This week the FCC unveiled their Sixth Annual Broadband Report (aka Report 706). They found that…
a substantial majority of Americans have access to broadband connections capable of “originat[ing] and receiv[ing] high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications,” roughly 80 million American adults do not subscribe to broadband at home, and approximately 14 to 24 million Americans remain without broadband access
New Definition of Broadband
Big news! They have upgraded the standard for broadband from 200 kbps downstream, a standard set over a decade ago when web pages were largely text-based, to 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. The FCC notes in their report that some will still find this definition to low, while others will find it too high.
Dave Peters from MPR’s Ground Level had a nice description of the bandwidth difference from Vijay Sethi, former MN Broadband Task Force member and Clay County’s administrator…
“For daily use, it’s [the lower speed] OK,” Sethi said. “Where I do complain is when I have to send some photos. . . It takes forever.”
If your daily use doesn’t require sending photos, downloading video, uploading almost anything, two-way video or audio communication – then 200k might be enough. But that doesn’t sustain a lot of education, health care or business applications. (It doesn’t even keep my kids entertained for an hour.)
FCC Reports Meets National Broadband Plan
Back to the report… It unequivocally says “that broadband deployment to all Americans is not reasonable and timely.” It “mandates that the Commission take immediate action to accelerate deployment of [advanced telecommunications] capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” It calls for the reform of FCC’s universal service programs in support of public-private partnerships as well as for the “unleashing” of additional spectrum for mobile broadband. So the research support the National Broadband Plan.
The report focuses on county “due to questions about the accuracy of the most recent data collected at the Census Tract level” not because the FCC feels that focusing on counties is “the best way to determine the “geographical areas that are not served” by broadband.”
The report finds that…
- We estimate that 1,024 out of 3,230 counties in the United States and its territories are unserved by broadband
- The unserved areas appear to have lower income levels than the U.S. as a whole
- The unserved areas also appear to be more rural than the U.S. as a whole
- Counties where at least half the population lives in a Native Homeland area or where at least half the land mass is a Native Homeland area also tend to have lower broadband subscription rates than the U.S. as a whole. We find that only 12.5 percent of all households on Native Homeland areas subscribe to a broadband service faster than dialup compared to 56 percent of all households nationwide.
The FCC on Minnesota
In Minnesota, the 9 counties that are defined as unserved: Cass, Clay, Clearwater, Grant, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman and Wilkin. All are in NW Minnesota. It includes 1,45,100 people; 85 percent represent rural housing.
This list is quite different from the list of counties that appeared to be “least served” according to the Broadband Task Force Report published last November. The Task Force included a table that listed counties by “percentage of broadband availability” using data provided by ConnectMN and using the 200 kbps as the definition of broadband. Here were the 9 counties with the lowest percentage: Cook, Pine, Kanabec, Aitkin, Mahnomen, Wabasha, Jackson, Redwood and Morrison.
I thought that time might make a difference but looking at a ConnectMN map from April 2010, NW Minnesota is still not jumping out at me in the same way. Maybe it indicates that the counties featured in the Task Force report generally have speeds greater than 200 kbps but available to fewer homes. It gets into tricky debate between the importance of ubiquity vs speed.