There is often playful reference to the East and West Coasts as being bookends for a giant and largely unknown “digital divide,” and recent research from Microsoft presents a grim picture of just how big that divide really is. As reported by The New York Times, the research also contradicts considerably more optimistic numbers presented by the F.C.C. and could serve as a sobering reality for many industries providing entertainment and information services that rely on decent internet speeds – or any connectivity at all.
Microsoft concluded that a staggering 162.8 million people across the U.S. do not have access to high-speed internet, whereas the F.C.C. claims that broadband is not available to only 24.7 million Americans. The Times went on to add that the data gathering of both Microsoft and the F.C.C. differed significantly. While the FCC relied on survey data from ISPs that often “overstate coverage,” Microsoft obtained its data by analyzing its own software and services to achieve what it believes is a more accurate capture of this digital divide and its impact on economic opportunity, healthcare, education, and ultimately, public policy.
Microsoft is 18 months into its Airband Initiative to bring broadband services to 2-3 million unserved Americans in rural areas. The initiative rallies ISPs and hardware solution providers to utilize what is known as Super WiFi, or the “unused channels between television broadcasts known as white spaces,” an apparently less expensive alternative to wiring homes. But many in the broadcast industry are up in arms because of the potential “interference or disruption” that could cause local TV signals.
The Times added that Microsoft shared its broadband research with the F.C.C. and that the government agency declined to comment. Microsoft’s data will be posted on its website later this month.
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