A new report from BroadbandNow quantifies problems with FCC broadband map data that have been a major issue for policymakers for several years. According to the researchers, FCC data over-reports broadband availability by 6.5% of the U.S. population.
The report is based on a check of wired or fixed wireless access of more than 110,000 addresses.
More than 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband, according to BroadbandNow estimates. That’s almost three times as many as what is show in the FCC 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, according to the researchers. That report showed 14.5 million people without broadband availability.
The report qualified the wide variance in its estimates and the FCC’s. It claims that all technologies — including DSL, fiber, cable and fixed wireless — are over-reported and that over-reporting occurs in cities, rural towns “and everywhere in between.” Researchers added that the technology reported by the FCC is incorrect for more than 12% of the addresses that the commission says do have broadband service.
FCC Broadband Map Problems
The reason for the discrepancies: “The figures and estimates cited by the FCC rely upon semi-annual self-reporting by internet service providers (ISPs) using the FCC-mandated ‘Form 477,'” according to the research note at the BroadbandNow website. “However, there is a widely acknowledged flaw with Form 477 reporting: if an ISP offers service to at least one household in a census block, then the FCC counts the entire census block as covered by that provider.”
BroadbandNow contrasted its estimates of populations without access to broadband with FCC broadband map data as of year-end 2019.
Five examples show how starkly the numbers disagree:
- Alabama: 608,000 residents without access according to the FCC compared to 1,202,976 residents without access according to the BroadbandNow
- California: 594,000 residents (FCC) compared to 3,888,258 (BroadbandNow)
- Indiana: 261,000 residents (FCC) compared to 890,116 residents (BroadbandNow)
- New York: 250,000 residents (FCC) compared to 1,258,600 residents (BroadbandNow)
- Wisconsin: 394,000 residents (FCC) compared to 670,592 residents (BroadbandNow)
BroadbandNow has sounded this alarm before. In February 2020, it said that 20.7 million people considered capable of getting service in fact had no access.
The FCC does not contest the fact that there are problems and is taking steps to address the issue.