This year was the year the world tried to govern what happens on the Internet — with varying results. U.S.-based think tank Freedom House took a look at how "free" the Internet was in countries around the world. You can check out an interactive version on its site, along with its full report.
Thirty-six of the 65 countries the organization surveyed showed a decline in the state of Internet freedom this year. In the past, many countries tried to place technical restrictions on the Web, but activists often found ways to circumvent them. So now, Freedom House said, repressive regimes are trying to control citizens' access to the Internet by passing laws about what can and cannot be done online.
When Ferguson hit Twitter
The protests surrounding the death of Missouri teenager Michael Brown dominated headlines and sparked a debate about race in America that spilled over onto social media. Twitter’s real-time map of Ferguson-related tweets was notable less for marking where the conversation was happening and more for the intensity with which it took place.
Everyone who clicked Facebook’s “I voted” button
Despite the rather low turnout in this year’s midterm elections, millions of Americans signed on to Facebook to report that they had voted. By clicking a button on their newsfeeds, these people submitted detailed information about themselves and their political activity to Facebook, which then compiled the results into this real-time heat map of voting behavior. This screen grab was taken at around noon Eastern time on Election Day.
Undersea cables mapped like the London Tube
While we often think of the Internet as one big network, it's really many networks around the world talking with one another — with the help of submarine fiber optic cables that keep data flowing. This graphic, produced by Mark Graham, the director of research and senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, and researcher Stefano De Sabbata, illustrates those submarine cables in the style of a London subway map.
A map of all the Comcast and Time Warner Cable customers who may find themselves under a new company's banner
Comcast’s proposed multibillion-dollar acquisition of Time Warner Cable is being reviewed by federal regulators to ensure it won’t harm ordinary Americans who just want good Internet and TV service for a competitive price. To help mollify U.S. officials, Comcast has offered to spin off 2.5 million customers into a new company called, fittingly, “SpinCo.” By reducing its market share in certain areas, Comcast believes, it should be able to satisfy regulators, who worry that the combined company would be too dominant. That placeholder name has since been changed, but the plan is still the same: It would affect customers in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
T-Mobile got a lot of new spectrum from Verizon.
Almost a year ago, T-Mobile sealed a deal with Verizon to buy up tons of valuable airwaves that would let the company upgrade its 4G LTE network. The purchase vastly expands T-Mobile’s footprint in a highly prized part of the electromagnetic spectrum in various places throughout the country and its users' access to mobile data. Airwaves below 1,000 megahertz are considered “beachfront real estate” because of the way they pass through walls and travel long distances, so this was a big deal.
Devices connected to the Internet
This map, from self-described “Internet cartographer” John Matherly, helps visualize just how interconnected the world has become — and how some areas remain digital deserts. Made using Shodan, a search engine founded by Matherly that finds unsecured devices connected to the Internet, the map uses red to signal a higher density of devices and blue to show where there are fewer.
But there are also many black areas on the map — indicating a lack of connected devices. And some of those dark areas have huge populations, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Even as more and more of the world is becoming connected, Matherly’s map helps show where some people are being left behind.
Broadband subscription rates in the United States.
It’s not just developing nations where some people are being left behind. In the United States, a surprising number of people lack home broadband subscriptions, as shown by the interactive map above. And there’s a distinct correlation between the number of homes without a high-speed Internet connection and lower median household incomes — indicating that cost may be a major factor when families decide to forgo the opportunities associated with plugging into the Internet.
The Deep South shows this pattern the strongest. In Mississippi, the state with the lowest high-speed Internet adoption rate, just 57.4 percent of residents live in households with broadband Internet use. The state also has the lowest median household income in the country: just below $38,000.
Barriers on public broadband networks
In the United States, nearly everyone has access to at least one broadband provider — but competition can sometimes be lacking and some local governments have turned to creating their own broadband networks.
But not everyone appreciates this approach, especially Internet service providers, who say they shouldn't have to compete with a publicly subsidized services. And those ISPs have gotten some states to agree with them: According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 19 states have barriers that either discourage or prevent local communities from investing in public broadband networks.