Divided FCC Issues Upbeat Broadband Report

Broadband is being deployed on a “reasonable and timely basis,” a majority of the Federal Communications Commission said in a report released Wednesday.

"The digital divide has narrowed substantially," states the report, endorsed by the FCC's three Republican commissioners. “More Americans than ever before have access to high-speed broadband."

The report found that 21.3 million Americans lacked access to web connections at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream at the end of 2017. The year before, 26.1 million Americans lacked access to connections at those speeds.

The FCC also found that 191.5 million Americans now have access to connections at speeds of at least 250 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream.

Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented from the report.

“By determining that under the law broadband deployment is reasonable and timely for all Americans, we not only fall short of our statutory responsibility, we show a cruel disregard for those who the digital age has left behind,” Rosenworcel writes. “This report deserves a failing grade.”

“The rosy picture the report paints about the status of broadband deployment is fundamentally at odds with reality,” Starks adds. “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.”

Both dissenters also criticize the FCC for relying too heavily on information provided by broadband carriers.

“If a service provider claims that they serve a single customer in a census block, our existing data practices assume that there is service throughout the census block. This is not right,” Rosenworcel writes. “It means the claim in this report that there are only 21 million people in the United States without broadband is fundamentally flawed.”

The report also concludes that mobile broadband isn't a substitute for fixed connections. Carr, who supports the report, says he is “dismayed” by that finding.

“Data shows that fixed and mobile service are undoubtedly substitutable for many Americans and that fixed and mobile providers are in fierce competition with one another for customers,” he writes.

A draft report issued earlier this year was substantially revised after the advocacy group Free Press pointed out an error in the data.

That earlier report found that 19.4 million Americans lacked broadband access in 2017, as opposed to the current report's conclusion of 21.3 million. The error came from the service provider BarrierFree, which incorrectly reported that it served nearly 1.5 million census blocks, containing 20% of the population.

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