Apr 24, 2020 - Technology

FCC says digital divide is narrowing

Illustration of hands reaching up to a dangling Ethernet cable

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission said the number of Americans with access to high-speed internet service has grown since 2017, according to a report Friday.

The big picture: The coronavirus pandemic has put in sharper focus the toll of the digital divide — the gap between those who have broadband internet and those who do not.

By the numbers: The FCC's annual Broadband Deployment Report finds that 18 million Americans, roughly 5.6 percent of the population, lacked access to broadband, according to 2018 data. (That was the most recent full year for which the agency had figures.)

  • That's down from the 21 million the FCC found lacked access in its previous report.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai touted his "deep commitment to expanding broadband to all corners of the country" in a statement.
  • "That’s why we’ve taken aggressive steps to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and reform our Universal Service Fund programs," he said.

Yes, but: As Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out in her dissent, the FCC's method for collecting broadband data can overstate service.

  • "This report is baffling," Rosenworcel said in a statement. "We are in the middle of a pandemic. So much of modern life has migrated online. As a result, it has become painfully clear there are too many people in the United States who lack access to broadband."
Go deeper