if we're still just talking about a sliver of the national market – has implications for digital inclusion for two reasons. As broadband increasingly looks more like a utility than a luxury, these 34 cities now preparing local assessments to woo Google invariably will be forced to ponder maps like the ones above (groups like OTI will ensure they do).

"We have an extremely constrained marketplace with basically monopoly or duopoly control at this point," says Greta Byrum, a senior field analyst at OTI. She's primarily talking about Verizon and Comcast, two companies reliant on existing infrastructure, not new capital investments (Verizon's FiOS has stalled for now). "What Google is doing – first of all, they’re important new players in the marketplace that has been so limited. And secondly, they are forward-thinking in terms of the infrastructure itself."

"The absolute endpoint outcome isn’t necessarily that all the census tracts are green," says Georgia Bullen, a field operations technologist at OTI who worked along with Byrum on the broadband adoption maps. "The way we think about the technology right now is completely predicated on this idea that the right outcome is that you have service at home, that every single person has a contract. And that's not necessarily the model that will ever be most successful."

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Greta Byrum was the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America.

Georgia Bullen is the technology projects director with New America's Open Technology Institute. Bullen provides data visualization, human-centered design, planning and geospatial analytical support to the OTI team and its community partnerships.