FCC Underestimates Number of Coloradans Without Internet

A new report estimates that 674,433 Coloradans lack access to Internet service that can provide speeds of at least 25 mbps. The new numbers are 4.2 and 3.7 times greater than those provided by the federal and state governments, respectively.

(TNS) — The number of Colorado consumers who lack access to a home-based broadband option is likely several-fold higher than what either the Federal Communications Commission or the Colorado Broadband Office are measuring, according to a new study from BroadbandNow.

BroadbandNow estimates 674,433 people in Colorado lack access to an Internet service that can provide 25 Mbps (million bits per second) download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds. That is higher than the 161,000 people the FCC and the 182,600 people the state says are on the wrong side of the digital divide in Colorado.

Put as a ratio, BroadbandNow estimates the federal government is off base by a factor of almost 4.2 times and the state 3.7 times.

Nationally, BroadbandNow estimates about 42 million people are without access to home-based broadband options, far above the 14.5 million the FCC counted in its 2020 Broadband Deployment report.

"I'm optimistic that in the next few years there will be a greater effort to close the digital divide. We have been talking about this for a decade," said Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief at BroadbandNow, a site where consumers can locate and compare internet service providers or ISPs in their area.

But he added, "what gets measured, gets done and right now we aren't measuring it correctly. We champion the idea of all providers having to release address-level granularity."

Getting a good grip on unserved households matters because President Joe Biden's administration set aside $100 billion to target 100 percent coverage in the American Jobs Act. Negotiations are taking that number lower, but whatever the final sum, the FCC needs to have a good grip on the scope of the problem or the money won't be spent correctly, Cooper said.

So why is there such a big gap? The FCC requires ISPs to fill out something called Form 477 detailing where they provide service. They must report down to the census block level, which at a minimum is 30,000 square feet. About half of census blocks are 6.4 acres or smaller. But in rural areas, the blocks can be huge, the largest one covering 8,500 square miles in Alaska.

Here is where the numbers get muddied. The FCC counts everyone on a census block as having access even if only one ISP offers service to one household.

BroadbandNow manually checked more than 58,000 addresses to find out whether providers, via their own websites, said they could connect a specific location. Based on those checks by a team of 15 data scientists, it found the FCC is significantly overstating broadband availability across all technology types and in urban, suburban and rural areas.

In Colorado, about one out of five addresses, 21 percent, were listed by the FCC as having coverage, but on a more detailed examination lacked access.

Cooper notes some caveats. If a smaller ISP didn't file the mandatory Form 477, researchers might have missed them as an option. And the data scientists didn't count wireless and satellite-based options, which remain spotty, slower and less consumer-friendly, although that is about to change with the rollout of 5G and new satellite systems.

The Colorado Broadband Office estimates that out of a population of just under 5.7 million people. there are 182,600 residents who still lack broadband access in Colorado.

"This number is more closely aligned with the FCC and not the BroadbandNow estimate," said Antonio Martinez, executive director of the state's broadband office, in an email.

(c)2021 The Denver Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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