FCC’s latest annual broadband deployment report relies on flawed data, ignores COVID-19 pandemic

Against the recommendation of CWA and public interest groups, the FCC’s annual broadband deployment report relied on unreliable data to find that broadband is "being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion." 

According to the FCC’s own data, 18.3 million people in the US still lacked access to fixed broadband speeds of 25/3 Mbps in 2018. Unfortunately, the FCC’s data likely understates the problem. By the FCC’s measurement method, if one subscriber in an area has broadband service, the entire area is considered covered. For example, FCC data showed 100 percent broadband access in Ferry County, WA. However, Microsoft estimates that same county’s coverage at 2 percent. A study by BroadbandNow puts the number of Americans without broadband access at 42.8 million, more than twice the FCC’s estimates.

“This year's report in docket 19-285 relies again on inaccurate Form 477 data, and that should be reflected in its conclusions,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks in response to the reporthis dissent. “Too many Americans cannot access online work, medical help, and distance learning because broadband is too expensive or not available.”

Moreover, the report ignored the current COVID-19 and economic crises, which make clearer than ever the importance of universal access to broadband. “This pandemic has demonstrated conclusively that broadband is no longer nice-to-have. It’s need-to-have. What we also need is an honest accounting from the FCC about the state of broadband in this country,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in her dissent. 

Links:

New FCC Report Shows Digital Divide Continuing to Close (FCC, Apr. 24, 2020)

Ajit Pai uses bad data to claim ISPs are deploying broadband to everyone (ARS Technica, Apr. 27, 2020)

Microsoft study: Almost half of Americans lack access to broadband Internet (Speed Matters, Dec. 6, 2018)

CWA to FCC: Broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion (Speed Matters, Dec. 16, 2019)