How good is Internet access around your town’s school?

You can start to see how people interested in broadband access are putting the federal government’s new National Broadband Map through its paces.

The U.S. Department of Education has taken the data showing how fast Internet speeds are and matched them against the nation’s schools . It’s potentially a very useful tool showing which students are in the best or worst position to take advantage of emerging technology.

schools and broadband.JPG

It’s not a measure of Internet speed in schools. Instead, you can plug in a place and find on a map both the location of schools and the Internet speed available in the areas around them. Yes, the data has well-chronicled shortcomings, relying on “up to” speeds reported by the Internet providers, and thus may not be entirely accurate. But still, you can see a potential.

For example, I did a search for the two public school districts I attended as a boy, Minneota and Madelia, two small towns about 100 miles apart in southern Minnesota. For the area around Minneota High School, the map shows Internet speeds of 3 to 6 megabits per second, and an area southeast of town has slower speeds.

On the other hand, the map shows a large area around Madelia High School with speeds of 6 to 10 megabits. Does that mean my successor students in Madelia are going to be better equipped to adapt in the 21st Century than those in Minneota? It’s probably a little premature to draw conclusions like that, given the uncertainties around the data.

But as the information gets better in coming months and years, tools like this that show haves and have-nots will be more in demand and seem likely to play an increasing role in decisions about education, business and the like.

For the techies, here’s a blog post by someone involved in the data mashup, explaining how the Education Department pulled it all together.

  • Zebulun

    The irony of this mapping application is that one needs high-speed internet access to view it. Plus, they are leaving out one important factor: cost. Theoretically, a person can acquire access to satellite internet almost anywhere, but it is often prohibitively expensive.