FCC chairman Ajit Pai cited information from BarrierFree to boast of improved rural broadband entry, regardless of warnings that it was overinflated.
The FCC has been on a mission to enhance broadband entry for rural Americans with the launch of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund final yr.
On its website, the FCC highlights the size of the difficulty:
“In urban areas, 97% of Americans have access to high-speed fixed service. In rural areas, that number falls to 65%. And, on Tribal lands, barely 60% have access. All told, nearly 30 million Americans cannot reap the benefits of the digital age.”
Pai cited BarrierFree’s information in February final yr, regardless of the FCC itself warning the ISP about lacking information since 2015. The FCC chairman acknowledged his error a couple of months later however maintained that broadband was reaching Americans in a “reasonable and timely fashion.”
Initially, Pai claimed that Americans with out broadband entry dropped from 26.1 million in late 2016 to 19.4 million a yr later. However, there have been really 21.3 million Americans with out entry to respectable connectivity.
The FCC has commonly been criticised for the info it makes use of to point out progress in addressing the agricultural connectivity downside.
In May final yr, Microsoft revealed a blog post calling out the FCC for being deceptive with its broadband information.
Microsoft leveraged information from its numerous on-line providers to estimate that round 163 million folks “do not use the internet at broadband speeds.”
Of course, simply because these folks don’t use the web at such speeds doesn’t essentially imply they don’t have broadband connectivity as an possibility. However, the massive discrepancy within the numbers led Microsoft to do some extra digging.
Microsoft used Washington as a case examine: “FCC data indicates that 100 percent of Ferry County residents have access to broadband. When we spoke to local officials, they indicated that very few residents in this rural county had access and those that did were using broadband in business. Our data bears this out, showing that only two percent of Ferry County is using broadband.”
John Kahan, Chief Analytics Officer at Microsoft, mentioned the discrepancy could be noticed “across nearly all counties in all 50 states [which] indicates there is a problem with the accuracy of the access data reported by the FCC.”
Kahan goes on to notice that one of many major points with the FCC’s information is that it depends on data offered by ISPs, which is commonly not independently checked. Inflated numbers make it seem just like the FCC is making way more progress in addressing rural connectivity points than is definitely the case. Meanwhile, Americans in underserved communities are affected by poor connectivity which hinders their potential.
Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel mentioned in a press release:
“It is not any secret that the Federal Communications Commission has a giant information downside. It will be the nation’s communications knowledgeable, nevertheless it doesn’t know with precision the place broadband is and isn’t throughout the nation. This is unlucky, particularly now when accessing highspeed service throughout a public well being disaster is so important.
During this pandemic, broadband is required for a lot of day-to-day work, training, healthcare, and extra. But for too lengthy the FCC has fumbled efforts to repair its broadband information and delay initiatives to enhance its maps, making it harder to shut the digital divide—each throughout this pandemic and past.”
This week, the FCC has proposed (PDF) fining BarrierFree $163,912 “for apparently reporting inaccurate information that significantly inflated its broadband subscription numbers, failing to file required deployment data, making false statements to Commission investigators, and failing to respond to other inquiries.”
While the FCC seems to be taking some steps to enhance the accuracy of its broadband information, it’s going to be a while earlier than the numbers of underserved Americans reported by the regulator could be trusted.
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