Friday, December 21, 2018

Microsoft researchers say rural-urban broadband gap is much larger than FCC says, based on ISPs' reports

The rural-urban digital divide is much higher than the Federal Communications Commission broadband coverage map suggests, according to a new study by Microsoft researchers. "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," Steve Lohr reports for The New York Times.

A big part of the problem is that the FCC lets internet service providers simply tell it which areas they cover, and ISPs have an incentive to exaggerate their coverage areas. The FCC is investigating whether some ISPs lied about covering rural areas to access government funds for rural providers.

"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," Lohr reports. It should be noted that Microsoft has an incentive to highlight the digital gap, since it is angling to get government funding for its controversial Airband initiative, which uses white-space tech, or vacant low-frequency channels, to transmit a signal.

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