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FCC says broadband deployment is going great despite 20 million lacking access

Flickr via Gage Skidmore. Click for original.

(Image credit: Flickr via Gage Skidmore)

The Federal Communications Commission has drafted its 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, and in it the agency claims the digital divide between Americans with and without access to high-speed internet has "narrowed substantially." 

"For the past two years, closing the digital divide has been the FCC’s top priority," said FCC chairman Ajit Pai (PDF). "We’ve been tackling this problem by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Connect America Fund."

Pai seems to be referencing the roll back of net neutrality regulations, which he spearheaded after being appointed chairman. However, that is not what some are taking issue with in the report. Instead, it's the numbers, and what they represent.

According to the draft report, access to a fixed broadband connection that meets the FCC's benchmark speed of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up has dropped by over 25 percent, from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017. In addition, the report points out that most of those who gained access to broadband connections—5.6 million Americans—live in rural areas.

"This report shows that our approach is working," Pai added.

As noticed by Engadget, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel disagrees with Pai's assessment, and she let it be known on Twitter.

Interestingly, the draft report's data differs from a recent American Broadband Initiative (ABI) report, which indicated more than 24 million Americans lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps speeds. That figure is higher than the entire populations of New York (20 million) or Florida (21 million).

Regardless of what the actual numbers are, Rosenworcel's contention is that millions of households lack access to high-speed service, and therefore broadband is not being "deployed on a reasonable and timely basis" as the draft report indicates.

The report also points to an increase of nearly 20 percent to 290.9 million Americans who have access to 100Mbps/10Mbps fixed broadband speeds. Out of those, 205.2 million have access to 250Mbs/50Mbps speeds, which is up 45 percent.

The FCC will vote on the draft report in the coming weeks.