Broadband Usage Stays Strong in 3Q 2020

OpenVault recently released its Broadband Insights Report for the third quarter of 2020. OpenVault supplies software used by the companies that run the Internet and is able to provide some interesting insights into the state of broadband.

Probably the biggest news in the report is that increased household usage due to the pandemic has not abated. The average US home in September used 384 gigabytes of data, up slightly from 380 gigabytes in June, but up 40% from September 2019. Perhaps the most interesting thing about that number is that schools returned to live classes in many parts of the country in September, and yet average Internet usage did not decline.

The 384 gigabytes represent total household bandwidth usage, both upload and download combined. OpenVault reported average upload and download usage separately for the first time and reports that the average home downloaded 359 gigabytes and uploaded 25 gigabytes of data. That second number is shocking and just a year ago the average upload usage would have been a lot smaller.

Power users of the Internet remain high with 8.8% of all US households now using more than 1 terabyte of data per month, including 1% of households now using over 2 terabytes per month. This is more than double the 4.2% of households that used a terabyte of monthly data in the third quarter of 2019. This has to be good news to ISPs with data caps – most are not billing data caps during the pandemic, but they will realize significant new revenue when they go back to billing for high broadband usage.

Subscriptions to faster broadband continue to climb as households upgrade to faster broadband tiers. Since the second quarter, nationwide subscribers to gigabit broadband increased from 4.9% to 5.6% (an increase of over 875,000 new gigabit subscribers). Subscribers to speeds between 500 Mbps and gigabit grew from 5% to 5.24%, and subscribers to speeds between 200 Mbps and 500 Mbps grow from 13.5% to 14.1%.

OpenVault reports two numbers that rural America will find disheartening. They report that the average nationwide download speeds in September was 170 Mbps and the average upload speed was 13 Mbps. That average highlights better than any other statistic the sad state of rural broadband where the FCC defines broadband as 25/3 Mbps but where most rural homes fall far short of even that modest goal. It’s worth noting that the average speeds are now being influenced heavily by the households subscribing to gigabit speeds.

Remembering that OpenVault works for the largest ISPs, the report closes with a conclusion that the increased broadband usage means increased revenue opportunities for ISPs as customers migrate to faster broadband speeds and spend between $20 and $30 more per month for broadband.

The OpenVault statistics should be a reminder that broadband usage has been growing at a torrid rate for years, with residential broadband usage increasing annually by 21% for the last decade. The pandemic has accelerated that growth a bit, but to the extent that millions of workers might remain working at home after the pandemic – this one-time burst in increased usage likely represents a restart of the curve. Broadband usage has remained at 40% to 50% above 2019 levels this year, but there is no reason to think it will ever recede to past usage levels. People are going to work from home more in the future. We have all incorporated video meetings into our routines. Millions of households during the pandemic upgraded to 4K TVs and are not going back to watching lower resolution video. Higher broadband usage volumes are here to stay.

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