High-speed internet is not really available where the government says it is. And that misinformation means that many Americans, especially those in poor and rural areas, can not access broadband – a service that is increasingly becoming an integral part of daily life in the US.

The Federal Communications Commission, the government body responsible for monitoring internet connectivity, uses data that is reported by the Internet service providers themselves. Even if we assume that these ISPs report accurately, what they have to report is not very useful. And bad data means that federal money is not spent where it should be to build broadband access.

ISPs should indicate whether a census block – an inaccurate geographical area ranging from a tenth to a 7,500 miles and anywhere from zero to 600 persons – can access "advertised" broadband download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, the minimum requirement broadband.

In essence, the government data measures areas that have an internet connection could to exist instead of where is

A complete census block is considered "served" if broadband service is available anywhere in the system. So even if the internet is impossible at home or in your business, your area can be marked as 100 percent available because someone is connected hundreds of miles away. Even broadband wiring that passes next to your home is no guarantee that there may be internet in your home.

"It is as if you have a crane that does not work," said Adie Tomer, a colleague of the Brookings institution who wrote extensively about problems with the American broadband problem.

It is important to note that access is not the same as use.

Even if you can get broadband at home, the speeds you receive may not be as fast as advertised. If you subscribe to a subscription that has been announced as 25 Mbps, chances are that it is actually slower and you do not even use technical broadband. Moreover, internet plans can be prohibitively expensive, even in rural areas, which means that many poorer Americans can make effective use of it.

"Currently the focus in the US is on physical infrastructure, not on people who choose to subscribe or subscribe," says Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a non-profit organization that advocates national broadband access .

In essence, the government data measures areas that have an internet connection could exist instead of where is.

As you can see on the map below, FCC data shows that most provinces have a high level of broadband input:

But having availability does not mean that people actually start using it. Broadband usage data from Microsoft – which was released late last year and is based on anonymous data that the company has collected on how quickly its products were actually used and updated – gives a much weaker picture. It shows that most provinces in America do not have high levels of broadband use:

According to Microsoft data, that is 163 million people do not use high-speed internet in the US, while the FCC estimates that it is not available for 25 million Americans. That is a difference of 138 million people – more than a third of the American population.

Most worryingly, the FCC uses this data to make decisions about Internet policies and to allocate $ 4.6 billion in grants and funding each year to correct the rural gap with regard to national connections.

"There is a lot of money tied to this data," says Kathryn de Wit, manager of the Broadband Research Initiative for Pew Charitable Trusts. "If a community is considered to be serviced, in many cases they are no longer eligible for funding, and if you have an inaccurate picture of how connectivity looks at block level, you may be crossing communities that really need connectivity."

Pew recently organized a meeting with leaders of the broadband industry and policy makers to discuss better measurement points for the assessment of broadband in the future.

During the event, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel succinctly summarized the problem: "We can not manage what we do not measure."

And broadband has become increasingly important: people now depend on everything, from earning their living to obtaining Medicaid coverage. School children and small businesses need fast internet to complete their tasks and compete in the rest of the world. Those without good internet access already lack essential information about the world around them.

In addition, insufficient broadband access is much more common in poor and rural areas – those who already suffer from a host of other inequalities that make people in those areas excellent candidates for automation and, by extension, greater inequality in the future. There is already a digital divide in America between those who do and do not have access to the tools that will determine our future success. Broadband is about to exacerbate that gap.

Why would the FCC use erroneous availability data to make decisions in the first place?

"This is a data program hopelessly underfunded," Tomer said. "That's why we see a structure that relies on self-reported data from companies that have an incentive to suggest that they cover as many households as possible." A better program would cost more to manage.

The FCC uses this information to make decisions about internet policies and to allocate $ 4.6 billion in grants and funding each year to correct the gap in the country

In addition, ISPs think that providing more detailed data would be an unnecessary and impossible burden for them. In a recent letter to the FCC, USTelecom, an industry group representing major telecom companies such as AT & T, Verizon and CenturyLink, wrote that the requirement that ISPs submit more detailed sub-consensus data is "not technically feasible," would result in inaccurate data. ", and" Will the Commission not provide the insight that the Commission is trying to obtain? "

ISPs currently fill in a document twice a year with the name Form 477, which forms the basis for government broadband cards.

"We know that form 477 is already a few years old," said Christopher Ali, a university lecturer in media studies at the University of Virginia and a research colleague at the Benton Foundation. "But this is the tension between industry and regulation, and the industry is gaining, at the expense of rural America."

The FCC is currently reviewing how broadband is measured, but it is unclear when and if changes will be implemented.

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.

In particular, rural areas have poor broadband connections. This is because it is costly to physically install cables, especially to remote areas, and the small populations in those areas do not offer much of an incentive for income. This makes government support in those areas more critical. But those regions can not get that support if the government looks at the wrong map.

"While rural communities house only 15 percent of the nation's total population, they accounted for 57 percent of the nation's residents in neighborhoods where broadband is still to be deployed," said a Brookings report from 2017 with subscription data for the 100 largest urban areas.

Microsoft's Airband initiative is a collaboration with telecom companies that will bring broadband to 3 million people in the American countryside by 2022. The plan is to use white space between TV channels – what some call superfan – to broadcast wireless internet than mobile hotspots. The method is much less expensive than installing hard lines in people's homes.

Microsoft itself has some skin color in the game. The company wants its customers to have faster service and updates for its products, including Office, cloud services and Bing. Microsoft also earns money from the billions of grants and subsidies that the government makes each year to improve national broadband. A majority of that money now goes to the telecom companies. Microsoft is working with ISPs to provide access to national broadband access, but says it is not interested to become an Internet provider themselves.

Despite the problems with the cards from the FCC, the overall broadband speeds have become faster. The problem of broadband is far from being in line with the ubiquity of other essential infrastructure systems.

While we wait at national level, a number of non-profit organizations and states are taking the issue into their own hands by collecting their own data to accommodate the FCCs and expanding their own broadband coverage. But such small efforts are unlikely to fill all gaps in America's broadband connectivity.

"The real positive work is now local – that's who solves the problem right now," says Siefer of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. "But many places do not solve broadband problems and they are stuck without refuge, and we need the FCC to solve this holistically."

See here how your province is measured here: