Federal Communications Commission (FCC) figures highlighted progress in delivering faster 4G data rates to US consumers in 2018, but showed there is still work to do as the percentage covered by lower-tier LTE speeds was barely changed year-on-year.

The 2020 FCC Broadband Deployment Report showed a significant rise in the proportion of the population able to access LTE data rates of 10Mb/s in the downlink and 3Mb/s up by end-2018. It found coverage in rural areas jumped to 83.3 per cent (see chart, right, click to enlarge) after hovering around the 70 per cent mark for several years, with urban availability also higher, albeit this growth was more broadly in line with previous years.

All told, the increases resulted in a near 5 per cent annual bump in the proportion of the US population able to access services offering this level of data speeds.

However, the figures showed there was little progress in the number able to access data rates of 5Mb/s down and 1Mb/s up, with the 99.9 per cent population coverage largely unchanged on 2017.

In the report, the FCC argued the numbers showed it was fulfilling its directive to ensure broadband is deployed on a “reasonable and timely basis”. But the regulator accepted the research showed its “work to close the digital divide is not complete”.

The 2018 figures are the most-recently available data from the regulator, which requires a significant amount of time to analyse, verify and publish its findings.

There was dissent among the ranks regarding the accuracy of the report, with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel arguing the operator-supplied data used is “seriously flawed” and, as a result the study “wildly understates the extent of the digital divide in this country”.