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FCC: Digital divide continuing to close

April 27, 2020

The Federal Communications Commission has released its annual Broadband Deployment Report, which reveals that the number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continued to decline, going down by more than 14 per cent in 2018.

The number of Americans without access to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband with a median speed of 10/3 Mbps based on Ookla data declined approximately 54 per cent between 2017 and 2018. And the vast majority of Americans—more than 85 per cent—now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25 Mbps, a 47 per cent increase since 2017, with the number of rural Americans having access to 250/25 Mbps fixed terrestrial broadband service more than tripling between 2016 and 2018.

“Under my leadership, the FCC’s top priority is to close the digital divide, and I’m proud of the progress that we have made,” declared FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “From 2016 to 2018, the number of Americans without access to 25/3 Mbps fixed broadband service fell by more than 30 per cent. And in 2018 and 2019, the United States set consecutive records for new fibre deployment, with the number of homes passed by fibre increasing by 5.9 million and 6.5 million, respectively. Having grown up in rural Kansas, I have a deep commitment to expanding broadband to all corners of the country. That’s why we’ve taken aggressive steps to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and reform our Universal Service Fund programmes. But despite these gains, the job isn’t done—we’ll continue our work until all Americans have access to digital opportunity. In particular, I look forward to commencing Phase I of our Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction in October, which will bring high-speed broadband to millions of currently unserved Americans.”

According to the FCC, this progress has been fuelled in part by the broadband industry’s approximately $80 billion investment in network infrastructure in 2018, the highest annual amount in at least the last decade. In 2019 alone, fibre broadband networks became available to roughly 6.5 million additional homes, the largest one-year increase ever, with smaller providers accounting for 25 per cent of these new fibre connections.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that the FCC determine annually whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion.” The FCC says that given the compelling evidence, the report finds for the third consecutive year that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis. The Commission will continue its efforts to ensure that all Americans have the ability to access broadband.


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