Regional Differences in Broadband Adoption

The latest Akamai report State of the Internet Q1 2017 contains a lot of interesting facts about broadband adoption and usage in the US and around the world. One of the things that they track is the percentage of broadband users at various data speeds. I think their tracking is the most accurate in the industry because they measure the actual speeds of connectivity, not the subscribed rate that users think they are getting. Most of the largest Internet hubs use Akamai and so they get to see huge volumes of web connections.

Probably the most interesting statistic in the report from a US perspective is that the average broadband connection speed for the whole US has grown to 18.7 Mbps. This is up 8.8% over the last quarter of 2016 and is up 22% from a year ago. This increase was enough to move the US up to tenth place in the world in terms of average connectivity speed. The worldwide connectivity speed is 7.2 Mbps, but that comes with the caveat that it doesn’t include some parts of the world and also doesn’t include the billions who don’t yet have any broadband available.

What I find most interesting in the connectivity data is how disparate broadband is in different parts of the US. For the first time there are places in the US with average connectivity speeds greater than the FCC definition of broadband – the District of Columbia at 28.1 Mbps and Delaware at 25.2 Mbps. Contrast this with Idaho with an average connectivity speed of 12 Mbps, which is less than half of the speeds for the fastest states. Perhaps the most useful statistics in the report is the percentage of connections in each state that meet various speed thresholds:

4 Mbps Adoption. Akamai says that Delaware leads in this category with 98% of connections exceeding a speed of 4 Mbps, with Rhode Island close behind at 97%. Contrast this to the bottom of the list where West Virginia has only 77% of connections exceeding 4 Mbps and Arkansas the next lowest at 81%.

10 Mbps Adoption Rate. Delaware also leads this category with 86% of the broadband connections from the state exceeding 10 Mbps, again just ahead of Rhode Island with 85%. But at the bottom of this list are Idaho at 45%, and Arkansas and New Mexico at 47%.

15 Mbps Adoption Rate. Rhode Island leads this category with 66% of broadband connections exceeding 15 Mbps. At the bottom of this list was Idaho with only 23% of connections exceeding 15 Mbps.

25 Mbps Adoption Rate. The District of Columbia tops this list with 38% of connections exceeding 25 Mbps, with Delaware second at 33%. At the bottom of the list is Idaho where only 7.5% of connections exceeded 25 Mbps, with New Mexico the next lowest at 7.9%.

Since these are the actual speeds of Internet connections one can conjecture there are a number of reasons that contribute to the differences across various states, such as:

  • Availability of fast broadband. The states with the fastest broadband rates happen to be those where a significant percentage of the population has both fiber (Verizon FiOS) and cable modem broadband available. By contrast the states near the bottom of the list tend to have far fewer communities with fiber, and even many communities without cable systems.
  • Affordability. Numerous surveys have shown that affordability is still a major factor for homes being able to afford the broadband connection they want.
  • Choice. Even in places where there is fast broadband available, many households choose slower broadband speeds due to lack of perceived need.
  • Geography. Terrain plays a role as well. In working with rural communities across the country I see that in the Plains states with wide-open expanses of land that there has been a proliferation of rural homes served by point-to-multipoint wireless networks that are delivering speeds of 10 – 50 Mbps. But this technology is of far less value in places like West Virginia with hilly and wooded terrain.

One thing this report shows is that the disparity between the top and the bottom states on these various lists is widening. In places where fast broadband is available, the statistics show that a lot of people are upgrading to faster speeds. But in states near the bottom of the list where the broadband networks are the least robust the same upward migrations to faster speeds is not possible due to the lack of options. One would think that most of the country would look like Delaware in terms of broadband adoption rates if broadband was available to everybody. But the difference in technologies and infrastructure limits households from buying the broadband speeds they want.

The other thing to remember about these statistics is that they are only measuring the speeds for actual broadband connections, and so obviously exclude the millions of households in the country that still don’t have a reasonable broadband alternative. If those households were weighted into these statistics then states with large rural areas with no broadband would sink down the list.

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