Many Americans can’t afford broadband, but the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t care. The government often claims that people who don’t have broadband just don’t want it, but in reality it’s because of limited market competition and monopoly that they simply can’t afford it. Last week, a study found that as many as 42 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the population, do not have broadband, more than double the FCC’s previous estimate. In New York City alone, more than 1.5 million people (18 percent of city dwellers) do not have any form of broadband in their homes.
The U.S. government’s explanation is that users don’t want broadband at all. For example, a survey by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) found that 55 percent of Americans without broadband either don’t want it or don’t feel the need.
But a new study by the National Digital Sharing Alliance (NDIA) suggests that the government’s understanding of the problem and its solutions are completely wrong.
The study found that NTIA’s investigative approach was flawed, unfairly blaming rural consumers for the digital divide. Instead, it cites a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center that found that 50 percent of non-broadband users say they don’t use broadband because of high prices — a problem that is not unique to the rural market at all.
Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) often show that Americans spend the most on broadband than in the developed world, in large part because of limited competition in the market.
The FCC, led by Ajit Pai, has often declared that tackling the “digital divide” is his top priority. One of his favorite solutions to the problem is the elimination of consumer protections such as net neutrality, which he misjudged would discourage industry investment. Pai also often says the problem is mainly rural, and the data show that this is simply not true.
According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center and the American Community Survey, researcher John Horrigan estimates that about 18.5 million households do not use broadband because of the high cost of services.
However, the Us Government does not even seem to have been able to understand the problem. In the past, the FCC’s broadband map has been very poor and inaccurate. The agency also doesn’t collect or share data on u.S. broadband prices, so they naturally can’t solve a problem they don’t actually understand.