The FCC today released its annual report to Congress on the state of broadband service. Each year the report declares whether all Americans are gaining access to broadband in “a reasonable and timely fashion.” This year’s report answers the question in the affirmative, with the report passing a party-line 3-2 vote. But as most commissioners had to admit, with the deficiencies in the Form 477 reporting process, the Commission has a poor feel how much of rural America remains unserved.
“We recognize that the Form 477 data collection is not perfect, and the Commission has an open proceeding considering ways to improve the accuracy and granularity of that data collection,” the report concludes. “While many commenters offer criticism of the Form 477 data, as well as recommendations for how to improve the Commission’s data, this report is not an appropriate vehicle for the Commission to make such changes to the data collection.”
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, dissenting from the report, disagreed. “It is simply not credible for the Federal Communications Commission to clap its hands and pronounce our broadband job done,” she said in a statement. Instead of releasing a report claiming progress in closing the coverage gap, Rosenworcel called for a “candid appraisal of the work we have to do to bring broadband everywhere.”
Chairman Ajit Pai did not provide a statement with the report but has been responding frequently over the last two months as criticism of the Form 477 process has intensified. Three weeks ago, the FCC released corrections to some preliminary data, which suggested the digital divide is narrowing, but not as quickly as the FCC had originally announced. Pai has spoken favorably about efforts, such as USTelecom’s Broadband Mapping Initiative, to develop alternative methods for pinpointing unserved rural areas.
“While I vote to approve, I express hope that by next year’s report, the Commission will have the requisite data to finally recognize marketplace and technological reality with respect to mobile broadband and evaluate the state of deployment in a more comprehensive manner,” said Pai ally, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.