Seattle: How good is Britain's broadband coverage and how many communities are missing out? As we've found over recent years, they are hot political question that are very difficult to answer because of a lack of data. Maybe what we need is a national broadband map - like the one that has just been unveiled in the United States.
The map gives detailed coverage of broadband access in every American community, allowing users to see who the providers are in their area, the different technologies employed, and the speeds they offer, right down to street level. There are all kinds of useful tools to examine the data, and work out how different places compare. It also carries special reports on the differences between urban and rural areas and which regions have no broadband availability at all.
Overall, the map and an accompanying report from the US government suggest that between five and 10% of Americans do not have access to broadband at the speeds necessary for tasks that are becoming essential - uploading photos, viewing video and so on. But the number of households actually subscribing to broadband has risen from 63% to 68% in the last year.
I'm in Seattle for a couple of days, and I can see that the suburb where I'm staying, Bellevue, is very well sorted when it comes to broadband, with everything from Comcast's fibre running at up to 100Mbps, to wireless broadband from the likes of T-Mobile at 6-10Mbps. This is an area packed with hi-tech businesses so it's hardly surprising that it's wired for the future.
I then picked another town at random , Amarillo, Texas. Not quite so good - nothing above 10Mbps. And elsewhere the picture is a lot less positive - indeed most of the American press coverage of this new map has zeroed in on the gaping holes in broadband availability, which show up as white spaces. Here's a report in the Charleston Gazette:
"West Virginia is a vast island of white space except for the eastern Panhandle, the Charleston-Huntington corridor, the Beckley area and a few colored splotches along Interstate 79."
The report goes on to point out that the state ranks 48th in terms of speed rankings.
The Washington Post's headline warns of a digital divide and goes on to say that the survey finds that "Americans in lower-income and rural areas often have slower Internet connections than users in wealthier communities."
So two conclusions. First, the United States does not have quite such an advanced broadband infrastructure as you might expect - indeed, it does not look that different from what we have in the UK. Secondly, information is always political.
The more consumers know about how their services compare with their neighbours, the more they will press for change and improvement. The US map will be updated every six months, and each new version will spark more stories about regional and international comparisons and campaigns for more government spending to close a digital divide.
Isn't it about time then, that we had a similar map in the UK so that we can work out more precisely the scale of the challenge for a government committed to delivering the best broadband in Europe by 2015? Over to you, Ofcom.