The Federal Communications Commission would have us believe that everything is hunky-dory in the land of broadband, that speeds and availability are improving at a steady clip in the United States, and that 'only' around 25 million Americans lack access to high-speed Internet. Microsoft is calling BS on the data, though, saying the mapping data the FCC relies on for its annual broadband reports is "inaccurate."
"The government’s most current broadband statistics come from the FCC and suggest 25 million Americans lack access to a broadband connection. There’s strong evidence, though, that the percentage of Americans without broadband access is much higher than the figures reported by the FCC," Microsoft stated in a blog post on Monday.
Microsoft also said it is "vitally important" to get the numbers right, as the data is used by federal, state, and local agencies to allocate funds for broadband expansion. As a result of the FCC's inaccurate figures, millions of Americans without access to broadband have been made "invisible," Microsoft added.
What Microsoft claims to have found through its own research is that more than 160 million Americans are not using Internet at broadband speeds, which is officially recognized as 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream. It also said there are "significant discrepancies" in the data contained in the FCC's most recent broadband report and its own research.
"In our home state of Washington, the FCC data indicates that 100 percent of Ferry County residents have access to broadband. When we spoke to local officials, they indicated that very few residents in this rural county had access and those that did were using broadband in business. Our data bears this out, showing that only 2 percent of Ferry County is using broadband," Microsoft said.
From Microsoft's vantage point, there are two main problems with the FCC's data collection. One is that the request form the FCC uses to collect broadband data is too broad. For example, one of the forms asks ISPs if they are "providing or could ...without an extraordinary commitment of resources provide broadband service to an area." Answering yes to either query results in the area being marked as covered.
The other problem is that the FCC data is based on census blocks, which is the smallest unit by the US Census Bureau, even though in rural areas those blocks can be rather large.
"If broadband access is delivered to a single customer in that block, the entire block is counted as having service. We must be able to count those within the census block who are unserved," Microsoft added.
Microsoft would like to see the wording on the aforementioned form changed to reflect actual and not hypothetical progress. It's also advocating for using both availability and actual usage data to help determine investments and communicate progress.
"We stand ready to assist in whatever way we can, and look forward to continuing our work, both through partnering with the public sector and with providers through our Airband Initiative, to close the broadband gap, quickly," Microsoft said.