The FCC published its 2020 Broadband Deployment report last week, with some seemingly good news for the state of broadband in the US: According to its latest projections, fewer than 18 million Americans are lacking access to broadband services.
The FCC's definition of fixed broadband requires at least a 25 Mbit/s download speed and 3 Mbit/s upload speed. According to the latest findings, over 85% of Americans now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service, a 47% increase since 2017.
It also claims an 85% increase in coverage for rural areas over the same period.
While FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says he is "proud of the progress we've made" in closing the digital divide, which he claims as his "top priority," not everyone on the commission is busting out the champagne.
In a dissenting opinion, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel calls the report "baffling" and a misrepresentation of the actual state of connectivity in the US – particularly at a time when the COVID-19 crisis is shedding light [Ed. note: Not the disinfecting kind...] on the true tragic state of that divide.
As Rosenworcel writes, citing 18 million Americans as lacking access to broadband "wildly understates" the problem, adding that other studies have put that number between 42 million and 162 million. "Making matters worse, the FCC relies on information submitted by providers without a system to independently verify the data."
Indeed, just last week AT&T had to correct its own reporting that stated it covered nearly 3,600 census blocks spread across 20 states, where it actually doesn't.
The FCC acknowledges in its report that the data – collected from providers in Form 477 – is flawed, but that "while many commenters offer criticism of the Form 477 data, as well as recommendations for how to improve the Commission's data, this Report is not the appropriate vehicle for the Commission to make changes to the data collection."
Apart from inaccuracies in the coverage data itself, Rosenworcel writes that the FCC's standard of 25Mbit/s download and 3Mbit/s upload that was set five years ago is no longer acceptable for the way we live and work; and download speeds should be reset to 100 Mbit/s.
While Americans have become accustomed to the federal government claiming great success on various matters despite all evidence to the contrary, the idea that we’ve made massive progress on the digital divide would be news to the families across the country seeking out Wi-Fi connections in parking lots desperately trying to connect to conduct work and learn remotely.
"This pandemic has demonstrated conclusively that broadband is no longer nice-to-have. It’s need-to-have," writes Rosenworcel. "What we also need is an honest accounting from the FCC about the state of broadband in this country."
The 2020 Broadband Deployment report, alas, isn't it.
— Nicole Ferraro, Contributing Editor, Light Reading