Almost half the U.S. population does not use broadband internet, according to a new study from Microsoft researchers.
Microsoft President Brad Smith put the number of nonusers at 162.8 million, almost half of the 329 million U.S. residents, at a company event on Tuesday.
That figure exceeds other recent estimates, including a Pew Research Center study that said 113 million people do not use broadband.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that 24.7 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet.
Smith noted in a blog post that the gap is starkest between rural and urban areas, with people in rural locations lacking access to high-speed internet in their homes.
“Without a proper broadband connection, these communities can’t start or run a modern business, access telemedicine, take an online class, digitally transform their farm or research a school project online,” Smith wrote.
Researchers have consistently found that disparities in internet access exacerbate divisions in the U.S. by denying opportunities and resources to those who live in digitally isolated areas.
The highest unemployment rates are often found in areas with the lowest broadband availability, Smith noted, citing numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The FCC has come under criticism from some advocates and policymakers who say the agency overestimates how many people have access to broadband internet.
Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerAfghanistan war at a stalemate, top general tells lawmakers Grassley open to legislation making it tougher for Trump to impose tariffs on national security grounds Ocasio-Cortez blasts GOP for going ‘all in’ on Hyde-Smith MORE (R-Miss.) has been raising concerns about the accuracy of FCC broadband maps, which determine funding allocations for primarily rural areas that lack strong internet access, Politico reported on Wednesday. Wicker says the FCC is underestimating how many people are unable to access broadband.
The FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As Microsoft researches broadband availability, it determined “the problem is bigger than we thought it was,” Smith said at Tuesday’s event.
More than a year ago the company launched an initiative to bring broadband access to 2 million Americans in rural communities. The recent research on broadband usage was conducted as part of its efforts to expand the program.
Updated at 5:33 p.m.