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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VIII, Issue 1||January/February 2005|
By Amy Spelke, PUC, and Bob Bistrais, MEGIS
The Maine Office of Geographic Information Services (MEGIS) and the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) have collaborated to bring information about broadband availability to the public by 1) mapping the availability of the most common forms of broadband throughout Maine, and 2) developing a web-based tool, to enable customers to directly contact their local broadband providers. The project demonstrates how GIS may be used to develop online products that help citizens utilize important private and public resources.
Broadband service enables many applications, including high-speed Internet, Internet telephone service, data transmission, and video. The availability of broadband service, particularly in rural areas, has become an issue of great national and local concern. The Maine Legislature and Governor Baldacci have both made broadband deployment in Maine a priority (see 35-A M.R.S.A. 7101(4)).
Broadband services can be provided over several different technologies, and of these, the most widely available in Maine are cable modem and DSL service. Because the MPUC regulates telephone companies (though not DSL service per se) the MPUC began tracking broadband deployment by informally collecting information in 2003. This information was stored in an Excel spreadsheet and updated quarterly, but the MPUC did not have a process to disseminate it. Additionally, because of the diversity of technologies and providers, there was no single place where potential broadband customers could go to determine which services were locally available. At the Governors request, the MPUC agreed to create, host, and maintain a web site to conveniently provide this information.
In October 2004, work started on creating a user-friendly web-based map. The MPUCs spreadsheet was reworked, geocode information was added, and the result was converted to Oracle by MEGIS in order to function with IMS (Internet Map Server). The data included in the final database includes county, municipality, geocode, type of service, provider name, and provider link.
The final application also contains the location of wi-fi hot spots. A wi-fi hot spot is a small geographic area, ranging from one building to a small downtown area, from which you can access a wireless local area network (if you have a wireless card in your computer). For the purposes of this map the MPUC chose to include only those that are generally available to the public (with or without a fee). (We recognize that increasingly businesses and even residential customers are creating their own private wi-fi hot spots - some of which are available to the public.)
Wi-fi locations were mapped starting with the libraries that are members of the Maine State Librarys Walk In Wireless in Public Libraries program. The locations of these are featured in the MEGIS School and Library (SCHLIB) data layer. The results of a web search of advertised Maine wi-fi spots were also added. We learned of the Governors plan to make his office a wi-fi hot spot and of the Legislatures intention to do likewise in the State House, and these sites were both included on the map. Wi-fi hot spots will have to be frequently updated as the technology catches on, and the use of the map becomes more widespread.
Users may view broadband availability statewide, or zoom in to an area of interest. The availability of DSL, cable, and wireless service, as well as wi-fi hotspot locations, is depicted on the map. Users may also select a town from a pick list, which zooms the map to that town, and opens a list of local broadband service providers. The service providers Internet links are included, and users may access a providers website directly from the map application.
This application provides information on broadband providers in multiple, user-friendly formats. The public and current and potential Maine businesses are the primary intended audience and beneficiaries of this site. MPUC staff will also use it to respond to inquiries regarding broadband availability, and it will help inform the Commission when it considers policy matters related to broadband deployment (DSL in particular). Finally, the site may also create competitive pressure for expansion of high-speed services both by spurring providers to match competitions service areas, and by generating demand from potential customers in proximity to a providers current service territory. The application should also serve as an important resource for Maines policy makers as they consider what further actions need to be taken to ensure that Maines citizens participate fully in the information economy, which is increasingly dependent upon broadband services.
The MPUC acknowledges that the data may be incomplete, as service territories are expanding daily. MEGIS and the MPUC hope that the map web page will become so well used that providers will contact us to update their information, and the MPUC invites providers to update information by sending an e-mail from the site.
There are undoubtedly many more GIS applications that can help bring important government agency information to the public. The cooperation between MEGIS and the MPUC on the broadband availability project may serve as a model to move these efforts forward.
Questions? Contact the authors. Amy M. Spelke, M.P.A. is a utility analyst at the Maine Public Utilities Commission, 207.287.5945 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Bistrais is a senior programmer analyst at MEGIS, email@example.com.