By Robert A. Ballance, Ph.D. / The Center for Internet as Infrastructure, LLC
The I3 Connectivity Explorer project was initiated in 2017 after I became immersed in internet connectivity issues and open data while serving as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow. At that time, there were few effective maps and it was hard to bring all the relevant data into focus.
Having been exposed to national-scale broadband issues in Washington, I found that I could not let go of the problem. Existing mapping tools were lacking, or were uni-dimensional, or did one not help to understand a specific localities’ unique needs.
In addition, I was driven to explore the following hypotheses:
- That data about the places we live could provide valuable as a basis for understanding and discussion about connectivity issues in a community. Address-level data can be useful for planning, but it does not address community needs. On the other hand broad-scale data (e.g. states and counties) lack the resolution needed by for many communities for planning or analysis.
- That multiple sources of open data could be effectively fused to provide deeper a understanding of Internet as Infrastructure than looking at a discrete sequence of single measures.
- That open source and open data together are powerful combination for making data available to communities in need of actionable information.
- That one could establish a manageable national solution, reducing the need for multiple smaller efforts. The national data still needs to be correlated with local information and insights. Once you solve this problem for one city, one school district, or one tribal area, it becomes much easier to provide the solution for every city, school district, or tribal area.
- Finally, I wanted to provide a service that would be free and useful to those who most needed it most.
Since the platform’s debut in August, 2018, over 1,350 users have logged in to work with over 4,450 different localities across the USA. Not bad! The usefulness of the platform has been apparent in user reports of how the data from the platform provided voice and volume to the telling of their own, local, stories. Along the way, all four hypotheses have been shown to be valid.
The I3 Connectivity Explorer is an internally funded project. Special thanks go to Southwest Cyberport for powering this effort. Theirs has been a magnanimous gift.