Analyzing the June 2021 FCC Form 477 data release
At the end of last week the FCC released Form 477 data as of June 30, 2021. The top lines of the release are: 3.6 million housing units (as of 2019 projections) unserved by 25/3 broadband, which is 2.55% of the 141 million housing units nationally. That’s a small 13 basis point decrease from 2.68% unserved in the Dec 2020 release. Underserved stands at 5.3%, down from 6.4% in the Dec 2020 release.
The first reaction is, “wow, these numbers are lower than I thought”. As we all know, these numbers understate the real number of housing units that are lacking broadband because they count partially served census blocks as completely served. When the FCC releases the new broadband maps, they’ll be at the location level and therefor illuminate the partially served census blocks.
Below is a Sankey diagram of the movement towards more broadband service over the last four releases. Overall, the unserved has shrunk from 6.76 million housing units in December 2019 to 3.6 million in June 2021. Special mentions for Connecticut which closed 81% of its un- and underserved, RI with 69% closed leaving just 2,515 unserved housing units, and Iowa which closed 54% of the gap. At the other end, Alaska closed just 6%, Maine and Delaware 10%, and Alabama, Idaho, and Montana all about 13%. Here is the national chart with links to the state charts.
Research suggests the new maps will roughly double the number of un- and under-served locations nationally. I think that’s a good bet. I think we’re likely to see census blocks on the “network edge” light up as partially served. In denser areas, maybe that means 50% of a census block that we currently think of as served is unserved. In less dense areas, maybe only one housing unit is served in a large census block. But some of these rural census blocks only have a few housing units in them.
The understated release from the FCC is notable to me. Instead of crowing about how small the numbers are (as was done with the previous FCC), the FCC just put them out without any fanfare. How the new maps, which will be as of June 30, 2022, compare to these maps will be very interesting.