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Commerce Dept. Unveils National Broadband Map

The map shows the availability of high-speed Internet access services nationwide and lets people search for providers in their region.

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The Department of Commerce has published online the first public map providing information on the availability of broadband Internet service nationwide, meeting a Congressional deadline to provide the resource.

The National Broadband Map posted by the department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) allows people to search 25 million records of information about where broadband Internet service is available, what technology is used to provide the service, the maximum advertised speeds of the service, and the names of service providers in specific locations.

Broadband refers to DSL, cable modem, fiber optics, mobile broadband, and other high-speed Internet access services. The NTIA worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop and publish the map.

The Web site allows people to search by address to find broadband services according to census block or road segment and view the data on a map. People also can use other interactive tools to compare broadband access across different locations according to state, county, or congressional district, according to the NTIA.

The FCC had been talking for years about establishing a National Broadband Plan, and finally did so about a year ago. The plan includes a goal to bring broadband access to all U.S. residents.

While this goal hasn't been achieved yet, results of a new survey also released by the NTIA Thursday found broadband adoption is growing. Some 68 % of households now have broadband access compared to 63.5 % last year.

However, disparities remain about who has access to high-speed Internet. People in rural areas still have less access to broadband Internet than their city-dwelling neighbors. In 2010, 70% of urban households had broadband Internet compared to 60% of rural households, according to the survey.

And people with low incomes, disabilities, seniors, minorities, the less-educated, non-family households, and the non-employed tend to use broadband less than other demographic segments, according to the NTIA.

These statistics prove that there's still a "digital divide" in the United States when it comes to broadband access, Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator, said in a statement.

"The National Broadband Map shows there are still too many people and community institutions lacking the level of broadband service needed to fully participate in the Internet economy," he said.

Some of that stems from the fact that some people still don't seem to think they need high-speed Internet access. Around 46 % of NTIA survey respondents without high-speed Net said it's because they don't need it.

Still, financial and availability issues remain roadblocks to providing everyone with broadband in the United States. Those surveyed cited the expense of broadband as the number 2 reason they don't have it (25 percent), according to the survey.

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