broadbandHow bad is FCC broadband availability data? Researchers at BroadbandNow estimate that at least 20.7 million people considered to have broadband available to them can’t get service. The total unserved population nationwide is at least 42 million – about twice the FCC’s estimate, the researchers said.

BroadbandNow maintains a database of broadband availability by service providers that is based on public information sources, including provider websites.

FCC broadband availability data has received widespread criticism and virtually everyone, including the commission, agrees that it overestimates broadband availability. The data is based on information collected from service providers on FCC Form 477, which the providers are required to report. That data considers an entire census block to be served even if only a single location in the block actually has service available.

FCC Broadband Availability Data
BroadbandNow’s research methodology was to manually check broadband availability using nine broadband provider websites that offer online “check availability” tools. Researchers checked more than 20,000 provider/address combinations and verified addresses using real estate sites.

Based on this research, the report estimates a 19.6% error rate for provider/address combinations nationwide. For addresses where multiple providers were checked, 13% of the time none of the providers offered service.

Approximately half of the addresses that the researchers checked had service only from a single provider, according to FCC data. By checking that provider to determine whether the provider actually offered service at that address, BroadbandNow arrived at the estimate that 42 million people in the U.S. do not have broadband availability.  That makes this a conservative estimate, meaning that the unserved population may be higher, the researchers noted.

BroadbandNow isn’t the first organization to estimate FCC broadband availability data inaccuracies. Research conducted by broadband provider association USTelecom last year estimated that as many as 38% of locations reported to be served actually did not have service available to them.

Research Implications
The FCC has changed Form 477 reporting rules, but updated information is not expected any time soon – a situation that drove recent FCC action on broadband funding. Just last week, the FCC adopted rules for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that call for rural broadband funding to be awarded in two rounds, with the first targeting areas already reported as unserved according to FCC data and the second round targeting areas currently reported as partially served.  Locations targeted in the second round would be based on newer data gathered through the revised Form 477 process.

The amount targeted for award in the first round is considerably larger than the amount targeted for the second round – $16 billion versus $4.4 billion. If the BroadbandNow research is accurate, it suggests that the funding for the second round could be inadequate to meet deployment goals.

The FCC said previously that if funds for the second round appear to be insufficient, it will reassess the total amount of funds available for that round at that time.

Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.

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