Broadband Still Not There for 42 Million Americans

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In stark contrast to findings reported in the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, research conducted by Broadband Now, a California-based data aggregation company, indicates 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband. This is nearly double the FCC’s figure of 21.3 million.

According to Broadband Now, “The firm examined broadband availability across the U.S. using more than 11,000 addresses from a dataset of 1 million. 

Those addresses were first compared to FCC data, then verified via the broadband availability websites of nine different internet service providers (ISPs). Even taking a conservative approach to estimates, the group claims the actual number of unserved American households is closer to 42 million—double FCC estimates.”  

The requirements (or lack thereof) for information collected on FCC Form 477 is the likely culprit for such significant deficits in data. TechDirt reported the FCC’s $350 million broadband availability map replicates the data collected from that form. “If you plug in your address, you’ll find that not only does the FCC not include prices [at industry behest], the map hallucinates speed and ISP availability at most U.S. addresses.”

The agency has acknowledged the form needs to be updated and is working on that, Inside Towers reported.

Further muddying the data, Form 477 does not require ISPs to identify addresses where they provide service, but rather requests only the census blocks where they make broadband connections available. Therefore, if only a single location within a census block is serviced, the entire census block is calculated on the map.

The FCC’s 331 page report, released May 29, 2019, includes dissenting statements by Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks.

“This report deserves a failing grade. First, we need to stop relying on data we know is wrong. Time and again this agency has acknowledged the grave limitations of the data we collect to assess broadband deployment,” stated Rosenworcel. “It means the claim in this report that there are only 21 million people in the United States without broadband is fundamentally flawed.”

Starks’ statement of dissent included his concerns about the report’s accuracy. “As of now, I don’t believe that we know what the state of broadband deployment is in the U.S. with sufficient accuracy,” said Starks. “Regardless of the reporting standard here, the Commission’s mission is to close the digital divide. And we must have accurate data about the problem we are trying to solve and the progress we are making toward solving it in order to make effective, data-driven decisions.”

Section VI of the Broadband Deployment Report concluded with the following Commission statement. “We disagree with commenters who contend that the section 706 requirements have not been met. Our policy making efforts over the last two years are promoting broadband deployment, and the data show that ISPs are making strong progress in deploying advanced telecommunications capability to more and more Americans. These circumstances warrant a positive finding.”

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