The FCC says in an annual report on broadband that a “persistent digital divide” remains and that it intends to “accelerate” deployment through a variety of means.

A trade group representing Internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon dismissed the report, calling it a “cynical, fact-starved exercise.”

“The Report concludes that more work needs to be done by the private and public sectors to expand robust broadband to all Americans in a timely way,” the FCC said in a statement following the adoption of the report on Thursday.

“The FCC will continue working to accelerate broadband deployment and to remove barriers to infrastructure investment, in part by direct subsidies, and in part by identifying and helping to reduce potential obstacles to deployment, competition, and adoption.”

USTelecom and its members, which are already embroiled in a court fight over the FCC’s decision last year to implement “net neutrality” and to regulate Internet Service Providers, promptly issued a withering response. Ahead of the report, AT&T and USTelecom questioned what it would contain and were critical.

The report is “not believable,” it said.

“It is unfortunate that the Federal Communications Commission’s annual broadband report seems to have become a cynical, fact-starved exercise with a conclusion that is contrived to justify a continuing expansion of regulatory authority,” a spokesperson for the group whom USTelecom did not identify, said.

“Given the $78 billion in annual private sector investment and the billions in USF support that is being used to extend broadband to remote parts of the county, it is ludicrous to say that broadband deployment in the United States is unreasonable – and no one really believes it.”

The FCC identifies broadband as 25 mbps download/3 mbps upload.

The report did acknowledge “significant progress in broadband deployment” yet noted “34 million Americans still lack access to broadband meeting today’s benchmark speeds.”

“The report also finds that a persistent digital divide has left approximately 40 percent of the people living in rural areas and on Tribal Lands without access to service at the FCC’s speed benchmark. In addition, while connectivity for schools has greatly improved since the FCC began modernizing its E-rate program, 41 percent of schools have not yet met the FCC’s short-term goals for connectivity capable of supporting digital learning applications,” the FCC said.

“For these reasons, the 2016 report concludes that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Some findings from the report:

  • Overall Deployment: 34 million Americans (10 percent of the population) lack access to fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads/3 Mbps for uploads
  • Deployment improved significantly from last year’s report, which found 55 million (17 percent) without access to 25/3 Mbps service
  • Persistent Urban/Rural Disparity: Americans living in rural areas and on Tribal lands continue to disproportionately lack access, as 39 percent of the rural population (23.4 million Americans), and 41 percent of residents of Tribal lands (1.6 million Americans) lack access to 25/3 Mbps service
  • By contrast, only 4 percent of urban Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband
  • These numbers show improvement from last year’s report, when 53 percent of rural residents lacked access, and 63 percent of the residents of Tribal Lands lacked access
  • Broadband speeds for schools: Only 59 percent of schools have met the FCC’s short-term goal of purchasing service that delivers at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 users, and a much smaller percent have met the longer-term goal of 1 Gbps/1,000 users.
  • For the first time, the report also includes data for satellite broadband services. The FCC applies the same speed benchmark—25/3—to both fixed terrestrial and fixed satellite broadband services, while observing significant differences involving technical capabilities and adoption patterns between fixed terrestrial and fixed satellite services.  No satellite broadband service met that speed benchmark during the reporting period.