North Carolina Fight over Mapping

Fiona Morgan, a frequent writer at Indyweek in North Carolina, has weighed in with excellent coverage of the situation in North Carolina as the cable and telephone companies continue their attempts at stifling competition in the state. They are now using their non-profit arm, Connected Nation, to overstate existing services in the state.

According to a map made available online last week by the industry-backed nonprofit Connected Nation, broadband is available to 92 percent of North Carolina households. That number seems too high to some legislators and public interest advocates, who are concerned that overstating the amount of access will hurt the state's chances of receiving federal grants.

"You'll be pleased that over 90 percent of the households in North Carolina are now served by one or more broadband providers," Connected Nation representative Joe Mefford said during the unveiling of the map at the state legislature last week. "The maps also, by that, indicate that there's been a huge investment in broadband in this state already."

I have dealt with Connected Nation's maps here in Minnesota, and the technology is awful. In an age of Google Maps and impressive mashups, they produce clunky maps at sufficiently large file sizes that you need fast broadband to open them. I pity anyone trying to use their maps on a slow DSL connection. On top of that, they continue to classify cellular services (that often come with a very small monthly cap) as broadband in order to overstate how many people have access.

Fortunately, Fiona spoke to Craig Settles and he offers some great commentary.

Craig Settles, an Oakland, Calif.-based consultant on broadband technology, said the broadband stimulus has been hijacked by the telecommunications industry. "It started as a noble effort," he said, "but it's a complete and total travesty all around."

Each state must choose one mapping entity in order to be eligible for any of the broadband stimulus money. There is $350 million set aside specifically for mapping, to be divided between the states. That's too much money, Settles thinks, and the terms favor Connected Nation and the industry. "We're going to pay you millions of dollars to collect all this information, but you can't tell anybody what this information is? That is the most stupid-ass thing on the planet. It's the taxpayer paying for this."

I heartily recommend the entire article as it explains in great depth how the private companies are unwilling or perhaps unable to invest in the networks that communities in North Carolina need to thrive. Rather than improve their services, they have repeatedly attempted to buy laws at the State Legislation that would prevent communities from building the networks that the companies refuse to build themselves.

Art Brodsky at Public Knowledge has also examined the situation in North Carolina and should be read as well.

Note the circular logic here. Faison and other members of his committee are criticizing e-NC for their maps, which were based on information supplied, or not, as it were, by the telecom industry. The state agency has been hampered by AT&T’s unwillingness to supply broadband data and its insistence on a very restrictive non-disclosure agreement for information the company did supply.