Fewer Americans Than Expected Have Broadband Access

A recent report from BroadbandNow Research found that far fewer Americans have access to broadband networks than most experts previously thought. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has long touted that 21 million Americans are lacking high-speed internet access, but this BroadbandNow report finds that the number is actually far greater. 

According to this report, the number is closer to 41 million Americans than the 21 million that the FCC claims. Predictably, the areas that have been most undercounted seem to be areas with a higher amount of rural residents. Since those people haven’t even been counted by the FCC, those areas aren’t even getting the funding they need to remedy the problem. 

CityLab took the time to detail exactly how BroadbandNow Research arrived at this 41 million number. “The Broadband Now team manually ran 11,663 randomly selected addresses through the “check availability” tool of nine large internet service providers that claim to serve those areas. All in all, the team analyzed 20,000 provider-address combinations,” wrote CityLab. 

Of those 20,000 provider-address combinations that BroadbandNow analyzed a fifth reported that there were absolutely no service options available. That makes it very clear that a lot of these major internet service providers (ISPs) are vastly overstating their service areas. In fact, 13% of the addresses surveyed should have had multiple ISPs servicing their address, yet none of them would actually provide internet access for those locations. 

 This disparity has many wondering how the FCC could be so off in their estimates. It comes down to the methodology that they use. The FCC relies almost exclusively on Form 477 reports. Those reports require ISPs to self-report the locations that they serve. Clearly, many ISPs are exaggerating the areas that they actually service to make themselves look better. 

This report brings to light a major issue that needs to be addressed, particularly because the FCC is the government entity that allocates resources to bring internet access to rural areas. If their numbers are wrong, those areas are not going to get the resources they need to plug into the twenty-first century. Hopefully this report spurs the FCC to take action to resolve that issue quickly. 


  1. https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/02/internet-access-rural-broadband-digital-divide-map-fcc-data/606424/