The official figure for the proportion of US homes without broadband access has dropped by more than a third in the space of a year. But the Federal Communications Commission notes the apparent drop may be partly due to improved data collection.
The official figure for the number of Americans without adequate access is 19 million, down from 26 million last year. Nationally that means 6 percent of people without access, though in rural areas the figure is around 25 percent.
It is important to note that some of the people classed as being without access may be able to get online via mobile broadband services. The FCC estimated that this could apply to 5 million people but wasn’t confident enough about the data to remove these people from the headline figure.
Since 1996, the FCC has been legally required to produce an annual report on the availability of broadband and whether access is expanding in a “reasonable and timely fashion.” While the number of people with access has gone up every year, the FCC was officially satisfied with the pace of expansion until 2009.
In 2010 it changed the official definition of broadband from a vastly outdated figure of 200Kbps. Since then the requirement is that the person have access to a service that delivers (rather than merely offers) downloads of 4Mbps and uploads of 1Mbps.
How much the service costs or whether people actually take it up doesn’t affect the statistics. The FCC doesn’t currently take into account latency or monthly download limits, though will consider these at the next scheduled review of the speed requirement, which would take effect from 2014.
The 2010 threshold change was enough for the FCC to decide it could now officially rule things were not hunky dory after all. That’s now its verdict for the third year running.
Despite this official thumbs down, the FCC did acknowledge work done by the communications industry to improve and expand cabling, and the launch of LTE service by mobile companies. Perhaps unsurprisingly it said its own reforms will need to continue. These include subsidizing broadband expansion projects using money from a levy on fixed phone lines. That cash that was previously earmarked for making sure every home could get telephone service, a task that’s largely considered complete.
The report also noted that around 100 million people do not have broadband, even where it is available.