A Comparative Summary of Broadband Adoption

Digital Divide, California Advanced Services Fund, Rural Deployment

California Public Utilities Commission CPUC


Closing the Digital Divide is an important goal for the California Public Utilities Commission. State-financed programs, such as the California Advanced Services Fund and the California Emerging Technology Fund, exist to increase access to broadband and promote adoption and use of broadband.

The basis for this report is the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s Form 4771, a semi-annual report filed by Internet service providers that shows how many wireline and fixed wireless connections they claim per census tract. This report does not include mobile subscriptions because they are not always reported at the census tract level, but rather at the statewide level. The data contained in the FCC’s Form 477 are imperfect; therefore we make an effort in this paper to highlight areas we think are incorrect or misleading. Here are our findings:

  1. There was over a 30% gap between average rural broadband penetration and large urban broadband penetration. Less than half of rural households were connected to broadband in 2012. About a quarter of that difference was due to lack of broadband access. Eight urban counties had penetration rates greater than 80%, whereas seven rural counties had penetration rates below 50%.
  2. Like in rural counties, we observed low penetration (below 50%) also within large urban areas. Relatively lower income areas of Los Angeles and Sacramento had lower penetration rates than corresponding areas in San Francisco and San Diego.
  3. The penetration rate for the state overall increased nearly 4% from 2011 to 2012, with households subscribing to faster plans. With one exception, penetration increased in the counties.
  4. Compared to the U.S. overall, California had more connected households on a per household basis, but compared to other states, California ranked 14th in terms of broadband availability. But California’s total connected population exceeded the combined total of the top 5 states.
A Comparative Summary of Broadband