New Broadband Deployment Report Sparks Dissent at FCC

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The FCC says its latest broadband deployment report shows the digital divide continues to narrow, a goal it’s been working on for two years. Commissioners within the agency are divided on that conclusion.

According to the Commission’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, the number of Americans lacking access to a terrestrial fixed broadband connection meeting the FCC’s benchmark of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps has dropped from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016, to 21.3 million Americans at the end of 2017. 

That’s a decrease of more than 18 percent. The majority of those gaining access to such connections, approximately 4.3 million, are in rural America.

Higher-speed services are being deployed at a rapid rate as well: The number of Americans with access to at least 250 Mbps/25 Mbps broadband grew in 2017, by more than 36%, to 191.5 million. 

Broadband providers large and small deployed fiber networks to 5.9 million new homes in 2018, the largest number ever recorded, according to the agency. Capital expenditures by broadband providers increased in 2017, reversing the declines of both 2015 and 2016.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr supported the outcome. However O’Rielly remains “dismayed” by the report’s “reliance on purported ‘insufficient evidence’ as a basis for maintaining—for yet another year in a row—an outdated siloed approach to evaluating fixed and mobile broadband, rather than examining both markets as one.” Carr agrees with the report’s conclusion that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. “The data show that it is,” he stated.

But not everyone agrees the outlook is rosy and that broadband is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis. The Democrats at the agency — Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks — dissented from the conclusions.

Rosenworcel tweeted the report concludes the agency’s broadband job is done. “This will come as news to millions and millions of Americans who are stuck on the wrong side of the #digitaldivide. This report deserves a failing grade. I dissent.”

Starks said the report reached the “wrong” conclusion. “With over 21 million Americans without access to quality, affordable broadband, we are about eight-and-a-half steps behind and we must get back to work. The report masks the urgent need for continued and renewed action to address inequities in internet access in rural, tribal, and urban areas of the country.”

“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. He urged the agency to update its data collection policies.

May 30, 2019

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