This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a revised version of its 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, which stated 21.3 million Americans lacked broadband access by the end of 2017. Unfortunately, by the FCC’s own admission, the data used in the report is deeply flawed, which raises questions and concerns about the accuracy of the report.
The 21 million figure is contradicted by a report released last year by Microsoft that found 162.8 million Americans, 19 million in rural America alone, did not have a way to use rural broadband. The FCC report relies on data reported by nationwide carriers that is often contradicted from third party sources.
For some policymakers, the credibility of the data undermines claims from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the digital divide is closing at a satisfying pace. According to the report, the digital divide has “narrowed substantially, and more Americans than ever before have access to high-speed broadband.” But consumers are growing frustrated with the inconsistencies of carrier-reported data with the reality of internet availability in rural America. Other rural broadband advocates are urging the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) to step up efforts to modernize federal broadband data collection. The FCC is unable to target truly underserved areas with broadband deployment assistance without accurately reported data.