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Sara Wedeman writes after reading about Rachel’s Antics

I have many thoughts about this. I’ve been doing a bit of poking around, looking at the US Census and other sources Anyone who questions whether counting, recording, and mapping create jobs need look no farther than Claritas or ancestry.com. I’m sure there are lots of other examples–these are simply two that spring to mind.

Note: mapping/GIS and the research that goes into maps are not the same thing. They both have to be done right. I’m not worried about the quality of the GIS programs used by “broadband mappers” to date, but I am worried about the quality of the data inputs. This is because social/demographic research is by nature intellectually and technically complex, and one needs a lot of training and experience to do it properly. Among the mapping initiatives I have seen, all suffer from horrible missing data problems, and most suffer from the principal investigators’ lack of research expertise–expertise that is necessary to provide an accurate picture of broadband penetration in the US.

For instance, an understanding of the role of population density is critical. In a rural area, one community may span multiple zip codes. In an urban area, one zip code typically contains multiple communities–some rich, some poor, and some in between. Urban zip codes are also inhabited by a lot more people. A case in point: zip code 19104, a part of West Philadelphia, has a population greater than that of 25 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Since access to broadband is positively correlated with wealth, the presence of broadband in an urban zip code that houses multiple communities and economic levels matters little. The fact that those working in an office building have broadband access does not by any means imply that it is available to the people walking on the street below. Unfortunately, the role of population density is rarely taken into account. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room!

Done for its own sake, broadband mapping may produce a short-tern jolt. Done right, it has the capacity to produce powerful, positive change of the kind so many of us hope for. It can create jobs now, guide strategies for adoption and installation, and stimulate the growth of future industries.*

The main point is that the above benefits will accrue to the nation only if the process is designed and executed properly, by people who have the requisite independence and expertise. I’m not pointing any fingers: I’m very glad that BB mapping has become a topic of interest, deemed worthy of investment. I just want to see it done right, so we can have confidence in the ultimate product. As my father says, “A thing worth doing is a thing done well.” I concur.

COOK’s Edge:Sara’s comments on mapping filed with NTIA are here and here and here and MANDATORY reading. See also.

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