Critics say FCC report overstates broadband availability

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission's broadband report is being hammered by critics who say it paints too rosy a picture of high-speed internet availability in the U.S.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined two dissenting FCC commissioners in criticizing the report released Wednesday.

The FCC's annual Broadband Deployment Report says the country's digital divide has "narrowed substantially," with the number of Americans without broadband dropping more than 18%, to 21.3 million people, between 2016 and 2017. The majority of the gains were for people living in rural parts of the country, according to the report.

The agency's two Democratic commissioners issued dissenting statements along with the report that said it was at odds with the reality of internet availability on the ground.

"This report deserves a failing grade," Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote. "It concludes that broadband deployment is reasonable and timely throughout the United States. This will come as news to millions and millions of Americans who lack access to high-speed service at home."

The FCC's data collection methods have been routinely labeled as flawed. The commission considers an entire area covered if a service provider reports that a single location on a census block has or could have fast internet speeds.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks wrote that the agency should change its data collection policies, pointing out that a draft version of the report was found to have overstated broadband connections in an area where about 62 million people live.

"If you are 10 steps away from your goal and you move a step-and-a -half forward, you don't have a victory party when your work isn't done," Starks said.

Manchin, who has been a frequent critic of the FCC and has introduced legislation to improve coverage data, issued a statement pushing the agency for more accurate baselines.

"It's impossible to fill gaps, if you don't know they are there," he said.

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