Community Dividend

Commerce, USDA release online mapping tools

Published July 1, 2011  | July 2011 issue

Two federal agencies have unveiled interactive, web-based mapping tools that may be useful to community development researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration has launched the National Broadband Map, the first-ever public, searchable, nationwide map of broadband access. Broadband, which refers to a high-speed, always-on connection to the Internet, has become a crucial component of the nation's economic and communication infrastructure. The new map, available at, was created at the direction of Congress and developed in cooperation with the Federal Communications Commission, all U.S. states and territories, and the District of Columbia. It is built on a data set of more than 25 million records that list the location, format, speed, and provider of all broadband service in the U.S. To ensure its relevance, the data set will be updated every six months. In the intervals between updates, users are welcome to submit feedback to help improve and refine the data.

The recently launched Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America, a project of the Economic and Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is designed to help people understand the diverse opportunities and challenges facing rural regions and communities. The atlas is a mapped data set of more than 60 socioeconomic indicators that are grouped under four broad categories: people, jobs, agriculture, and county classifications. The last category contains ERS-assigned codes that rate counties on indicators such as economic dependence, persistent poverty, and population loss. Sources for the data set include the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the USDA's Census of Agriculture. Atlas users can download spreadsheets of the data and save customized maps in a graphic format that can be inserted into documents and presentations. To explore the atlas site, visit