Just 0.6 percent of Bay Area residents have no access to wired broadband. By contrast, 3 percent of Californians as a whole have no wired broadband access and some 6 percent of Americans nationwide lack access.
But because of the laws of big numbers even small percentages equate to thousands of people. As I reported in my article about the FCC study, some 41,023 Bay Area residents lack broadband Internet access.
“Broadband is a powerful economic weapon for California and the nation,” said Jim Hock, a spokesman for TechNet, a lobbying group for the technology industry. The FCC’s report “does show improvement, but the fact is we need to do more to speed the deployment of broadband so more of our people can reap its benefits.”
As the map provided by the FCC makes clear, the lack of wired broadband access is largely a rural problem. In Santa Clara County, for example, the areas without access are clustered in the eastern hills. In Marin, folks without access are in areas like Point Reyes and Tomales Bay.
For California as a whole, some 1.2 million residents — about 3 percent — lack wired broadband access. But more than half of those lacking access — 664,000 — reside in the state’s rural areas. Similarly, of the 19 million Americans lacking broadband access, 14 million live in rural areas, according to the FCC’s report.
While the broadband providers disagree, the FCC was right to determine that broadband is not being rolled out quickly enough,given the large number of Americans that still lack basic broadband access, said John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. Complete broadband coverage for the country may seem like a lofty goal, but the U.S. already has essentially reached such coverage for basic telephone and electrical service, he noted.
“One hundred percent broadband deployment is a good goal to have,” Bergmayer said.
One caveat about the data is that many of those who lack wired broadband access actually do have access to wireless broadband in the form of offerings including Clearwire’s Wi-Max-based service and AT&T and Verizon’s new high-speed LTE networks. If you factor that in, just 5.5 million Americans — about 1.7 percent of the population — can’t get any kind of broadband access, wired or wireless, according to the FCC.
So even if you can’t get cable Internet or DSL in your neighborhood, you’re very likely to be able to get high-speed wireless access.
But wireless access is often a poor substitute for wired access, Bergmayer and others have noted. One big reason: the data limits placed on wireless broadband are much lower than those for wired broadband; in other words, transferring the same amount of data would cost far more over a wireless network than a wired one.
Another thing to note about the report is that the FCC changed the definition of broadband two years ago, raising the threshold for what it considers high-speed service. Prior to then, the commission considered broadband to be a connection with speeds of at least 200 kilobits per second in both directions.
Using a broader definition of broadband — although not one as loose as the old standard — just 9.6 million Americans lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 768 kilobits downstream.