Digital Divide is in the eye of the beholder and apparently the FCC wears rose colored glasses

Microsoft has apparently done a survey of broadband use in the US. Their numbers are very different from the FCC numbers, which are widely used especially in regards to policy making and funding. The New York Times wrote about the research; I’m borrowing from the Benton Foundation summary…

A new study by Microsoft researchers casts a light on the actual use of high-speed internet across the country, and the picture it presents is very different from Federal Communications Commission numbers. Their analysis suggests that the speedy access is much more limited than the FCC data shows. Over all, Microsoft concluded that 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, while the FCC says broadband is not available to 24.7 million Americans. The discrepancy is particularly stark in rural areas.

The issue with the current FCC statistics, experts say, is that they rely on simplistic surveys of internet service providers that inherently overstate coverage. For example, if one business in an area has broadband service, then the entire area is typically considered to have broadband service available. The Microsoft researchers instead looked at the internet speeds of people using the company’s software and services, like Office software, Windows updates, Bing searches and maps, and Xbox game play. The Microsoft data is much more detailed than the official government statistics, said John Kahan, Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer for external affairs. Microsoft plans to release the national comparisons, as well as state and county data in 2018.

I will try to keep an eye out for the state and county data! And I will pull out one fact from the actual report (or at least blog on the report)…

As the country looks to address 5G technology, it’s clear that it will provide a vital advance for many parts of the nation. But given the nature of the spectrum on which 5G relies, it’s not likely to soon reach the rural areas that currently lack broadband access. For example, today 13 percent of Americans using mobile devices still can’t even access 4G technology.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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