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Map may be key to better broadband access

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2010

Connect Alaska, a nonprofit subsidiary of Connected Nation, launched Alaska's first statewide interactive map Wednesday to help study Alaska's high-speed coverage.

The map, which can be found at www.connectak.org, reveals that several areas surrounding Juneau do not currently have any broadband options.

Several areas around the city are not currently covered by any broadband service providers. These include some areas west of Jordan Creek. Parts of Douglas near residential areas are also unable to get high-speed Internet.

The map plots some of these unserved spots as having 9-20 households per square mile.

The map allows users to study sections in Juneau with cable, DSL, fiber optic and wireless coverage. It also allows users to see parts of the area broken down by population density.

Connected Nation Chief Executive Officer Brian Mefford said one purpose of this map is to help Internet providers evaluate areas like Juneau to determine the needs and availability of coverage in its different parts.

When asked about a specific number of Juneau households that lack broadband access, Jessica Ditto, communications director for Connected Nation, said the next phase of the broadband study will be to get a more accurate count of this. She said this map now makes that possible.

Brett Legg, Connected Nation's director of stakeholder relations and development, said the map will also help pinpoint rural areas that are occupied, which can be difficult due to Alaska's size. He demonstrated in a webinar how the map can separate federal- and state-owned lands into layers.

"There are many parts in the state of Alaska where no one lives, and it would do us very little good to expand broadband to places no one lives," Legg said.

"It will help us eliminate the areas that by and large where we need not focus our time," he said.

Legg explained the information provided here will also help broadband providers understand the impact if they wish to provide service to currently unserved areas.

Mefford explained this is part of a comprehensive supply-and-demand investigative plan for the state's Internet needs.

"We start with the data gathering, we move to analysis and assessment, and then we move into the planning phase, and then we ultimately will deliver an action plan and be out in communities ensuring that that action plan is put into effect," Mefford said

Mefford said the organization is meeting with local leaders, including schools and libraries, to find out what they are "doing with technology today and most importantly what they're not doing, but they want to do."

Legg said Connected Nation encourages user participation to point out more data points that will help serve more areas. This can be done on the website.

"This map is going to be in a constant state of refinement. ... we want to rely on public feedback over time to refine an provide scrutiny so that we can make it better," Legg said.

Legg said there are millions of data points that go into mapping broadband over a state the size of Alaska. He added that public feedback is necessary to make the map as accurate as possible.

The map is part of the State Broadband Data and Development Plan as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. As such, broadband providers that have received stimulus money are required to participate in this plan. Other providers may use the data provided by the map at their discretion.

• Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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