Concerned Internet Citizens of California

Net Neutrality is a big deal. My opinion and as of today the opinion of our President. The FCC is considering a rule to allow internet providers to charge premo rates to big companies to give them better speed to deliver their content to you the consumer, sounds like a reasonable idea at first? The problem is the internet was create as an open, even, fair system and was engineered to always allow for fair treatment of anyone’s content- the problem is that when Verizon, Comcast etc charge Netflix big dollars for faster pipes, they can also refuse to do so and then favor their own network content- no longer a level playing field. For small businesses this means they will no longer be able to compete in the same way- startups like, say, Facebook several years back could not afford to pay for this premium delivery, so they get wiped out- bad for innovation, bad for consumers.

That’s a short a bad summary, anyway, there’s a great engagement and democracy side to this- the FCC opened up for comments and in new open government fashion then published all the >1 million comments in raw open data for free download, yay! The nice folks at Smarter Chicago beat me to processing the data, and so you also shouldn’t mess with that, just grab the data in a nice easy format. I wanted to see how active and how vocal different communities in California were about this issue- were big cities the source of the complaints? Were small, isolated towns aware of this issue and vocal?


I grabbed the processed data, aggregated by City names, cleared out some junk data, combined it with Census populations and locations (I forgot how painful it is to get basic Census data these days) and calculated a simple rate- for every 100,000 people in a city/town, how many comments got submitted- neither for or against, but just how active and engaged are people in California? There are a bunch of small towns left off as their rates are not reliable. Take a look at your region, are you surprised how high or low your rate is?

I was somewhat surprised to see a few rural towns topping the commenter lists- Nevada City (oops, maybe this is my family complaining?), has the highest rate followed by Sebastapol – NorCal represent… San Francisco, the tech darling is down at 44 with almost 7,000 comments but a rate of only 782. Oaktown is less activist full than normal at #80 with a rate of 536 and dearest Silicon Valley/Palo Alto is a shameful 63rd at a rate of 665- tech city needs some more concerned residents?

The data with city by city stats are below.


Broadband Access in Alameda County

The digital divide is a very real and very stable reality in communities like Oakland, California.  Knowing which neighborhoods have solid access to high speed internet is a critical aspect of planning for government and nonprofit provided online services- if we want low income folks from Oakland’s flatlands to use a new digital application, we’d damn sure better know how many households in the target areas likely have decent speed internet hookups at home!  Luckily for us the FCC collects reliable data on this and they publish it freely at a local level

Do yourself  a favor and view the fullscreen version:

I took the raw tract level data and joined it to census tracts in QGIS, calculated a new string field called “res_fhsc_per_1000hhs” and calculated the real rate values to display in the map legend and popup- the raw data contains coded values that correspond to real numbers- so 5 means a rate of 800-1,000 per 1,000 households. The GeoJSON file was then loaded into a CartoDB mapping system. 

As with most social phenomena, Oakland’s east and western flatlands stand out as parts of the county with quite low home broadband. Those communities may have internet via very slow services that many modern web sites won’t run well over (these data include all services providing over 200kbps – try using the web on a 256k plan in 2014!).  The data are for 2010 Census tracts and were last collected and published for December 2012. Many households will have improved access since then and we also know from Pew research that many minority communities use mobile devices as a primary means of internet access.