8.3 million places in the US still don’t have access to broadband internet

This week, the FCC released its most accurate, up-to-date, and granular map of high-speed broadband availability in the United States. It shows which homes and businesses have high-speed broadband available and, crucially, the 8.3 million who don’t. The agency calls it another step in its efforts to accurately map broadband access.

Measuring how many people have easy access to a high-speed Internet connection for a country the size of the United States is a major undertaking. Until last year, the FCC based its broadband availability maps on census blocks. It was assumed that if a home or business on a block had high-speed Internet service, everyone would. As the FCC itself stated in the press release announcing the latest versions of the maps, Needless to say, this methodology left a lot to be desired. He overrated the service nationwide. Worse, because this type of counting is least effective in areas with uneven broadband availability, it also provided a less than accurate picture of underserved communities because it lacked the kind of granular data policymakers need if they are to address the digital divide.

The good news is that the FCC’s current method is much more effective. While the agency previously counted data from 8.1 million census blocks, the new maps have more than 114 million identified locations that could potentially be connected to high-speed broadband. According to the press release, it identified all households and small businesses in the country that should have access to high-speed Internet services.

When the FCC first released a map based on this new data in November of last year, it considered it only a starting point and a pre-production draft. The data in the new map has been updated to reflect the challenges from consumers, states, localities, tribes and other stakeholders that have been in full swing over the past few months.

Apparently, the agency received challenges about the accuracy of the information it used for more than 4 million locations (about 3.5% of all locations). These challenges could challenge the availability and speed of service that the map has listed for every home or business. It has solved 75% of them so far by updating the map with the correct information when needed. It has also added more than a million additional locations. In total, it identified nearly 330,000 more locations without high-speed broadband access. All of which means that the current iteration is the best and most accurate broadband map ever built in the United States.

Of course, while the map is more accurate, much of what it reveals isn’t good news. The main finding is that 8.3 million homes and businesses, or more than 7% of all identified locations, have no access to high-speed broadband of any kind. With so much of life and work moving online, people in those places are at risk of being left behind.

It’s also worth noting that the FCC currently considers a connection with a download speed of 25Mbps and an upload speed of 3Mbps to be a high-speed broadband connection. It’s not that fast, especially if there are multiple people in a home or business relying on the same connection. For example, the FCC recommends a minimum connection of 5 Mbps for HD video streaming and 6 Mbps for HD video teleconferencing. Just two or three people streaming Netflix or having a meeting on Zoom could get very close to the maximum, and that’s assuming you’re also getting the full 25Mbps. (For what it’s worth, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed raising the definition of broadband to 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload, which is much more suitable for a household or business, even if it’s not it still happened. And it would likely dramatically increase the number of locations without high-speed access.)

Either way, broadband access in the US is improving, and the Biden administration has repeatedly invested in enabling more people to have access to the better internet. If you want to check the maps yourself, you can do so now on the FCC website. If you believe the speed data for your home or business is inaccurate, be sure to file a challenge!

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