FCC touts broadband expansion in new report—which may not be real

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its annual Broadband Deployment Report on Wednesday, and its findings have been criticized by several Democrats who serve on the commission.

The FCC says the report shows that the digital divide in the United States is shrinking, including that the number of Americans who cannot access broadband with download speeds of at least 25 mpbs per second dropped from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 21.3 million Americans at the end of 2017.

However, the picture painted by the FCC is not sitting well with the two Democrats on the Republican-controlled commission.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (D) wrote a dissenting opinion to the report, where he flatly says it “reaches the wrong conclusion” and “fundamentally at odds with reality.”

“While I would like to be able to celebrate along with the FCC’s majority, our broadband deployment mission is not yet accomplished,” Starks wrote. “If you are 10 steps away from your goal and you move a step-and-a -half forward, you don’t have a victory party when your work isn’t done. You give yourself a pat on the back and put your head down to achieve the remaining eight-and-a-half steps.”

Starks points out that the process in which the report was created included a massive error.

Earlier this year, a draft of the report included data from a broadband provider that said it was serving millions of customers that it actually wasn’t, according to Tech Crunch. The mistake was flagged by internet rights advocacy organization Free Press.

A corrected version of the draft report was eventually released. As Gizmodo points out, the report released on Wednesday reflects less of a drop in the number of Americans without access to the download speeds than initially depicted.

“The fact that such a huge error was not flagged but instead was baked into the FCC’s data underlying this report—the same data underlying much of the FCC’s frequently criticized broadband mapping efforts—demonstrates the fundamental problems with the FCC’s data analysis capabilities,” Starks wrote.

Similarly, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (D) said the report “deserves a failing grade” and criticized the “basic methodology” the agency uses to collect the data.

Rosenworcel said the FCC assumes that if a broadband provider says it serves one customer in a census block, that all customers within that block are served.

“This is not right. It means the claim in this report that there are only 21 million people in the United States without broadband is fundamentally flawed,” Rosenworcel wrote.

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Andrew Wyrich

Andrew Wyrich

Andrew Wyrich is a politics staff writer for the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the internet. Andrew has written for USA Today, NorthJersey.com, and other newspapers and websites. His work has been recognized by the Society of the Silurians, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).