Then why all of this fuss about a national broadband plan, especially given that it will likely accomplish little anyway?
Well because it could have done something about competition. While there's 125 million cable homes passed, there may not be a competitive motive for many of these operators to upgrade if they're competing in a monopoly or duopoly market where their only competitive threat is 1.5 Mbps $50 DSL. We're talking about markets where duopolists stare at each other waiting for the next opportunity to hike prices.
As for penetration, I don't think at this point we're talking about huge swaths of unserved people, but instead a ton of little areas where users have access to just one or no providers. Because of limited competition, there's no motive to fill in the gaps, and because of a rigged regulatory playing field, it's hard living for a small provider. About a third of the population doesn't have broadband (100 million), and about 40 million of them don't have it because it's too expensive or not available.
And you know, these are limited sample surveys. Nobody's gone into the fields to check, and carriers fight tooth and nail against any independent entity that wants to verify their data.
I agree there's lots of questions at play about whether you want to spend taxpayer dollars to push broadband on people who don't want it. Some of these "user education" ideas they're pushing seem immensely lame. Again though we're a wealthy country. Not to veer off, but we could have built a wholesale fiber to the home network that reaches every single home in America five times over for the amount of money we spend on nation building and other nonsense...