Mapping Wiki / Broadband Mapping
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
I’ve found a new toy. Actually, it may turn out to be a very useful toy, but I won’t know that until I’ve played with it for a while. You can play, too.
OpenStreetMap is a map of the entire world, completely editable. You can take part in the editing if you register your e-mail address, a display name (what AOL <barf> calls a “screen name”), and a password. It needs help in my area, and I’m sure a bunch of us will fix it.
OpenStreetMap is a wiki, a collection of linked web pages that can be edited using Wiki software, a program that lets people work collaboratively to create and edit a web site. The wiki you probably know best is one I send you to often (including in this post), Wikipedia, the collaborative encyclopedia.
One of my neighbors posted about the map wiki on The L, my tiny town’s e-mail list and newspaper substitute, since we’re too small for any newspaper to pay attention to us. It looks like it will be a useful tool for the group working on an Open Space plan for the town. I’m not involved, but I cheer them on.
As part of the broadband portion of the federal stimulus package, a consortium of companies is mapping existing broadband service in rural areas. There’s controversy around this: the mapping organization is funded by the largest broadband suppliers in the country — the very people who have been ignoring us because it’s not very profitable to serve homes that are as far apart as ours are. They won’t show — they say for competitive reasons — where the central points of various broadband systems are, and apparently they’re assuming that any home within a specific radius (three miles, I think) of those central points is served, which is not necessarily true.
Massachusetts, which has a $40 million bond issue plus whatever we get from the stim fund, to extend broadband to the rurals (mainly, but not entirely, in the western part of the state) is doing its own mapping. People are being asked to find their own address on the map and indicate what kind of internet access they have, if any. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is addding to this information. I have much more confidence in what we’re doing here than in what’s being done by the national mapping consortium.
If you’re involved in gaining broadband access for your area, maybe it would be a good idea to tak a look at OpenStreetMap. Wouldn’t it be fun to come up with a more accurate map than the one the industry-sponsored mapping group presents?
The image at the top of this post shows Mount Grace, where our town’s broadband head end is sited. I’m on the broadband system now — about 25 of us are. Our volunteer installers are hooking up 4-6 people a week, which is all they have time for. I’ll tell you more about the system and what’s happening here next week, after our selectboard meets and irons out a couple of wrinkles — or doesn’t.