Percentage of each State’s Population with Access to Broadband Internet

The term “broadband internet” is used frequently in discussions about Internet access, but what does “broadband internet” actually mean? According to the FCC, to be called broadband internet download speeds must be 25 Mbps or higher. With this clear delineation, the question then becomes, “Who has access to broadband internet in the United States?” We compiled a ranked list of the states, and their respective broadband coverage. We also took a look at the largest metros across the USA, and ranked them based on broadband coverage.

Broadband Coverage by State

For this particular comparison, we took a look at which states had access to internet download speeds greater than or equal to 25 Mbps. Coverage percentage is based on population covered, not geographic coverage.   As you can see, the North East has a pretty dominant hold on broadband coverage, with Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware all falling in the top 10 most covered states. The West and Midwest follow closely behind, with Washington, Utah, Nevada, California, and Oregon all falling in the top 15 covered states. 1. Rhode Island – 99.7% 2. New Jersey – 98.8% 3. Connecticut – 98.8% 4. District of Columbia – 98.3% 5. New York – 98% 6. Hawaii – 97% 7. Massachusetts – 97% 8. Washington – 96.8% 9. Utah – 96.2% 10. Delaware – 96% 11. Illinois – 95.3% 12. Nevada – 95.2% 13. Oregon – 94.3% 14. California – 94.3% 15. Florida – 94.2% 16. Maryland – 93.8% 17. Pennsylvania – 91.5% 18. North Carolina – 91.2% 19. Minnesota – 91% 20. Michigan – 89.2% 21. North Dakota – 88.9% 22. Arizona – 88.2% 23. Ohio – 88% 24. Georgia – 87.4% 25. Indiana – 86.9% 26. Wisconsin – 86.7% 27. Maine – 86.5% 28. South Dakota – 86.4% 29. New Hampshire – 86.2% 30. Tennessee – 85% 31. South Carolina – 84.9% 32. Virginia – 84.4% 33. Colorado – 83.2% 34. Iowa – 82.7% 35. Kansas – 81.7% 36. Idaho – 81.3% 37. Missouri – 79.8% 38. Nebraska – 79.3% 39. Louisiana – 78.9% 40. Alabama – 76.6% 41. New Mexico – 75% 42. Wyoming – 73.6% 43. Mississippi – 69.3% 44. Oklahoma – 67.8% 45. West Virginia – 67.5% 46. Texas – 66% 47. Kentucky – 64.8% 48. Alaska – 63.6% 49. Arkansas – 58.5% 50. Montana – 22.5% 51. Vermont – 20.7%

Broadband Coverage by Metro

 

Top 25 Metros with Broadband Coverage

If you want to have a good chance of broadband coverage, then it would seem Washington State is one of the best places to live, with 5 metros in the top 25, followed by Florida with 4 metros and New York State with 3 metros. All three states are in the top 15 coverage states, so this should come as no surprise. 1. Myrtle Beach, SC – 1% 2. Kennewick, WA – 0.999% 3. Carson City, NV – 0.999% 4. Bridgeport, CT – 0.998% 5. Poughkeepsie, NY – 0.998% 6. New York, NY – 0.998% 7. Allentown, PA – 0.997% 8. Champaign Urbana, IL – 0.997% 9. Honolulu, HI – 0.997% 10. Providence, RI – 0.996% 11. Palm Bay, FL – 0.996% 12. Spokane, WA – 0.995% 13. Salt Lake City, UT – 0.994% 14. Bellingham, WA – 0.994% 15. Tampa, FL – 0.993% 16. Winston Salem, NC – 0.993% 17. Corvallis, OR – 0.993% 18. Seattle, WA – 0.993% 19. Buffalo, NY – 0.993% 20. Los Angeles, CA – 0.993% 21. Palm Coast, FL – 0.992% 22. Las Vegas, NV – 0.992% 23. Milwaukee, WI – 0.992% 24. Mt Vernon, WA – 0.991% 25. Orlando, FL – 0.991%

Worst 25 Metros with Broadband Coverage

More important than where to find broadband speeds may be to know which metros to avoid, with less than satisfactory speeds. Of the ~ 370 metros analyzed, 14 metros in Texas fell into the worst 25 broadband covered metros. In fairness, Texas is the second largest state in the USA, which means coverage can be difficult to some of the more rural areas in the state. Conversely, California only has one metro fall into the worst 25 covered metros, and is the largest state in the USA. Unfortunately, you will only find Los Angeles in the top 25 most covered metros, meaning the majority of California’s cities have relatively average broadband coverage. 1. Longview, TX – 0.503% 2. Visalia, CA – 0.483% 3. College Station, TX – 0.294% 4. Cumberland, MD – 0.288% 5. Killeen Temple, TX – 0.28% 6. Lubbock, TX – 0.258% 7. Missoula, MT – 0.25% 8. Billings, MT – 0.237% 9. Yuma, AZ – 0.228% 10. Burlington, VT – 0.219% 11. Abilene, TX – 0.2% 12. Tyler, TX – 0.196% 13. Amarillo, TX – 0.193% 14. San Angelo, TX – 0.171% 15. Grand Junction, CO – 0.149% 16. Hot Springs, AR – 0.09% 17. Great Falls, MT – 0.085% 18. El Paso, TX – 0.064% 19. Beaumont, TX – 0.041% 20. Wichita Falls, TX – 0.024% 21. McAllen, TX – 0.019% 22. Laredo, TX – 0.013% 23. Pittsfield, MA – 0.007% 24. Brownsville, TX – 0.006% 25. Pine Bluff, AZ – 0.001% All in all, there is a substantial variance in the amount of broadband coverage across the United States. The Northeast and West seem to be leading the charge on improving access to high speed internet for their residents. Want to see which providers are available in your area, and how they stack up against the rest of nation? Use our zip search below to get started. [zipfinder] You’ve heard the rumors. Providers brag about lightning fast speeds, and streaming in HD without a whisper of latency. But where is this miraculous Internet service of your dreams? One that will allow you to live a fantasy digital life in the wonder of the cloud. The lone Internet Service Provider (ISP) provider in your area seems to bog down at the first sign of traffic, and if tech support tells you to reboot your modem one more time, you’re going to scream. Why isn’t there more choice and competition among Internet providers in your area? This isn’t an isolated issue. Most regions of the country are serviced by just a handful of big name broadband providers. Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable have massive footprints that loom over an inordinately large part of the map. When the FCC was considering approving a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable back in 2015, The Huffington Post warned that we would be facing “The United States of Comcast”. Today’s ISP map isn’t too far off that assessment, with four major ISPs eating up tremendous slices of the high-speed Internet market. Statistics from the FCC indicate nearly 30 percent of Americans don’t have a choice when it comes to their Internet provider. Another large portion of the public, which estimates place at 37 percent, only have two options. To get a better handle on what Internet service across the United States looks like, visit the National Broadband Map, maintained by the FCC and the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). How did we end up here, with limited choice and virtually no competition in large swathes of the United States? To answer that, you’ll need to understand how the Internet reaches your home. It’s a complicated digital exchange through a labyrinth of networks and providers that you’ve likely never heard of. Follow me down the rabbit hole for a minute, my friend and I promise you’ll emerge a savvier Internet consumer.  

How does the Internet get to your home?

Unlike the claims of some politicians, the Internet does not reach you through a series of tubes. It begins on the global level through a Tier 1 network– cable wires that cross continents and oceans, conveying digital pulses of light. Chances are, these do not belong to your local ISP. Much of this major infrastructure is owned by global companies like AT&T who then lease usage of those Internet pipelines to Tier 2 providers. Tier 2 providers are the major telecommunications companies across the nation that bring Internet from the global pipelines into metro and regional areas. Providers like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox pay for transit on these uber fast global lines. Gizmodo gives a more detailed explanation of  Tier 1 and Tier 2 providers for those who might be interested in tracing the convoluted digital handshakes that transmit data from one part of the world to another. Much of the Internet delivered through Tier 2 providers is in fact broadband or DSL because that infrastructure already exists, humming below the ground and delivering your cable TV and phone service. Where your Internet bogs down and service slows is when data passes from these neighborhood hubs into your home. The telecommunications industry refers to this as “the last mile”. Much of this last bit of signal transmission is across ancient lines that have deteriorated over time and no longer support the speeds modern technology requires. Upgrading this piece of the infrastructure is the final challenge in ensuring high-speed Internet reaches every corner of the country, and it’s one of the big reasons there are isolated pockets of only one or two Internet service providers in large areas of the United States.  

Expensive Infrastructure

Upgrading that last mile of Internet infrastructure is a costly endeavor. While the utility poles are public property, the lines and wires are owned by specific companies that may have traded hands dozens of times over the years. If you are receiving DSL Internet, that technology comes into your home on ancient copper phone lines. These are likely the same lines installed nearly a hundred years ago when Alexander Graham Bell first invented the telephone. If you receive broadband internet, your home was likely wired to receive cable TV sometime between the 50’s and the 80’s. Because cable technology is more advanced, Internet via broadband delivers higher speeds. Neither technology approaches the capabilities of fiber-optic, however. The difficulty becomes the cost. DSL and Cable Internet providers utilize existing lines, sometimes paying to lease them from the original companies that still own them. Fiber-optic providers have to start fresh, absorbing the cost of running new lines and connecting each household to the larger network. Once they’ve made this investment, they’ll have to lure away a significant amount of the high speed Internet customers in that area to turn a profit. Cable and DSL providers will often simply undercut the new kid on the block by promoting package deals and bundles that price the fledgling company right out of the market.  

Regional Franchises

To further complicate the matter, there are some legislative actions that have encouraged the sparsity of providers. The 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act allowed cable service to be determined by each municipality. This resulted in a patchwork of regional providers that made cost-effective deals with certain cities, allowing them to control local pockets of service almost exclusively. During the 90’s consolidation of these markets began in earnest. It was more cost effective for smaller companies to merge and create larger entities that could cover a larger area of service. The Wall Street Journal documented how, in a matter of two decades, 40 regional providers coalesced into just four telecommunications giants. At that juncture, the Internet was still a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye, but the cable wires that would deliver broadband all across the nation were already in the hands of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Cox.

A Natural Monopoly

It has been a perfect storm of expensive infrastructure, legislation, and growing media conglomerates that have resulted in what many industry experts refer to as a natural monopoly. Prohibitive costs and a consolidated network of providers effectively controls the market, making it virtually impossible to foster the healthy competition necessary to ensure better service and reduced costs for the average consumer. Many have argued that to bring cost-effective, high-speed Internet to more Americans, the government will have to intervene not only to incentivize innovation but also to help smaller companies make the necessary investments in infrastructure.   “The great danger to the consumer is the monopoly — whether private or governmental. His most effective protection is free competition at home and free trade throughout the world. The consumer is protected from being exploited by one seller by the existence of another seller from whom he can buy and who is eager to sell to him. Alternative sources of supply protect the consumer far more effectively than all the Ralph Naders of the world.” Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist   Frustrated with your provider and looking to make a change? Use our high-speed Internet provider tool to see a list of providers in your area, compare packages side by side, read real customer reviews, and decide which provider is the right one for you.   [zipfinder] From DSL to cable to fiber, Internet subscribers are faced with seemingly endless choices when it comes to connection options. While DSL and cable are widely popular services, fiber Internet is unfamiliar territory for many. Despite its smaller user base, fiber-optic Internet actually offers many unique benefits compared to DSL and cable. If you’re considering switching to fiber Internet, this is the guide for you.   What is fiber Internet and how does it work? Unlike DSL or cable, fiber Internet relies on optical cables that are composed of thousands of thin strands of glass that contain three parts — the core, the cladding, and the buffer coating. The cable transmits data via light signals that travel through the core, and the light is reflected back by the cladding, allowing signals to travel along the cable.   What are the benefits of fiber Internet? The greatest advantage of fiber Internet is its speed. It’s the fastest Internet option available because its optical cables can quickly carry large amounts of data over long distances. Some fiber connections offer downstream speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is over 50 times faster than the national average of 18.2 Mbps. If you frequently download music, use Internet-based programs, or stream movies, you’ll quickly notice the difference between fiber Internet and cable or DSL. Another big benefit is that fiber Internet is very reliable. The system network doesn’t generate or carry electricity, meaning your fiber Internet connection is less likely to be interrupted during a power outage. As an added bonus, this also reduces risk of electrical or fire damage. Finally, fiber Internet is private. A dedicated network is installed in your home so you don’t have to share the Internet with any neighbors. This makes your Internet connection somewhat more secure from network traffic lags.   What companies offer fiber Internet? There are more than two dozen fiber Internet providers, from the popular AT&T to local companies such as Cincinnati Bell. Google Fiber is one of the newer providers on the market and is working on expanding its network beyond the three locations it currently services.   Is fiber Internet available in my area? In order for fiber Internet to work, the Internet provider has to build a network infrastructure in each geographic area it seeks to service. That’s why fiber Internet isn’t readily available across the country and is especially lacking in rural areas. For comparison, 89 percent of the U.S. has access to cable Internet providers, whereas only 25 percent can use fiber Internet. However, fiber Internet’s availability is quickly expanding into more markets. The best way to find out if fiber Internet is available in your area is to check with individual Internet providers. Many providers make it easy for you to check availability by looking up your ZIP code.   What equipment do I need for fiber Internet? Fiber to the Home (FTTH) services — where fiber cables run from the provider to your residence, instead of terminating at a remote hub — do not require a separate modem. Instead, they use a terminal to translate light pulses into electric signals that your computer can recognize. You may still need a router to provide a wireless access point to your Internet connection. Some providers offer routers with their fiber packages, but if you want to purchase your own, you’ll need to make sure it’s capable of handling the speeds you’ve subscribed to. As a general rule, your fiber Internet provider will be able to supply some of this basic connection hardware, though you’ll want to confirm if there will be any associated costs beforehand.   Should I switch to fiber Internet? Fiber Internet can save you hours of wasted time downloading large files, loading Internet-based programs, or streaming video or music. And as industry competition increases, prices are becoming more reasonable. If you want a reliable Internet connection that offers the fastest speeds available, fiber Internet is your best option. Start researching local fiber providers to make the switch. Setting up Internet service is usually at the top of the to-do list when moving into a new apartment. Some apartments come pre-wired for Internet with a selected Internet Service Provider (ISP). Depending on your specific situation, this can be an extra convenience, or it can be limiting — especially if you have specific Internet needs that the preferred service doesn’t offer. If you want to upgrade the Internet that is available at your new apartment, or choose a new Internet provider all together, here is some food for thought.   Pros of Using a Preferred ISP Sticking with the preferred ISP and service that is contracted by your apartment complex is definitely the simplest choice. If you use the existing ISP, you won’t have to worry about shopping around or setting up an installation appointment. Additionally, monthly fees for preferred Internet services may be included as part of your rental agreement. Even if it’s not included, some complexes that have invested in a pre-wired Internet service will offer packages at a discount to encourage residents to use their preferred provider.   Cons of Using a Preferred ISP The biggest drawback of using the preferred Internet package is the lack of flexibility. You don’t have any say about the ISP, the speeds, or the price. If you want to have the fastest, most reliable Internet service, it can be frustrating to be stuck with an ISP that doesn’t offer what you need. Depending on the type of arrangement your apartment complex has with the ISP, you could also end up encountering slow connectivity when multiple residents are using the Internet simultaneously.   Pros of Setting up a New ISP Control is the top benefit of opting out of the pre-selected ISP. When you install your own Internet service, you get to choose the provider, the speeds, and the price you want to pay. Your own, dedicated Internet connection could also limit buffering or other issues during high traffic times.   Cons of Setting up a New ISP It can be difficult to add Internet from a non-preferred ISP. Usually the preferred company is already using the main line, meaning that a different provider would have to set up a new line in order to provide service. Some complexes prohibit new lines in their contracts, so you’ll need to verify what is or isn’t allowed with your landlord before proceeding. If you are allowed to subscribe to a different ISP, you can end up paying twice if the provided service is already included in your rent.   Other Aspects to Consider Before Making the Switch Before you make a decision about using a preferred ISP or branching out on your own, there are a few factors every Internet user needs to consider. Take a look at the list below and make sure you know what you need in each area before moving forward.
  • Speed: If you regularly use the Internet for things like gaming or streaming video, you need reliable, fast speeds — especially if there are multiple users and devices in your home. Find out if the Internet service provided by your apartment meets your speed requirements. If it does, you won’t need to go through the hassle of finding an alternative ISP.
  • Availability: It doesn’t matter if a certain provider can deliver the speeds you need if they’re not available in your area. Due to infrastructure and other limitations, not all providers or service packages are available in all locations. Learn which ISPs are active in your area and what packages they offer.
  • Cost: For those on a tight budget, adding another expense may be difficult. Be sure you understand what, if anything, you’re already paying for as part of your apartment lease. If your budget can withstand an additional monthly fee, it might be worth it for you to have the type of Internet service you want. Look for deals for new customers; many ISPs offer promotional rates or discounts when you sign up.
  • Latency: The time it takes for your network to process data is called latency. When you experience a delay in loading a page or buffering a video, you may be having a latency issue rather than a bandwidth issue. One of the biggest contributors to latency is high usage of bandwidth, usually caused by too many users on the same connection. If latency is a concern for you, upgrading or switching services is probably a good idea.
  Sorting out the pros and cons of using a preferred Internet service or setting up your own ISP is worth the effort. Once you understand what your Internet needs are and the best way to get them, take the next step to purchase or upgrade to the type of Internet service that delivers what you want. Typically, residents of communities without broadband access can look to one of two options for improving their Internet speed: private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or a municipal network. However, the community of Doe Bay, located on Orcas Island just off Oregon’s northern coast, isn’t typical. Its geography and its small population meant no one was interested in improving the island’s 1.5 Mbps Internet connection, which in practice was often barely better than dial-up. After losing their link to the Internet completely for 10 days, members of the community decided to do something about it: they built their own network. The Doe Bay Internet Users Association Though members of the community built it, this is not a municipal network. A group of five local residents formed the Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), took out a $25,000 loan, and did what most would assume to be impossible: they built a network that exceeds the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 25 Mbps threshold for broadband service and is actually faster than the national average. Building the Network The DBIUA’s solutions to typical network problems are clever. They began with a microwave radio link to the mainland using a transmitter placed on the island’s highest structure, a water tower. Because there weren’t enough tall buildings or communications towers on the island to build the rest of the wireless network, they used what they did have: trees. And to test whether a particular tree was a good choice for network relays, which require line of sight to work, they used drones to make sure that each relay could see the next in line before they actually put the relays in place. The atypical network even had atypical teething problems: the cause of one early network outage was a sheep, and improving network performance sometimes involves pruning trees. The network went live in 2014, and around 50 homes are now connected to the network. Local residents are able to join the DBIUA for $150. The necessary equipment costs $125, and service is $75 per month. Total bandwidth is around 70 Mbps. During peak use, customers typically use a combined 30 Mbps, so although the system doesn’t have a tremendous amount of bandwidth, it has enough to keep videos streaming and users happy. If additional members in the DBIUA mean that additional capacity is necessary, the group can increase capacity by adding more radio relays. Not for Everyone It’s impossible not to admire the level of ingenuity and determination the DBIUA displayed in solving their lack of high-speed Internet access. Chris Sutton, one of the organization’s founders, believes that if Doe Bay can do it, so can other communities — and some small, rural communities without other options probably should consider this kind of approach. There’s no reason it couldn’t work as a municipal network, at least not under the right circumstances. However, the DBIUA solution probably isn’t a realistic one for every rural resident. If you’re looking for broadband access, but the DIY route just isn’t an option, enter your ZIP code below to see the plans, prices, and speeds available in your area.   [zipfinder] For three decades, MTV was the most influential medium in music. But for the last decade, people who want to see and hear their favorite artists haven’t turned on the TV: they’ve gone online. Is it a coincidence that MTV stopped playing music videos around the same time people realized they could watch any video they wanted to online? It may have lost its place as music’s number-one medium, but over-the-air radio survived the challenges presented by MTV and satellite radio. But will radio be able to survive broadband music streaming? A new report from market research company Parks Associates indicates that 66 percent of U.S households with high-speed Internet connections use at least one streaming audio service. The same research shows 40 percent of broadband households use a free streaming audio service, but 26 percent subscribe to a paid service. According to the report, these are the most popular paid streaming audio services, and the percentage of broadband households that subscribe to them: • Amazon Prime Music, 10 percent • Pandora One, 6 percent • Spotify Premium, 4 percent • SiriusXM Streaming, 4 percent • iTunes Match, 2 percent • Google Play, 2 percent One big caveat worth mentioning, though, is the survey of 10,000 households took place before Apple Music’s launch on June 30. Where does this rank streaming audio overall? The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says that in the first half of 2015, streaming audio accounted for a third of all recorded music revenue in the U.S., generating $1.03 billion for the recording industry. That makes streaming audio a significant player in how people listen to music. But what’s more significant is the growth of this medium: it’s up 23.2 percent since the same time last year. That’s a huge amount of growth in a short amount of time, and Parks Associates believes total revenue generated by free and paid music streaming services will hit $17 billion by 2020. Does radio have a cord-cutting problem? Over-the-air radio is free, and even if it wasn’t, there isn’t a cord to cut. But it owes its existence to ad revenue — and without an audience, there will be no advertisers. Though people don’t listen to radio at home or at work the way they used to, many people still listen to their radio while driving. As integration between vehicles and smart devices improves, is radio’s last safe haven gone? Many cars are now equipped with Bluetooth connections, and a growing number of cars are available with their own Wi-Fi plan. Rumors of an Apple car aren’t going away. What role will be left for radio when people can hear any song they want, anytime they want, anywhere they want? People asked the same question about TV when VCRs came along, and thanks to Netflix, it’s a relevant question again. Fortunately for TV, Netflix isn’t quite there yet — and fortunately for radio, streaming music isn’t, either. Disputes over royalties sometimes mean that certain artists don’t authorize their music on certain services. Such disputes even caused Jay Z to launch his own streaming music service, Tidal. At one point, Tidal had some of the biggest names in music: Madonna, Kanye West, Rihanna, and of course Jay Z, but now the service looks doomed to failure. No one will want to pay one service to hear some artists and another service to hear different artists. If these two factions can’t settle their differences, it works in radio’s favor. Is streaming audio right for you? The medium may not have reached the “any song, anytime, any place” standard yet, but the fact that it’s growing more than 20 percent per year shows that people enjoy it. And although it doesn’t eat up a ton of bandwidth, if you have several people in your household listening to different audio or video streams at the same time, you could run out. To make sure you don’t, check out all the high-speed, high-bandwidth plans available in your area by entering your ZIP code below. [zipfinder] The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to issue an annual Broadband Progress Report detailing whether the spread of broadband Internet access over the last year was “reasonable and timely.” The 2015 report said it was not. To this point, the FCC used speed as the only criteria in determining the spread of broadband adoption. But in August, the FCC requested comments on whether it should consider new factors to determine the successful spread of broadband for its next Broadband Progress Report. These factors could include latency, reliability, privacy, data caps, and price. That may sound like a boring point of procedure, but based on the FCC’s past actions, if this new criteria is approved, it could mean big changes for the future of high-speed Internet availability. Why does it matter? The Telecommunications Act of 1996 says, “If the Commission’s determination is negative [because the spread of broadband was not reasonable nor timely], it shall take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” To understand why the Broadband Progress Report is so important, look back at what the FCC did this year after determining the spread of broadband in 2014 was neither reasonable nor timely. •Redefined the definition of broadband speed, increasing it from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps •Implemented Net Neutrality, reclassifying Internet Service Providers as Title II common carriers •Expanded the Lifeline program, subsidizing Internet access for low-income households •Redesigned the E-rate program, adding $1.5 billion for broadband in public schools and libraries •Added nearly $1.7 billion in funding to the Connect America program to bring broadband to rural Americans That’s an impressive amount of action, and there’s still a quarter of the year left. We could still see quite a few changes before the FCC releases the next Broadband Progress Report. How could new factors change the FCC policy? Let’s indulge in some speculation for a moment. Say the FCC determines that price, latency, data caps, or some other factor is responsible for slowing the spread of broadband. This could create new policy regarding those factors to promote competition, as the Telecommunications Act of 1996 instructs. What if, for instance, it decided high prices limited the spread of broadband adoption, and then proposed policy that would provide incentives for new ISPs to go into markets already dominated by one provider? The cost of building a fiber network makes some ISPs reluctant to enter markets where another ISP already has a significant head start. Imagine that, to spur competition and lower prices, these reluctant providers start getting tax breaks if they enter these areas. Such a move would likely result in lawsuits against the FCC, but lawsuits didn’t deter the FCC from making policy changes in 2015. How do you judge broadband? When shopping for a high-speed Internet plan, you, too, should consider factors besides speed. It’s important, but depending on how you use the Internet, the quality of the signal, limits on data use, and price may be more important to you. And because the most important factor is availability, you need to know which plans you can choose from in your area. If you’re not making reasonable and timely progress in finding a better plan, just enter your ZIP code below. [zipfinder] It’s not often that someone just decides to give you money. But that’s kind of what Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are doing when they make high-speed Internet service available in your area. According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and Carnegie Mellon University, faster Internet speeds increase your home’s value. Specifically, they found availability of gigabit adds 3.1 percent to the value of your home compared to 25 Mbps availability. For the median home price in this country, $175,000, that’s an extra $5,400. Even if you can’t get gigabit service, 100 Mbps availability adds 1.8 percent, or $3,150 in value. The researchers reached this conclusion after studying data from more than half a million home sales and comparing it to government data on Internet speed available in the areas where the homes were sold. After crunching the numbers, they learned gigabit service adds as much to a home’s value as installing a new fireplace. But the better part is that you don’t pay the construction cost. How Does This Affect Me? The upsides and downsides depend entirely on which side of the transaction you’re on. First, it obviously benefits sellers, and costs buyers, by increasing sale prices where gig speeds are available. But it also presents a potential bargaining chip to buyers in areas that don’t offer high-speed service. Meaning, if buyers can’t get the gig, sellers may not get their asking prices. It may also be inconvenient for buyers who don’t want a gigabit connection, but who will still have to pay for it, in effect, if they buy a home where it’s available. Incentive for Communities to Expand Access But the news isn’t just good for homeowners; it’s also good for communities where gigabit speeds are available. Increased home prices means an increased property tax base, which means more money for civic programs. Of course, this means that homeowners may now have to pay those increased property taxes. If you live in a state that offers a program like California’s Proposition 13, which bases property value on purchase price and limits annual increases, try to buy a home before the gig comes to town. That way, you’ll have to pay, at most, a small fraction of the added value. This news gives communities, and even builders of large housing developments, reason to work on behalf of homeowners to increase gigabit availability. We’ll indulge in some speculation that municipalities that’ve been unable or unwilling to lure broadband providers may be willing to offer tax breaks or other incentives to ISPs and network builders if they know they’ll get the money back in the form of property taxes. What’s Your Home Worth? You might not want to put your home on the market until you find out whether gigabit broadband is available where you live. And, if you’re not moving, you can have the best of both worlds – sign up for high-speed Internet service, enjoy the benefits for as long as you own your home, and get all or a good chunk of your money back when you eventually sell it. Photo Credit: American Advisors Group/Flikr Last month, we reported on Seattle’s interest in building a municipal gigabit network. The city commissioned a study to examine the feasibility of doing so—Seattle’s fourth such study, actually. That study is now complete, and it’s interesting not just for what it has to say regarding the cost of building a municipal network, but for the glimpse it provides into what’s important for broadband consumers, and how much they’re willing to pay for it. The Bad News First The study doesn’t come right out and say that building a municipal network would be too expensive, as that’s a decision for the city to make, not Columbia Telecommunications Corporation (CTC), the company that conducted the study. However, the study does provide a range of construction costs for the network based on four different sets of assumptions. No matter which figure you look at, construction costs would be high. CTC’s lowest estimate for network construction is a bit over $463 million, and its highest estimate is just over $630 million. The study projects maintenance costs to be nearly $10.9 million in the first year of service, rising to $31.5 million by year five and $39.2 million by year 20. At the same time, revenue projections predict $11.7 million in sales for the first year, rising to $91.5 million by year five and remaining there through year 20. And it doesn’t look as if that’s enough to make a municipal network a reality –at least not yet. Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want (From Broadband Service) To help determine demand for municipal network construction, CTC surveyed 833 residents living in the proposed service area. Questions included how much residents were willing to pay for various connection speeds, what kind of connection they already had, and what was most important to them regarding broadband Internet service. While it’s possible that the results aren’t representative for national consumers as a whole, they’re still interesting to look at. Nearly all respondents, 96 percent, had home Internet service Over 70 percent of subscribers get access through a cable modem, and 17 percent use a DSL connection. No other form of service was used by more than four percent of respondents with Internet service. The average connection price of Internet access for all surveyed was $56. With responses on cost broken into $10 tiers, more subscribers reported paying $71 per or more per month than any other amount: 21 percent pay $51–$60, 17 percent pay $61-70, 15 percent pay $41-$50, and 14 percent pay $31-$40. Less than five percent pay less than $30 per month for Internet access. What Are People Paying For? Respondents said reliability was the most important single aspect of service, followed by speed, price, customer service, and tech support service. When it came to bundling, responses varied significantly by age. There was a direct correlation between consumers’ age and the importance they placed in being able to bundle Internet access with TV service; it was most important to consumers over 65, and least important to those 18-34. When CTC compared the level of importance of these factors to consumers with their level of satisfaction, it found that bundling was the only area in which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) exceeded customer expectations. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that an unrelated survey, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, found that ISPs ranked at the bottom of every industry in terms of customer satisfaction. The 77,000 people surveyed gave a collective score of only 63 out of 100 for ISPs. For reference, the U.S. Postal Service received a score of 69. How much do you enjoy going to the post office? What Would it Take for Consumers to Switch? The less satisfied customers are, the more likely they are to switch, but price matters, too. CTC asked those surveyed how much they’d be willing to switch to a new provider. For 1 Gbps service, 85 percent would be willing to pay $55 per month, but only 15 percent would pay $95. For 100 Mbps, 80 percent would pay $55 per month, but only 7 percent would pay $95. This data also allowed CTC to determine that consumers felt a 1 Gbps connection was worth, on average, $10 more per month than a 100 Mbps connection. CTC asked how much respondents would be willing to pay for a one-time hookup fee, both in exchange for a $20 monthly reduction on their bill, and for no monthly reduction. Oddly, only 98 percent would be willing to pay $0, even in exchange for the reduction. Another 85 percent would pay $100 for the reduction, and 51 percent would pay $250. Without the reduction, 73 percent would pay $100, and 31 percent would pay $250. How Do You Compare? Now that you know how much others are willing to pay for gigabit service, does it change your opinion of current pricing, or affect the amount you’d be willing to pay? While the survey offers no help to residents of Seattle, that doesn’t mean there’s no help available. Residents of that city, or any other, who are dissatisfied with their current service can find another they like better using nothing more than a zip code. [zipfinder] Photo Credit: Howard Ignatius/Flikr Hawaii is one of the top ten most visited states in the U.S., but it also holds the dubious honor of being in the bottom ten for Internet speeds. Poor infrastructure has left Hawaii struggling to keep up with the rest of the nation in terms of broadband access, which many believe is having a negative effect on business in the state. The Sorry State of Broadband Hawaii ranks 46th in terms of overall Internet speeds in the United States. The state currently has an average speed of about 20Mbps spread across broadband, wired, and fiber optic connections. Broadband connections average 31.2Mbps statewide. Its closest neighbors have access to some of the fastest Internet speeds worldwide. Singapore averages 105 Mbps while Japan reaches speeds of 70 Mbps. Hawaii was one of only five states to see a decrease in average peak connection speeds in Akamai’s latest “State of the Internet Report.” The peak speed dropped 1.4 percent to 42.7 Mbps for broadband access. While over 42Mbps is fast, not many people in the state actually have access to this type of connection. But the good news is over 97 percent of Hawaiians do have access to at least some type of broadband connection. This makes Hawaii one of the top five in the country in terms of having the most residents with access to a broadband connection. Why Hawaii Needs Broadband Hawaii’s economy rested heavily on tourism for decades, with 2014 being a record-breaking year for the industry. However, members of the now-defunct Hawaii Broadband Task Force fear tourism alone won’t be enough to sustain the state in the coming years. The former task force representatives argue a high-tech environment will encourage entrepreneurs to develop businesses and would cause established businesses to expand. They’ve routinely made comparisons to Silicon Valley as the ideal benchmark for the Hawaii economy. The problem, the group claims, is that startups and other local businesses aren’t selling products that require high-speed Internet access. Essentially, the primary customers for broadband speeds in Hawaii are residential consumers who enjoy playing video games and streaming TV shows at home, not business professionals. Hawaii is also in a precarious position due to location. The island state was once a hub for cables strewn across the ocean floor to help connect nations overseas. Due to advances in fiber optic cables and connections, these might no longer be necessary. Members of the task force argue businesses should start pushing for fiber landing sites in and around Hawaii. They cite South America as evidence that building landing sites for fiber can help boost the economy. During Google’s expansion plans for their “Google for Communities” project, which aimed to provide 1GB broadband speeds to local communities, Hawaii was passed over due to what some believe are unnecessarily high restrictions on land rights and building poles. Estimates to boost overall Internet speeds in the state have been placed as high as the hundred millions. Does Hawaii Need Faster Internet? Hawaii certainly has no problem attracting tourists, but the Hawaiian Tourism Authority predicts numbers to stall in 2015. Because of this, officials might need to begin looking toward alternatives to the tourism industry to keep the economy going. With the rest of the world moving toward increasing Internet speeds, the little state nestled in the Pacific Ocean needs to think about how to keep up. Resting entirely on tourism in a world where Americans have wider access to more destinations could prove to be a problem down the road. Photo Credit: Nan Palmero/Flikr In April, we questioned if Internet access is a right, and if so, whether the government should provide it as an entitlement to low-income Americans. Your answer depends on your politics, but we noted that such an entitlement wouldn’t be a stretch. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already provides qualifying low-income Americans with phone service via its Lifeline Program. Money for that program comes from the Universal Connectivity Fee in your phone bill every month, and some refer to it as the “Obamaphone” program, even though it originated during the Reagan administration. Maybe we have a fan at the FCC, because it’s as if they read our article. On May 28, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed that the organization expand the Lifeline program to subsidize Internet access. And the way we read it, it shouldn’t increase the fee you already pay. Lifeline Goes Online Under Wheeler’s proposal, the FCC would pay qualified households up to $9.25 per month toward Internet access, the same amount as the current phone subsidy. No, that’s not enough to cover typical high-speed Internet plans. Fortunately, some network providers offer specially priced plans for low-income consumers. One example is the XFINITY® Internet Essentials plan offers 5 Mbps service for only $9.95 per month to eligible families. The two most important qualifications are living in an area where the service is available, which seems obvious, and having at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program. At a net cost of 70 cents per month, anyone can afford that level of broadband access. If adopted, the rule could help address the Broadband Gap, which is the disparity in broadband adoption rates between low-income and higher-income Americans. Information from the Pew Research Institute shows that 88 percent of American adults with an annual household income over $75,000 have broadband access, while only 46 percent of those with a $30,000 annual household income have access. Given the increasing importance of Internet access to schoolwork, Pew has labeled the same gap on families with school-aged children the “homework gap.” Which Is Most Important? One catch is that eligible households will only be eligible for one subsidy. They may be eligible for subsidized home phone, cell phone, or broadband service, but they’ll have to choose one of the three. That’s really no different than current Lifeline rules that make participants choose between landline and cell service. Because the proposal wouldn’t make households eligible for another subsidy, only an alternative one, it seems relatively safe to assume Lifeline expansion shouldn’t significantly increase costs assuming eligibility rules remain as they currently are. For now, though, this expansion remains a proposal only. The five commissioners who run the FCC will likely vote on it as soon as June 18, but even if approved, it will face a second vote prior to implementation. If it passes again, it will still probably take time to implement. How to Get Service Current Lifeline Program rules require phone service providers to determine consumers’ eligibility for the subsidy, and it’s entirely likely that the same will be true for broadband providers if the proposal eventually passes. If and when that occurs, those who think they might be eligible should contact participating providers to verify. If the FCC opts not to subsidize broadband, or if you’re not eligible for the program, it’s still easy to find affordable high-speed Internet service. And finding the plans you’re eligible for couldn’t be easier: all you need to do is enter your zip code below. [zipfinder] Photo Credit: MrJamesAckerley/Flikr Most analyses of the quality and speed of broadband access in the U.S. have been unflattering. Akamai’s Q4 2014 “State of the Internet Report” ranks America 16th in average connection speed, trailing noted Internet leaders like Latvia, and 17th in worldwide broadband adoption, behind Uruguay and Qatar. Looking at a Larger Picture Despite that report, there’s one group that says America’s Internet connectivity is much better than it appears. The Media Institute bills itself as a “nonprofit research foundation working to advance sound communications policy, freedom of speech, excellence in journalism, and the protection of intellectual property,” and it recently released “Net Vitality: Identifying the Top-Tier Global Broadband Internet Ecosystem Leaders.” The report’s author, Stuart N. Brotman, is a faculty member at Harvard Law School and, the way he figures it, the U.S. is among the world’s top five nations for overall “net vitality,” as he calls it. Brotman came to this conclusion after five years of research, compiling more than 50 different sets of data to form a single composite score. Rather than create numbered rankings, he chose to create a top tier of leading nations that “distinguish themselves as pacesetters for future benchmarketing and best practices analyses.” Joining the U.S. in this leadership tier are France, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. It’s Not a Series of Tubes The Internet’s primary building blocks, according to Brotman, are devices, networks, and applications/content, each of which drive each other in a perpetual cycle. Faster networks encourage better devices, which encourage better content, which requires faster networks. Study’s like Akamai’s, in Brotman’s view, examine only the networks without also examining devices and content. Brotman further segments each of these building blocks, with countries receiving a score for each. America ranks first in 10 of 17 applications categories, first in three of five device categories, but first in only two of 12 network categories. In an additional measure of macroeconomic factors, the U.S. scores wins in 9 of 18 categories. What We Can Learn From Other Nations The report says that, despite the high scores, the U.S. can still learn from the other nations in the top five. France: The country’s main strength has been fusing the concepts of public service with industry privatization, with government intervention when industry has failed to meet goals such as universal service. Japan: The government has offered consistent and effective long-term leadership, focusing on cooperation with national industry and competition with neighboring economic powers. South Korea: The country possesses a culture that favors early adoption of new technologies to solve existing problems, and its government offered direct financial assistance both for network construction and consumer purchases of technology. United Kingdom: They have a clear, well-defined Internet strategy and goals that focus on long-term improvements. Each nation has a strong tradition of private innovation, but successful broadband policy “appears to require government involvement,” Brotman says. Encouraging digital literacy, building infrastructure, and offering incentives for private investment are three examples of useful roles government can play. Our Content and Devices Will Drive Our Networks While it’s disappointing that yes, the U.S. still scores poorly in measures of network quality, we have all the other elements for broadband success in place. Nations with faster connection speeds still make those connections on hardware and software designed here, and consume content created here. As previously stated, those two factors will drive network performance forward.
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