Microsoft Disputes FCC Broadband Coverage Figures

Microsoft has put itself at odds with the American communication regulator, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

It has disputed the FCC claims about broadband coverage across America, and suggested that the official figures and coverage maps were wildly inaccurate.

The FCC’s broadband coverage maps have been widely criticised for being inaccurate, as it often relies on overly broad coverage data supplied by American Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

FCC dispute

Indeed, even the FCC’s democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has publicly admitted previously that the FCC’s own broadband coverage maps are ‘terrible’, and they need to fix those maps as soon as possible.

And Microsoft agrees with her, after it blogged on Monday it was time time for a new approach for mapping broadband data to better serve Americans.

For the record the FCC claims that 24.7 million people (mostly in rural areas) do not have broadband coverage.

But Microsoft’s data shows that in actual fact 162.8 million American people do not use the Internet at broadband speeds.

“Every day, our world becomes a little more digital. But reaping the benefits of this digital world – pursuing new educational opportunities through distance learning, feeding the world through precision agriculture, growing a small business by leveraging the cloud, and accessing better healthcare through telemedicine – is only possible for those with a broadband connection, a link not available to at least 25 million people, 19 million of whom live in this country’s rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),” blogged Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer John Kahan.

“Our analysis shows that the counties with the highest unemployment also have the lowest broadband usage (and broadband access),” said Kahan.

“Despite the importance of this issue, we are not making very much progress in closing the broadband gap,” he added. “In the past five years, there’s been more than $22 billion in subsidies and grants to carriers to sustain, extend and improve broadband in rural America. But adoption has barely budged.”

“There’s strong evidence, though, that the percentage of Americans without broadband access is much higher than the figures reported by the FCC,” said Kahan. “Using anonymized data that we collect as part of our ongoing work to improve the performance and security of our software and services, we found that 162.8 million people are not using the internet at broadband speeds.”

Two problems

Microsoft said there are two fundamental problems with the data used for broadband mapping right now.

Firstly, the form the FCC uses to collect broadband data is too broad.

“Form 477 is the primary tool used to collect data on broadband deployment,” Kahan said. “Right now, this form asks providers if they are “providing or could …without an extraordinary commitment of resources provide broadband service to an area.” If the answer is yes to either question, the area is considered covered – meaning many places are counted as covered that have no access and providers have no plans to provide it any time soon.”

Secondly, the lack of location specificity poses challenges. If broadband access is delivered to a single customer in a block, the entire block is counted as having service, Kahan said.

The FCC is currently controlled by five commissioners, three of which are Republican.

The man in overall charge of the FCC is its Republican chairman Ajit Pai – appointed by President Trump) who has overseen its controversial cancellation of the net neutrality laws brought in by former President Barak Obama.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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