FCC Broadband Report Splits Commission Members

A new FCC report looks at how many Americans have access to high-speed Internet services. Commission members disagreed about whether mobile broadband counts and progress is being made fast enough.

A new Federal Communications Commission report concluded that about 19 million Americans, mostly in rural areas of the United States, still lack access to high-speed Internet services. The commission's eighth annual report on broadband access also found the country's tribal areas lack these modern services.

"In an era when broadband is essential to innovation, jobs and global competitiveness, the report concludes that the FCC-and the nation-must continue to address obstacles impeding universal broadband deployment and availability," the FCC said in an Aug. 21 statement.

The report is the FCC's first to include extensive data on mobile broadband and the availability of 4G networks, and includes "the most robust analysis of international data that the commission has ever done."

The report also includes an impressive interactive map that shows deployment statistics, by technology type, for every county in the country.

Jefferson County in Louisiana, for example, has 94 percent cable and 94 percent DSL access, 0 percent fixed wireline and 0 percent fiber, and a per capita income of $22,095. In Westchester County, N.Y., where the per capita income is $47,814, fiber is 94 percent, cable is 100 percent and DSL access is available to 86 percent of residents.

However, the report, what it suggests and the role the government should play in such matters, divided members of the commission.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in his statement, said that the Commission has adopted "landmark reforms" to its universal services program that are targeted at increasing broadband deployment and making it more affordable to more Americans.

"The U.S. has now regained global leadership in key areas of the broadband economy, including mobile, where we lead in mobile apps and 4G deployment," said Genachowski. "But, in this flat, competitive global economy, we need to keep driving toward faster broadband and universal access."

Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, in a statement of dissent, described the growth of broadband deployment in the United States as "swift and strong." As an example, he cited that the United States has 21 percent of the globe's 3G/4G subscribers and approximately 69 percent of its Long-Term Evolution (LTE) subscribers, "even though the United States is home to less than 5 percent of the global population."

McDowell also accused the committee of using Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as an excuse for "mission creep," or expanding its "jurisdictional reach."

For example, wrote McDowell, "the report identifies low broadband service quality, affordability of broadband, lack of access to computers, lack of relevance and poor digital literacy as some of the barriers to infrastructure investment. These are really adoption issues, not deployment issues."

Also dissenting, Commissioner Ajit Pai, wrote in a statement that the "commission has consistently ignored in recent years the statute's direction that 'advanced telecommunications capability' may be deployed 'using any technology.' That instruction does not permit us to segregate fixed connections from mobile connections, focusing on the former and neglecting the latter."

Had the Commission included mobile broadband services, Pai continued, it would have concluded that 5.5 million, not 19 million, Americans lack access to advanced telecommunications capability-as is, the figure represents a "245 percent overstatement of the problem."

Genachowski, in his statement, acknowledged the importance of mobile broadband and recommended that analysis of it be included in the ninth such report.

"In short, the goalposts are moving. Every year consumers and businesses need higher speeds and more capacity to keep up, innovators need new test beds for the latest technologies, and our competitors around the world are pushing hard to gain a strategic advantage by deploying faster, higher-capacity broadband to their citizens," Genachowski wrote.

"As broadband providers respond to meet this incredible demand, so too our broadband benchmarks and our broadband policies must keep up with these changes to foster economic growth, job creation and our global competitiveness," Genachowski added.