Internet connectivity is considered an essential utility underpinning social inclusion and a bootstrap to driving economic recovery. The true picture of coverage across the United States paints a sobering view of the challenges facing the country.
This is starkly illustrated in a new digital map released by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
See the Map: ArcGIS Web Application
Drawing on data from the Census Bureau, the FCC, M-Lab, Ookla and Microsoft, the information reveals that in many parts of the country broadband speeds fall below the FCC’s benchmark of 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload. The map also includes data on places that reported a lack of connection by computer, smartphone or tablet.
It is poorer areas which are disproportionately lacking in internet connectivity and access to computers and related equipment.
“What it tells you is there’s a lot of places in the United States that aren’t using the internet at broadband speeds,” a White House official told news site Axios, estimating that means tens of millions of people.
The problems are immediately clear from just a general overview of the country. Every area marked in red in the image mean they don’t meet the FCC’s minimum recommended broadband speeds.
“Given that the FCC’s benchmark is pretty low — just 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up — this is pretty terrible,” comments Matt Wille at Input.
“No, that’s an understatement — it’s a total failure. The many, many red areas on the map just have no access to high-speed internet at all.”
For example, in a working-class Latino area in east Oakland more than a quarter of people do not have internet access, even though commercial providers exist, NBC News found.
That’s compared to a “wealthy white neighborhood” to the north of that Latino neighborhood where only 6 per cent of people lacked access to broadband internet.
There is also a layer on the map that shows areas designated as American Indian, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian Areas.
There continues to be gulf between these “tribal communities, which have historically suffered from lack of internet access,” and much of the rest of the country, per NTIA.
READ MORE: NTIA Creates First Interactive Map to Help Public See the Digital Divide Across the Country (NTIA)
The new map draws on a wider pool of data than existing maps by the FCC, which relied exclusively on industry-provided data that overstated broadband penetration.
“The FCC relies on data supplied by internet service providers about where they could offer service,” reports Axios. “Companies can report that a census block is served even if only one household has internet service — which leads to maps that overstate access.”
The Biden administration, which is looking to spend $100 billion on broadband as part of the American Jobs Plan infrastructure package, acknowledged this.
“There’s a large gap between what the carriers are saying is on offer to be used and what’s actually being used,” the White House official told Axios.
The FCC uses its maps to allocate billions of dollars of subsidies for broadband deployment.
“To ensure that every household has the internet access necessary for success in the digital age, we need better ways to accurately measure where high-speed service has reached Americans and where it has not,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.
The Democrat’s Bill aims to “bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American, including the more than 35 per cent of rural Americans who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds.”
But in a time when nearly everyone has smartphones that connect to the internet, as well as entertainment devices like gaming consoles, computers, or other such devices, “even minimally acceptable speeds are not enough to provide reliable internet to an entire family,” observes British paper The Independent.