But from where I sit, nothing could be further from the truth. I would know. I am one of the five Commissioners at the FCC, and I refused to offer my support for the 2020 Broadband Progress Report. That’s because, in this crisis, it has become painfully clear that not everyone in the United States has adequate Internet access. The evidence is all around us.
The FCC’s rosy view that all is well bears no relation to reality. Moreover, the agency’s methods leave a lot to be desired.
For starters, the FCC concludes that there are only 18 million people in the United States without access to broadband. This number wildly understates the extent of the digital divide in this country. That’s because if a broadband provider tells the FCC that they serve a single customer in a census block, the agency assumes service exists throughout. The result is data that systematically overstates service across the country.
Finally, the FCC fails to meaningfully discuss big issues that contribute to the digital divide. It refuses to consider price and affordability. It barely mentions digital literacy, the ability to understand and use digital information, a necessity in the information age, in its report. If the agency is serious about living up to its duty under the law to report on the state of broadband in this country, these omissions render its conclusions suspect.
Crises can reveal a lot. This pandemic has demonstrated conclusively that broadband is no longer a want. It is a need. What we also need is an honest accounting from the FCC about the state of broadband in this country. Because when we get to the other side of this crisis, we need to rebuild our economy so it works for all. Closing the digital divide is the right place to start.