For the third straight year, a divided Federal Communications Commission has found that broadband is being deployed in a “reasonable and timely” fashion -- even though more than 14 million Americans lack access to service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
“Significant progress has been made to bridge the digital divide,” the FCC said Tuesday, one day before former Chairman Ajit Pai stepped down, in a statement accompanying the agency's annual broadband deployment report.
The report found that around 11.2 million Americans in rural areas, or 17% of the rural population, lack access to internet service at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps -- the agency's current benchmark for broadband.
The report was based on data collected through the end of 2019.
The proportion of people lacking broadband access has dropped in recent years. A report issued in May 2019 found that 21.3 million Americans -- including 16.8 rural Americans -- lacked access to web connections.
The FCC's two Democratic commissioners dissented from the report's conclusion.
Jessica Rosenworcel stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it “painfully clear” that “there are too many people in the United States who lack access to broadband.”
“There are people sitting in parking lots using free Wi-Fi signals because they have no other way to get online,” she stated. “There are mayors in towns across the country clamoring for better broadband so their communities have a fair shot at digital age success.”
Geoffrey Starks added that the agency should have waited until the Biden administration took office before making conclusions about broadband deployment.
“This Report should not have been released at all,” he stated, adding that the report was both partisan and controversial. In November, shortly after the presidential election, House Democrats on the energy and commerce committee urged the FCC to halt work on partisan and controversial matters.
Starks added that the Telecommunications Act directs the FCC to take “immediate action” if broadband is not being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.
“That determination should have been left to the next administration,” he stated.