Solving for the Digital Divide: How Many Americans Lack Broadband?


Solving for the Digital Divide: How Many Americans Lack Broadband?

JLA Advisors and Stratsoft can Provide Granular Broadband Availability and Maps at the Household Level, addressing FCC Form 477 Accuracy Issues


The Problem

As recently reported by BroadbandNow on May 12, 2021, there is a wide disparity between what the FCC reports to be the number of Americans that do not have access to broadband based on Form 477, compared to what is the likely number. The FCC’s most recent Broadband Development Report (2020) estimates that 14.5 million Americans do not have access to broadband, a reduction from its 2019 estimate of 21.3 million Americans without broadband access. Meanwhile, BroadbandNow estimates that 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband! What is driving the difference? The primary driver is that Form 477 provides “credit” to all households within a census block that has broadband access, even if only one household actually has access.  BroadbandNow developed its estimate based on a sampling of 58,000 addresses, identifying potentially a wider difference than many had believed.  BroadbandNow also identified other data quality issues, such as for 12% of the sampled addresses that did have broadband service, the FCC incorrectly reported which specific broadband technology is being employed.

Why does this Matter?

First and foremost, to solve the digital divide as a country, we need an accurate, confirmed set of data to quantify the magnitude of problem. Secondly, a myriad of federal programs and their participants rely on this data for auctions and participation, including the Rural Development Opportunity Fund “RDOF”, the 5G Broadband Fund, the “Rip and Replace” Program, the TeleHealth Program, the USDA ReConnect Program, the e-Rate program, and the pending Broadband and Infrastructure Bills, amongst others. We risk missing out on industry and investor participation from impacted entities that include carriers (WISPS, cable MSOs, fixed providers), state and county governments, electric utilities and other investors. They need to develop well-informed capital plans, supported by reliable data. There are concerns that some of the RDOF winners will begin pulling out of their commitments, possibly due to poor data sets of target households.

There is an impetus for the plans to be “shovel ready” as Covid-19 has demonstrated the myriad serious issues that arise due to insufficient broadband, including economic, educational and mental impacts. In addition, there is urgency to leverage available assets, exemplified by middle mile extensions in Massachusetts from the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative (which is seeking more tenants) and a thoughtful program being considered in Arizona, to leverage its state-owned telecom and other property assets.

What is a better solution, available today?

JLA Advisors and Stratsoft have developed a solution available across the industry that can provide an accurate view broadband availability of each household, as well as a view of where people travel, to help address both home- and transient-based broadband for fixed and wireless opportunities. This is far more refined than the census-block level of granularity. We can identify and count at the household level.

How can we do that?  We aggregate and analyze supply and demand data at a granular level, employing an approach developed and refined over many years. We leverage our sophisticated, integrated geospatial tools, combining granular data sets that represent the 3 C’s: Customer, Carrier, and Competition). The data can be quickly applied and “fit to purpose” to help develop desired outcomes, regardless of your company’s requirements and ambitions.

Our solution provides data and analyses that can be manipulated for advanced analysis, encompassing the following levels (each building on the previous):

  • Bronze – we assemble the right data sets for your use.
  • Silver – we identify your best opportunities, including sequencing and cost/benefit.
  • Gold – we provide to you a turnkey service, including Form 477 Compliance, Auction Preparations, and full-blown strategy and opportunity/financial investment. This includes investment-grade network designs and capital estimates to optimize ROI, developing Investment recommendations and completing funding submissions.

For more information on how JLA and Stratsoft can help your broadband assessments, please send a PM to Jorge Fuenzalida.

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