Americans’ lack of internet access likely underestimated by government
- The coronavirus outbreak is speeding up the push toward an “online first” world, but way more Americans could be left behind than the government estimates.
- The Federal Communications Commission says 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access, but one of its top officials told Axios that “radically overstates” the actual number of people online.
- A Microsoft study last year found that 162 million Americans lack broadband internet — nearly half the US population.
- With work, school, and even the 2020 census moving online, that could cause serious problems for people who aren’t able to connect.
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People are becoming increasingly dependent on the internet, a process that has rapidly accelerated in recent weeks as the coronavirus outbreak forces work, school, and other daily activities to move online.
But millions of Americans still lack reliable internet access, and with the actual number likely being way higher than the government has estimated, that could cause serious problems.
The Federal Communications Commission’s latest report claims that, as of 2017, 21 million Americans lacked broadband internet. However, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told Axios on Monday that figure “radically overstates” how many people actually have reliable connections.
That’s likely in part because the FCC’s estimate is based on self-reported data from internet service providers, and the agency counts an entire census block as having internet access even if the ISP supplies internet to just one household within that census block.
Outside estimates seem to back up Rosenworcel’s claim. Last September, an analysis by Microsoft found that 162 million Americans lacked broadband internet. A more recent report from research group BroadbandNow, which used FCC data and checked it against top internet providers’ “check availability” tools, put that number at closer to 42 million Americans.
The government having bad data about people’s internet access could have major consequences for those left in the digital dark.
To help contain the spread of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the government is encouraging Americans to respond online to the 2020 census for the first time ever, according to Axios. Since the census helps determine how political power and federal financial resources are distributed across the country, that could mean those with internet aren’t able to respond, or at least not without putting their (and others’) health at risk.
Additionally, as more schools close or switch to virtual classes amid the coronavirus outbreak, students from low-income and rural areas — which disproportionately lack internet access — are feeling the impact particularly hard. Yet the FCC recently came under fire from lawmakers, who argued that the commission’s plans for expanding rural internet access didn’t go far enough, indicating the situation may not improve anytime soon.
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