A new report from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) showed millions of residents in rural regions still lack access to adequate mobile and fixed broadband, but concluded the commission is meeting its mandate to encourage timely deployments.
In the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, the FCC stated 99.6 per cent of the total US population had access to LTE speeds of 5Mb/s download and 1Mb/s upload at end-December 2016, unchanged from 2015 measurements. While 100 per cent of the population in urban areas had access to these speeds, access levels were lower in both rural areas and on tribal lands (see chart below, click to enlarge).
An FCC representative told Mobile World Live 2016 figures are the most recently available data as there is a lag between information being collected and published to allow time for it to be verified and analysed.
The gap between rural and urban coverage was more apparent at speeds of 10Mb/s download and 3Mb/s upload. The FCC reported 90.5 per cent of the population in urban areas was covered at this level compared with 70.1 per cent in rural areas and 63.7 per cent on tribal lands. All told, the commission found around 14 million citizens in rural areas and 1.2 million on tribal lands lack LTE broadband speeds of 10Mb/s download and 3Mb/s upload.
The need for fixed
The FCC acknowledged the “salient differences” between mobile and fixed broadband, noting “mobile transmissions are subject to environmental factors that fixed line transmissions do not encounter and, thus, cannot achieve the same kinds of consistent speeds at the current level of technology”.
While 97.9 per cent of Americans in urban areas have access to both fixed terrestrial services at 25Mb/s download and 3Mb/s upload, and mobile LTE of 5Mb/s down and 1Mb/s up, only 68.6 per cent of rural Americans could say the same. Both figures again dropped when the latter mobile benchmark was raised to 10Mb/s download and 3Mb/s upload, with access dipping to 89 per cent of urban and 54 per cent of rural residents. In total, 49.5 million Americans reportedly lacked access to services delivering fixed download rates of 25Mb/s and 10Mb/s on LTE.
Despite these figures, the report concluded the commission is doing its job to encourage broadband deployments on a “reasonable and timely basis,” citing the commission’s recent actions to roll back stricter Title II regulation of operators as part of its repeal of net neutrality rules.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai, however, acknowledged the commission still has “much work” to do to close the remaining divide.