As many as 26 million Americans, mainly in rural areas, lack access to high-speed Internet connections, the Federal Communications Commission said in its annual report to Congress.
What's more, the FCC says, the number of people without the ability to purchase broadband connections isn't likely to decrease anytime soon. "Many of these Americans live in areas where there is no business case to offer broadband, and where existing public efforts to extend broadband are unlikely to reach," the agency says.
Based partially on those numbers, the FCC concludes for the second straight year that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion. "To ensure America's continued global competitiveness, our pace of improvement must quicken," stated FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
In its report, quietly released late Friday, the FCC also lamented the state of broadband adoption. The commission reported that around 100 million Americans lack the Web altogether or lack access faster than dial-up service. "This large percentage of broadband non-adopters is a further practical indicator that congressional goals have not been met," the FCC says.
The report notes that adoption in the U.S. lags behind 11 other countries, including South Korea, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany.
For the report, the FCC defined broadband as connections of at least 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps. Until last year, the FCC defined broadband as a connection of at least 200 Kbps downstream. Last year's FCC report was the first that did not conclude that cable companies and telecoms were deploying broadband in a reasonable and timely manner.
The FCC said in the report that it had undertaken several initiatives aimed at improving broadband availability. Among others, it mentioned its new Net neutrality rules, which prohibit all providers from blocking or degrading services and ban wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination. The agency says its neutrality order "supports the Internet's virtuous cycle of investment and innovation by ensuring the continued freedom and openness of the Internet."
The three Democrats on the commission said they supported the finding that broadband wasn't being rolled out in a fast and timely fashion. Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell dissented, saying that the commission engaged in "flawed analyses."
McDowell also expressed concern that the commission would use its conclusion "to bolster additional FCC regulatory efforts in other areas where Congress has not given the FCC legal authority to do so."
Broadband advocacy group Free Press said it agreed that broadband deployment is lagging, but called on the FCC to "offer real solutions to our competition crisis."
Most U.S. residents have a choice of only two broadband providers -- their cable companies or telecoms. One approach to increasing competition, endorsed by Free Press and other groups, involves the FCC requiring large broadband providers to share their lines by acting as wholesalers to smaller companies that want to offer broadband service.
"Getting broadband to rural America is an important priority, but to fully realize Congress' vision we need policymakers to focus on the lack of meaningful competition in our broadband markets," Free Press research director S. Derek Turner stated. "This lack of competition is robbing Americans of the affordable, advanced communications networks that are common in the cities and towns of our global competitors."