Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can't See The Broadband for the Trees

Maps can be wonderful things.  They visually summarize facts and relationships that would take a long time to describe in detail without the visual representation.  Maps can help us spot trends and develop plans based on those trends.  So, it is no surprise that mapping broadband is of interest to those who seek to understand and improve the availability of that service in rural areas.  Who has access to what variety and quality of broadband from which vendors?  Who does not have access?

It sounds like a relatively cut and dried set of questions.  It is not.

In Maine, the James W. Sewall Company has been retained by the ConnectME Authority to create and maintain such a service map.  Work has begun on obtaining information from the several dozen firms offering internet service in Maine.  The process is slow.  Non-disclosure agreements have to be agreed upon that protect the firms' customer information.  Ambiguities in the data need to be resolved. 

A big ambiguity that I find irksome involves fixed wireless internet service providers and trees.  Most if not all such services in Maine currently use frequency bands that are incapable of penetrating trees and foliage.  Where I live, both Blue Streak and Midcoast Internet should be available to us.  We probably will fall within a map area indicating that we have access to these services.  Yet we don't.  Those pines at the north end of the property that stop the coldest winter winds also fully block a fixed wireless internet option.

In a state richer than any other in trees, I think this situation cannot be rare.  When the first version of the map appears in a few months one will have to be suspicious of any representations that fixed wireless fills the gap.  Perhaps further down the line some of the GIS (Graphical Information Systems) data for forest vegetation can be overlayed onto the map to give a better representation.

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