One of the big criticisms of the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money the government is doling out to areas that have no access to high-speed data services and few options for getting it has been the lack of accurate mapping to know exactly where money needs to flow.

Grants for mapping these areas have been distributed, and money for actual deployments will follow close behind, likely by January. However, incumbent carriers are allowed to challenge broadband stimulus proposals and can succeed if they can prove they already are covering areas where applicants—many of them public-safety applicants—plan to provide broadband services.

The mapping process promises to get a little easier thanks to a new product from an unlikely company. Data analytics company ID Insight has developed Broadband Scout, which provides data on broadband connectivity and usage down to the census block. The solution was created by accessing the millions of records in ID Insight's proprietary databases that historically have been used to track e-commerce retail activity. By combining known Internet-access information with address-related data, the Northfield, Minn.-based company is able to provide information on connectivity and usage at a granular level — state, county, tract, block group or block number.

"The first thing we do is extract the IP address and the zip code, which connects us to the block number," said ID Insight President Adam Elliott.

Elliott literally stumbled on this new avenue for his business when a colleague called him last summer asking for Internet broadband data at the census-block level. "That's when he started telling me about the stimulus package and requirements on the data front. I heard about how difficult the task was to demonstrate who has broadband access, who uses it and how much," Elliott said.

Indeed, most of mapping is done either by gathering data from operators themselves — which isn't always reliable — or going door to door to survey people about their broadband services.

"The most accurate way to do this is to call or mail to collect information from every person you want to reach," said Craig Settles, head of Successful.com, which is partnering with ID Insight to provide broadband consulting services. "It requires feet on the street."

Elliot said that the information ID Insight holds could help mapping projects move along faster. "A tool like this can shorten the process of capturing some of this data at least for the states that have gotten notification to do these maps," he said. "Twenty-one states now have gotten notices."