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FCC Broadband Data Underestimate Lack of Connectivity, Especially in Rural South Dakota

As Governor Kristi Noem hands out more government money to build broadband to all those South Dakota communities that the free market would otherwise leave using smoke signals, state leaders should be prepared to spend more than they anticipate to bring South Dakota’s web surfers up to speed. According to the Utah State University Center for Growth and Opportunity, the Federal Communications Commission likely underestimates how many Americans lack access to broadband Internet. Some of the biggest underestimates appear in South Dakota, particularly and predictably in wide open West River:

The FCC likely overstates broadband access because it lacks independent data and relies on service providers to report the reach and quality of their own services:

A growing number of states are making it a priority to collect their own data, says Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities. “I think everyone is rightfully concerned about sending tons of money out the door based on inaccurate data.”

Federal mapping relies too much on data from service providers that is not independently verified, including the actual speeds obtained by users, according to Ochillo. She cites a recent survey in Ottawa County, Mich., that found 11 percent of its residents don’t have broadband Internet — and that 15 percent of those with service have speeds below the FCC’s broadband threshold.

What this means is that one in four residents lack broadband service, not one in 10. When the federal benchmark changes — BEAM already characterizes service slower than 100/20 Mbps as “underserved” — the problems encountered thus far in data collection could begin anew, points out Ochillo.

Some providers are already reluctant to have their data regarding baseline speed verified externally, she says. “These types of shenanigans will only increase as the baseline increases” [Carl Smith, "New Maps Help Set Priorities for Broadband," Governing, 2022.05.04].

Rural broadbandification is as important today as rural electrification (also brought to us by government, not the free market, because, don't forget, rural America, the free market views you as colonies to exploit, not communities to serve). Utah State's research shows us that we need independent data from rural America to verify that the dollars we are spending to connect rural Americans to the modern Web are really making the connection.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-05-04 08:29

    Telecom improvements have roots in the New Deal and were strengthened in South Dakota by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

    Yes, socialized agriculture, socialized dairies, socialized cheese, socialized livestock production, a socialized timber industry, socialized air service, socialized freight rail, a socialized nursing home industry, a socialized internet, socialized gas well remediation and now a socialized water system are all fine with Republicans in South Dakota but then they insist single-payer medical insurance is socialized medicine.

  2. Richard Schriever 2022-05-04 10:26

    I have yet to run a broadband speed test in the USA that indicates any Internet connection that actually achieves its advertised and paid for rate. Not one. And that advertised and charged for rate is the one that providers use to fudge their data.

  3. jerry 2022-05-04 13:30

    Having access is one thing, affordability is the main thing. NOem should be providing services to rural areas for free.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-04 17:56

    Whoops! An eager reader points out I originally misstated what was being underestimated. The FCC data appear to underestimate how many Americans lack broadband access. I have corrected my phrasing and regret the error!

  5. Jeannie Bush 2022-05-04 19:10

    I just spent 3 min to load this blog . . . Hughesnet buffering. They tell me to but more “tokens” because I use too much data. I have 10 gigs data left on my plan. Why are they slowing me down? What would buying more data tokens do for me? SMH.

  6. grudznick 2022-05-04 19:13

    Hughesnet, Ms. Bush, is being replaced by the 5 Gs that are more pervasive and faster. But you are right about the toking. It does slow things down. grudznick’s good friend Mr. Dale knows all about computers, the 5 Gs, and the toking.

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