Actual US broadband penetration & speed falls far short of FCC claims

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 10
A new dataset of actual broadband speeds that consumers are seeing in the U.S. is showing a stark disparity between Federal Communication Commission claims and the reality of the situation.

Credit: The Verge
Credit: The Verge


The anonymized data was collected by Microsoft through its cloud services and published over the past 18 months. The Verge used the data to create a map of the U.S. showing where the broadband problem is the worst.

The blue-colored areas are U.S. counties where less than 15% of people are using the internet at a 25Mbps download speed, which is the FCC's definition of high-speed internet.

This data conflicts with the FCC's own broadband maps, which are known to be wildly inaccurate. That's largely because the FCC relies on self-reported data from internet service providers on the areas they serve.

In Lincoln County, Washington, for example, the FCC data says that only 100% of households have broadband internet speeds. The Microsoft data seen by The Verge indicates that the rate is closer to 5%.

Alongside the speed disparities, the Microsoft-based map also shows the severity of the broadband problem in certain states. Most of Alaska is a dead zone, while nine counties in Nevada fall under the 10% threshold. Similar gaps in broadband coverage exist in New Mexico or central Texas.

The data shows broadband usage, which doesn't draw any distinctions between areas where higher speeds aren't available or areas in which the people can't afford faster connections. In Apache County, Arizona, broadband usage clocks in at about 5%. Among the 70,000 that live in the county, about 23,000 are in poverty -- the highest poverty rate in the state.

There are signs of change on the horizon, however. President Joe Biden has proposed investing $100 million in broadband funding as part of his American Jobs Plan. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators earlier in 2021 called upon the FCC to dramatically boost its definition of high-speed internet.

In March, the FCC also announced an initiative to collect broadband speed and access data directly from consumers. That data will be used to create service maps to use as evidence for proposed regulations.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    cg27cg27 Posts: 125member
    Really, imagine that, Alaska doesn’t have coverage in most areas.  Nor Texas in sparsely populated areas.  Go figure.  Come on, let’s apply some common sense.  Companies aren’t going to invest where it’s not justified.

    Also, this is precisely where the SpaceX StarLink is most apt.
    sdw2001llamamacseekerFidonet127libertyforall
  • Reply 2 of 27
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,556member
    @Cg27--you typed faster than me....)

    This means only people accessing Microsoft cloud services would have been included in this data. Which Microsoft cloud services are used by non-Microsoft client software (Office suite, etc.)? I know Microsoft collects all kinds of data but I have to wonder why they're publishing it and how much they're selling it for. 

    When you look at the map, I can totally understand the results for the western states. There's nothing but desert in the blue area of Nevada. The northern end of California is mountains on the west and high desert (Mt. Lassen) on the east. This is grazing land for the most part. That swath of Washington state is interesting but it's also not a highly populated area until you get closer to the eastern border. Alaska is a no-brainer. There's almost no towns in most of that state. In most of these internet-limited areas I see the Starlink satellite access as being the most cost-effective way to deliver internet. Installing fiber/coax cables just won't work. 

    The surprising part is the midwest and south where it should be easier to install landlines but I see this as being a political problem with taxpayers money not being spent on services to enhance internet access. 

    --What I'd like to see is more cellular access in many of these blue areas because more people drive through these areas than live in them.
    edited May 10 longpathsdw2001muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 27
    Most of Alaska is a dead zone, BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING IN THOSE AREAS!!! Why would you expect there to be broadband internet available there?
    sdw2001
  • Reply 4 of 27
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,613member
    The mistake was the FCC trusting data from the providers. 


    GeorgeBMacllamaOfer
  • Reply 5 of 27
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,761member
    cg27 said:
    Really, imagine that, Alaska doesn’t have coverage in most areas.  Nor Texas in sparsely populated areas.  Go figure.  Come on, let’s apply some common sense.  Companies aren’t going to invest where it’s not justified.

    Also, this is precisely where the SpaceX StarLink is most ap
    Yes, that is true.   It was also true 100 years ago with electric.   It's why the government stepped in with programs like the TVA to modernize those deprived areas of the country with those new fangled electrons flowing through a copper wire.   it worked.  The United States moved on into the future with a solid infrastructure.

    But, you raise a good point.   Should we be stringing coax?  Or are there better ways?
    -- Fiber
    -- 4G
    -- 5G
    -- Starlink
    -- Something else?

    China has blanketed their country with 5G.   But, does that have the bandwidth to power industry?   Maybe the problem will require multiple solutions?
    That is the one thing that bothers me about Biden's plan:   Yes, it's a problem that government can and must solve if we are to move forward.   But how it is done is important.
    Ofer
  • Reply 6 of 27
    CloudTalkinCloudTalkin Posts: 882member
    rob53 said:
    @Cg27--you typed faster than me....)

    This means only people accessing Microsoft cloud services would have been included in this data. Which Microsoft cloud services are used by non-Microsoft client software (Office suite, etc.)? I know Microsoft collects all kinds of data but I have to wonder why they're publishing it and how much they're selling it for. 

    When you look at the map, I can totally understand the results for the western states. There's nothing but desert in the blue area of Nevada. The northern end of California is mountains on the west and high desert (Mt. Lassen) on the east. This is grazing land for the most part. That swath of Washington state is interesting but it's also not a highly populated area until you get closer to the eastern border. Alaska is a no-brainer. There's almost no towns in most of that state. In most of these internet-limited areas I see the Starlink satellite access as being the most cost-effective way to deliver internet. Installing fiber/coax cables just won't work. 

    The surprising part is the midwest and south where it should be easier to install landlines but I see this as being a political problem with taxpayers money not being spent on services to enhance internet access. 

    --What I'd like to see is more cellular access in many of these blue areas because more people drive through these areas than live in them.
    Why publish it? Microsoft published this info as part of their Airband Initiative to help close the rural broadband gap.  How much are they selling it for?  $0.  It's free for all to analyze. https://github.com/microsoft/USBroadbandUsagePercentages ;

    You seem to be missing the overarching point which is broadband coverage isn't actually what the government says it is because the government is relying on self reporting from ISP's who have continually lied about the state of broadband coverage in the US.  Not only have they lied, they've taken tax payer funds to strengthen broadband coverage without actually doing it.  

    What MS's data shows is only a small part of the disparity between paid for promises and unfulfilled delivery.  As long as the telecom lobbying arm pumps inordinate amounts of money into political coffers... ain't nuttin' gon change.  

    You won't see more cellular access in those blue areas for some of the same reasons the areas are blue.  The telecoms don't have to offer coverage because no one is making them do it.  Can't say they aren't being incentivized because the government continues to give them money to do it but won't make them actually do it.  
    muthuk_vanalingamOferFileMakerFellerDogperson
  • Reply 7 of 27
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,761member
    DAalseth said:
    The mistake was the FCC trusting data from the providers. 



    Particularly over the past 4 years the FCC, like the FAA, FDA and USDA has been mostly a shill for the industry it is meant to regulate.
    dewmeDAalsethmuthuk_vanalingamOfercharlesatlas
  • Reply 8 of 27
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,681member
    I think the Verge article already has the relevant caveats with respect to population and investment potential, i.e., "Counties on the wrong side of the line are poorer and more remote, losing population even as the country grows."

    This map is interesting but the reality for most people is felt at a much finer grained level. Being in a county on the good side of the map is meaningless if your street or neighborhood is under served, which was exactly my situation until I moved.  Wider 5G rollout may help some of these last mile problems, but as others have mentioned the 5G towers are only going to get put up where there is sufficient payback potential for whoever is paying for them.

    We really should raise the bar to at least 250 Mbps to qualify as broadband, especially if it's going to take several years to get the infrastructure in place where it's needed.

    OferFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 9 of 27
    So I tried the FCC Speed Test app and got an abysmal 30Mbps. Switched back to Ookla Speed Test and got 450 Mbps (WiFi) as expected.
  • Reply 10 of 27
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,182administrator
    cg27 said:
    Really, imagine that, Alaska doesn’t have coverage in most areas.  Nor Texas in sparsely populated areas.  Go figure.  Come on, let’s apply some common sense.  Companies aren’t going to invest where it’s not justified.

    Also, this is precisely where the SpaceX StarLink is most apt.
    According to the FCC's data, nearly the entire US has 25/3 broadband, including those sparse areas in Texas.
    GeorgeBMacOfer
  • Reply 11 of 27
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,268member
    Most of Alaska is a dead zone, BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING IN THOSE AREAS!!! Why would you expect there to be broadband internet available there?
    And the people living in those dead zones are the types that probably don't want the internet anyway. They live there to get way from civilization.
  • Reply 12 of 27
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,268member
    So I tried the FCC Speed Test app and got an abysmal 30Mbps. Switched back to Ookla Speed Test and got 450 Mbps (WiFi) as expected.
    It’s a government app running on government servers. What did you expect? B)
  • Reply 13 of 27
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,630member
    cg27 said:
    Really, imagine that, Alaska doesn’t have coverage in most areas.  Nor Texas in sparsely populated areas.  Go figure.  Come on, let’s apply some common sense.  Companies aren’t going to invest where it’s not justified.

    Also, this is precisely where the SpaceX StarLink Skynet is most apt.
    There, I fixed it for you.
    OferJaiOh81
  • Reply 14 of 27
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,670member
    The first real question is whether those areas have any access to high speed internet.
    If the government needs to facilitate the build out where it is uneconomical to otherwise do so, that might be OK.
    If it's just to give more free stuff to people that taxpayers have to pay for, then no thanks.
  • Reply 15 of 27
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,215member
    This is the telling part:

    “The blue-colored areas are U.S. counties where less than 15% of people are using the internet at a 25Mbps download speed, which is the FCC's definition of high-speed internet.”

    The FCC judges by available. Microsoft judges by using. Two very different metrics. I would not expect The Verge’s sophomoric “journalism” to pick up on this. 
    mike1
  • Reply 16 of 27
    OkloopyOkloopy Posts: 1member
    This may reflect local economies and peoples williness to pay for higher internet speeds. Gigabyte internet speeds are available where I live, but there is an an amazing number of households still using DSL because it is $25 a month versus $45 a month for the lowest tier 100 Mbps cable speed. 
  • Reply 17 of 27
    CloudTalkinCloudTalkin Posts: 882member
    steven n. said:
    This is the telling part:

    “The blue-colored areas are U.S. counties where less than 15% of people are using the internet at a 25Mbps download speed, which is the FCC's definition of high-speed internet.”

    The FCC judges by available. Microsoft judges by using. Two very different metrics. I would not expect The Verge’s sophomoric “journalism” to pick up on this. 
    The data shows broadband usage, which doesn't draw any distinctions between areas where higher speeds aren't available or areas in which the people can't afford faster connections. In Apache County, Arizona, broadband usage clocks in at about 5%. Among the 70,000 that live in the county, about 23,000 are in poverty -- the highest poverty rate in the state. - Seems they did pick up on it.  

    The FCC doesn't judge by available.  The FCC judges by what the ISP's say is available.  What the ISP's say isn't reflected in actual deployment.  Ars Technica does a great job of covering the debacle of broadband deployment.  You should check out some of their coverage. Suffice it to say, Microsoft's data isn't a revelation.  We already knew the ISP's were doing a crappy job.
    Oferroundaboutnowmuthuk_vanalingamllama
  • Reply 18 of 27
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,761member
    For decades now broadband has been driven by the for-profit Cable TV industry looking to sell programming.

    That model is quickly becoming obsolete as more and more cut the cord (just as they did with the copper land line) and needs shift to internet everything....
    That became clear during the pandemic as schools and businesses tried to go remote -- and found vast holes in the fabric of our networks.
    We know now those holes need to be patched for us to move into the future.  But:

    The question is:  where do we go from here?   Do we just run more Coax?  That would work but it's so 80's....
    Similarly to cable TV the world of fixed PCs may also be starting to die as well as we head into mobile everything.   So are wired connections part of the past or still part of the future?

    What are we talking about investing here to connect all of the U.S.?  Isn't it like $100Billion?
    I think somebody needs to at least ask the right questions before making an investment like that.

    For myself, I have both coax and fiber (and even an old copper line) coming into my house.   But, if they simply tacked up a 5G transmitter to one of the poles around me that would replace both the coax and the fiber.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 27
    flydogflydog Posts: 965member
    cg27 said:
    Really, imagine that, Alaska doesn’t have coverage in most areas.  Nor Texas in sparsely populated areas.  Go figure.  Come on, let’s apply some common sense.  Companies aren’t going to invest where it’s not justified.

    Also, this is precisely where the SpaceX StarLink is most apt.

    Are you arguing with yourself? The premise of the article is that actual speeds are lower than what the FCC says they are, not that it makes sense to provide faster broadband in rural areas. 
  • Reply 20 of 27
    So I tried the FCC Speed Test app and got an abysmal 30Mbps. Switched back to Ookla Speed Test and got 450 Mbps (WiFi) as expected.
    Interesting. I just tried it for the first time and got 501/482 on the FCC and 550/442 on Ookla (which is really a test of my wifi. Wired is ≈937/921 U/D 2ms). The big differentiator for me was ping. 20-22ms FCC vs 4ms Ookla
    roundaboutnowlibertyforall
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