Who is the Fastest ISP?

I regularly run across articles that ask which major ISP is the fastest. Most of these articles get their speed data from Ookla, which publishes comparative median broadband speeds for mobile and landline ISPs each quarter, like in this report for the second quarter of 2022.

Americans love a horse race – we like to rank things, and articles that rank ISPs grab readers. But we have to take articles based upon the Ookla rankings with a grain of salt. Ookla doesn’t make any claims about its numbers – it just presents the data.

There are a few things to note about the Ookla numbers. First, the results come from the many speed tests reported to Ookla. We know that a significant number of speed tests aren’t perfect due to issues at the customer end, such as an old WiFi router or taking the speed test at the far end of the house away from the WiFi router. Most importantly, Ookla reports median speeds – meaning half of all speed tests for a given ISP are faster, and half are slower than the value shown. Median speeds don’t seem to be a great metric for comparing ISPs.

Here are the median speeds for the second quarter from Ookla for the largest landline ISPs.

Download Upload
Cox 196.73 10.60
Xfinity 184.08 18.88
Spectrum 183.84 11.70
Verizon 171.01 112.36
AT&T Internet 146.64 112.27
Frontier 136.99 113.21
CenturyLink 41.29 12.02

What do these numbers tell us (and not tell us)?

  • The results are only from customers who took speed tests. I have to think that customers who have blazingly fast Internet don’t take a speed test as often as customers who are seeing sluggish performance. Summarizing the speeds for only those who take a speed test is very different than measuring the average speed being delivered to all customers by an ISP.
  • One of the factors that likely has a big impact on the median speed is the mix of broadband speed products offered by each ISP. An ISP that sells a lot of 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps download products is likely to have a lower median speed than an ISP that has a minimum speed of 200 Mbps. The numbers above include ISPs with widely different speed products and prices.
  • This list only includes the largest ISPs. Smaller ISPs that offer fast products, like Ting, Sonic, US Internet, and many others, would blow away these median speeds.
  • I saw two articles that declared that Cox is now the fastest ISP in the country. Is it really? Just two quarters ago, at the end of 2021, Verizon had a median download speed of 201 while Cox was at 172. This variability from quarter to quarter is a good indication that you can’t make any serious judgment about an ISP based on median speeds. I can’t imagine that Verizon got slower – there was just a different mix of Verizon customers who took the Ookla speed test in the fourth quarter and the second quarter.
  • It’s interesting that none of the median upload speeds for cable companies is at the proposed 20 Mbps definition of broadband being considered by the FCC. This suggests more than half of all customers of the cable companies have upload speeds of less than 20 Mbps – and it’s likely that far more than half don’t achieve the 20 Mbps upload threshold. Is Cox really the fastest ISP when it doesn’t seem to meet the FCC’s proposed definition of broadband?
  • It’s clear that the measurements for CenturyLink include DSL. I’ve seen individual speed test results from CenturyLink Fiber customers that show symmetrical speeds – and far faster speeds than these numbers. By comparison, it looks like the Frontier, AT&T, and Verizon speeds are for fiber customers and don’t include DSL.

I like ranking as much as anybody, but I am unable to draw too many conclusions from the Ookla numbers. Perhaps the most you can say is that both fiber and cable companies are delivering decent download speeds – at least to the top 50% of customers. But these numbers are another example of the paltry upload speeds being delivered by the cable companies. I can’t pick the fastest ISP from this table – if I was forced to choose, I’d say Verizon. But that’s a pretty weak pick using median speeds. All of these ISPs offer a gigabit download product, and from that perspective, they are all the fastest – except for the ISPs not on this list that now offer a residential 10 Gbps broadband product.

When There is No Broadband

Jon Brodkin wrote a recent article in Ars Technica that highlights a Seattle couple who bought a house in Seattle and found it doesn’t have broadband. The house was built in 1964, but the new homebuyers found that the Comcast network was never extended to the house, although all six neighbors are connected to Comcast.

When the new homeowners couldn’t get service from Comcast, they found out that the only two options for broadband are CenturyLink DSL with a 3 Mbps download or a cellular hotspot. This is a real dilemma for a couple who both work from home.

Comcast largely ignored requests from the homeowners to connect service, and it eventually took pressure from a City Council member to get Comcast’s attention. That’s when the bad news came that Comcast wanted a $27,000 construction fee to bring service. This was to build underground cable to cross 181 feet.


This particular home is unusual since it has a lot with no easy street access and would require access through an easement across a neighbor’s lot. At some point, somebody at Comcast told the homeowners that the actual cost to reach the property is $80,000 since construction includes the easement and boring under a street  – a number that is hard to believe.

Comcast bought this cable network from AT&T, but the original cable company was probably TCI. It’s likely in the 1970s that the local construction crew elected to bypass this lot because it was hard to reach. The original cable company probably had a franchise agreement that required it to offer cable TV to every household. But as is often the case, the cable company decided to avoid a high-cost property like this one. There are likely other properties in high-cost situations around the city that aren’t connected to the Comcast network.

This particular house is news because the house is in a neighborhood of single-family homes deep inside a city where all of the other neighbors are connected. Being bypassed is a common story for folks who live on the fringe of the big cities where cable companies often quote similar high costs to get connected to the network. Most stories about urban homes that aren’t connected are in low-income neighborhoods that the original cable network deliberately bypassed.

The industry term for the construction fee that Comcast offered the couple is aid-to-construction. This is where a customer pays the cost of extending an existing fiber, electric, or water service to reach a new location. Anybody who has built a new rural home outside of a subdivision has probably run into this situation.

I regularly hear about cases where a rural farmer is willing to pay a fee of $25,000 to $50,000 to bring fiber to the farm – it’s obviously worth that much to them to get the broadband needed to operate a modern farming business. But the $27,000 fee is one of the highest fees I’ve heard in a city.

Not all ISPs do this. I have plenty of ISP clients that would have bored 181 feet to reach this property for a minimal fee or even no charge. They would have used their own construction crew, and the cost would have been nowhere near Comcast’s quoted fee. Good ISPs would write off this situation as the cost of doing business and to pick up a new and likely permanent customer.


Comcast and Charter Losing Broadband Customers

It’s big news that both Comcast and Charter lost broadband customers in the second quarter of this year. Both companies have steadily gained customers every quarter over the last decade. It was not a surprise to me to see this happen, but it happened sooner than I would have guessed.

Comcast lost 10,000 broadband customers for the quarter, a minuscule loss for a company with over 32.1 million broadband customers. To show how surprising this loss is, the company gained 262,000 customers in the first quarter of 2022, more than 1.3 million in 2021, and almost 2 million in 2020.

Charter lost 21,000 customers in the second quarter, again a small fraction of its 30.1 million broadband customers. But the loss is a big turnaround compared to the 185,000 broadband customers the company gained in the first quarter of this year, the 1.2 million customers gained in 2021, and the 2.2 million customers gained in 2020.

Comcast blames the customer loss on two factors. One is the end of the pandemic, which implies that households are now dropping broadband since the pandemic has cooled. This is the first time I’ve heard anybody make that claim. I’d love to hear if any ISPs that read this blog are seeing that same thing. Comcast also blamed the drop on the fact that fewer people than normal moved into new homes and apartments during the second quarter. That’s another claim that we’ll be able to check when the folks who track housing release statistics.

Charter blames the loss of customers on the change in the federal subsidy for low-income homes. Charter said it lost 59,000 customers when the subsidy changed from $50 under the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program to the $30 discount on the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP). That’s interesting, if true, and it provides evidence that many low-income households need a substantial discount in order to afford broadband. I’d also love to hear from any ISPs that are seeing this same customer trend. But I think Charter is being disingenuous to blame the drop on the low-income programs. The math doesn’t add up, and losing 59,000 in a quarter would not drive the company into having a net loss of customers.

There was something that both companies conspicuously didn’t claim – that the customer losses are due to competition. They are apparently not ready to make that claim yet because it makes them seem vulnerable. But it has been clear for some time that competition is nipping at the heels of the big cable companies. Telcos and other ISPs are furiously building fiber in urban areas in direct competition with cable companies. It’s hard to know fact from fiction, but fiber-based ISPs have high expectations – for example, AT&T says it plans to get a 50% penetration rate on fiber in a new neighborhood after three years.

Both companies are not acknowledging competition from the cellular carriers, which are selling unlimited 100 Mbps FWA broadband at an affordable price. Both cable companies have recently said they don’t fear competition from the FWA product. It’s too early to know how much of a threat wireless broadband will be – and it will take some time before we can see if the cellular networks can handle a lot of simultaneous broadband users and still maintain speeds. But for now, Verizon and T-Mobile are picking up a lot of new customers  – together, the two companies gained half of all new broadband customers nationwide in the first quarter of this year.

The stock prices of both cable companies have benefitted for years from continuous growth since analysts could count on each company growing both customers and revenues year after year. It’s going to be interesting to see what a loss of customers means to the long-term stock prices.

This new trend might change a lot of dynamics in the industry. I’ve said for years that the cable companies were on a steady march to have $100 broadband – and they still might be. It might be that raising rates is now the only path for them to increase the bottom line. But will these companies be able to raise rates in an increasingly competitive market? It seems unlikely that they will be able to keep increasing the price for the basic products, but the companies might be hoping for a continuation of the trend of customers upgrading to faster products. Both cable companies are aggressively selling cellular services, and each gained over 300,000 new cellular customers in the second quarter. But we don’t know how much margin the cellular business adds to their bottom lines.

Charter might have an easier path than Comcast to curtail losses and possibly grow again. Charter is aggressively seeking grant funding to expand into the rural areas around existing markets. These are areas that have had poor rural broadband, and Charter is building fiber in these markets – much to the annoyance of its urban customers who are not getting upgraded to Charter fiber. But this expansion should add a lot of new customers over the next four or five years. I think Charter realizes that in these markets, they will benefit by being the only provider of fast broadband – the first time the company will be operating in areas where it will largely be a monopoly.

The fact that the two biggest ISPs lost customers is a bellwether event that shows that the broadband market is now up for grabs. Who will be the big winners that fill the void if Comcast and Charter are not grabbing most of the new customers each quarter?

How Safe is Your Fiber Network?

There was a major attack launched against long-haul fiber networks outside of Paris, France on April 27 of this year. It appears that there was a coordinated attack by vandals to simultaneously cut three long-haul fiber routes. Fibers were cut with what seemed like a circular saw, and sections of fiber were removed to make it hard to make repairs. These were backbone fibers that were shared by multiple ISPs. A few ISPs lost service, and broadband access for almost everybody in Paris was slowed for a while.

The cuts were made at night, and in all three cases, the fiber was buried. There have been no arrests made, and no group ever claimed responsibility for the fiber cuts. But it’s obvious that whoever did this knew of the locations and purpose of the fibers.

There has been an uptick in attacks against communications infrastructure in France. In December 2021 the new outlet Reporterre documented more than 140 attacks in France against 5G equipment and related infrastructure during the year. This includes cutting cables, setting fire to cell towers, and even attacking telecom technicians. Attacks have decreased since the peak in 2020

The last major well-known attack on broadband infrastructure in the U.S. came on Christmas 2020 when a man blew up an RV parked outside of an AT&T switching center in Nashville. This seems to have been a case of mental illness, and police have never determined any motive or reason that AT&T was the target. The Department of Homeland Security issued an alert in the U.S. in May 2020 warning against likely attacks against cellular towers, related to 5G. There have been similar attacks in the UK and across Europe.

Regulators in the U.S. don’t widely publicize outages caused by vandalism, probably to not encourage copycats. In Docket FCC 21-99, the proposed rulemaking to improve network resiliency, the FCC noted the frequency of vandalism against U.S. networks. Carriers have always been required to disclose what the FCC defines as major outages, and the FCC noted that the year with the most attacks was 2016, with 1,079 reported acts of outages caused by vandalism. These attacks come in many forms, including gunshots, fires, and cable cuts.

ISPs are at a loss on how to protect infrastructure any better than it’s already protected. Most vital middle-mile fiber routes are buried, with the location of the routes not highly publicized. We put security fences and security cameras at cell tower sites and communication huts and buildings. But much of our vital infrastructure is located in remote locations – often on purpose. Nobody wants cellular towers or communication huts in residential neighborhoods, so carriers find out-of-the-way places to hide the infrastructure.

This is a warning for anybody building a new network to pay attention to physical security. In driving around, I see a lot of communication huts and cabinets sitting alongside the highway in plain sight. There are a few basics of physical security that every carrier should bake into the plans for a new network.

First, protect the perimeter around facilities. Put buildings and devices behind fences. Plant shrubs to keep infrastructure out of sight. Make it hard to park too near your facilities. And monitor your sites. Modern high definition or 4K cameras can capture the details needed to identify intruders. Cameras are now inexpensive and easy to connect where there is fiber. Connecting cameras to motion detectors can trigger recordings or security alerts when somebody is close to a facility. Consider a camera that includes license plate recognition software.

Always Online Customers

Computer Weekly recently compared the behavior of cellular customers in the UK from before the pandemic and after the pandemic. The analysis compared cellular customer usage from November 2019 to November 2021. Ookla took the findings and also looked at Switzerland and the U.S. to see if there were similar trends. The analysis revealed some interesting trends in mobile broadband usage that I think have implications for ISPs.

The percentage of consumers who describe themselves as always online grew from 30% to 69% during the pandemic. The analysis looked deeper at the reasons customers considered themselves as always online. Users who were always online for economic reasons (employment, traffic, remote working, social media, and information sharing) dropped from 16% of all users to 7%. However, the percentage of users who were always online for lifestyle reasons (parenting, caregiving, health and fitness, and gaming) grew from 3% to 32%. There has been an obvious shift in the reasons people are using the Internet.

By 2021, users who identified as always online were twice as likely to have reported an issue to customer service. About one-third of cellular customers are unhappy with customer service. The study looked at a wide range of the expectation that customers have for a customer service interaction, including the clarity of communications, the feeling that the carrier valued users as customers, the availability of multiple options for communicating with customer service, and how quickly issues were resolved.

Always online consumers have a higher expectation for the customer service interaction. They were more bothered by things like long wait times or customer service staff that doesn’t have the expertise to resolve a problem immediately.

One of the most interesting findings is that almost half (47%) of customers who had a customer service issue in the past 18 months either have switched or want to switch to another cellular carrier. I don’t recall a major survey that had a similar finding from before the pandemic and I wonder if people’s expectations have changed during the last few years. It’s certainly possible that the isolation of the pandemic made folks more dependent on broadband, which translates into a lower tolerance for poor service.

This finding is probably not news to cellular carriers – but it’s clear that carriers that want to keep the most active users need to step up the customer service game. I’ve heard several presentations in recent years that claimed that cellular companies spend as much as $350 on average to get a new customer. That’s a large number, especially considering that all it takes to lose many customers is a single negative customer service interaction.

How might all of this apply to broadband? First, it’s becoming clear that people are using broadband more, and I’m sure that the percentage of people who would say they use broadband for most of the day has also increased during the pandemic.

It’s probably not a big stretch to say that the customers who use broadband the most have the highest expectations for the performance of an ISP network and for the ability of customer service to resolve issues. Unfortunately, the large cable companies and telcos have the lowest-rated customer service in the country. To be ranked at the bottom can only be due to an accumulation of poor customer service experiences with customers.

It’s not as easy for most customers to change ISPs as it is to change a cellular carrier since in many markets there is only one ISP with a network fast enough to satisfy the heavy broadband users. But that doesn’t mean that customers don’t want to leave – and they will leave if they get another broadband choice. My consulting firm does surveys, and I invariably find that at least 30% of the public in every market are ready to change to a theoretical new fiber ISP, meaning that they are unhappy with the incumbent cable company. In some markets, this is much higher, and during the last year, I’ve worked in a few cities where more than 60% of existing broadband users said they were ready to change to a new ISP.

Many markets are going to see new competitors in the next few years. There will be almost ubiquitous FWA cellular broadband in most cable markets. It will be interesting to see how many people will bail on the existing cable company to change to 100 Mbps cellular broadband. If we believe all of the press releases of the big telcos and others, there is also a huge amount of fiber overbuilding underway across the country. It’s going to be interesting to see how many people will bail from a cable company to a fiber ISP. It can’t be good news for the cable companies if the trend for landline broadband is similar to cellular broadband, where half of its customers are ready to bail after a bad customer service experience.

Is a Fiber Roll-up Coming?

When I look at all of the new market entrants into the broadband industry and the frenetic pace that ISPs of all sizes are building fiber, one of the first thoughts that come to my mind is this is an industry that is headed for a roll-up. I have to imagine that in the not-too-distant future that we’re going to see companies making offers to buy smaller ISPs that will be too good to refuse.

When I first joined the industry, there was a huge roll-up of small independent telephone companies. Companies like TDS, General Telephone, Consolidated, and a few others were competing nationwide to buy small family telcos. I think over a decade that probably four or five hundred of these companies sold to the bigger telcos. Interestingly, all of these companies except TDS eventually got rolled into even larger telcos that are now CenturyLink, Frontier, and Windstream.

The next big roll-up was in the cable industry. I can remember a few years when I heard of a purchase of a small cable company almost weekly. In this case, many of the companies doing the initial roll-ups eventually got bought by Comcast or Charter.

One of the most rapid roll-ups I can remember was when a few companies were gobbling up dial-up ISPs. This happened over just a few years.

I’m currently seeing a roll-up in the WISP industry with some of the large WISPs buying out small successful WISPs.

There have been a few less dramatic but still significant roll-ups. Companies like Level 3, Zayo, and others have been buying middle-mile and long-haul fiber networks. While many big CLECs crashed after the 2000 telecom implosion, the largest of the remaining successful CLECs were absorbed by the big telcos.

There has already been some consolidation of last-mile fiber networks, with some municipal ISPs and private overbuilders getting purchased by larger ISPs. But the handful of networks that have been purchased will pale against the big roll-ups that I think will be coming in a few years.

The industry will be ripe for roll-ups for several reasons. Probably the most important is that the private equity that is being invested in fiber today is not going to be satisfied with the slow but steady utility-like earnings made by last-mile ISPs. ISPs can become great cash cows and eventually spin off cash, but the long-term returns from operating a last-mile network are generally under 10% – not the kind of returns that private equity usually chases. The big return for private equity investors comes from the big bump that comes from selling the business at a high multiple.

I also think that the day-to-day hard work of operating an ISP will set in at some point. Growing ISPs into new markets is exciting. But as the huge amounts of fiber construction on the horizon come to fruition, the opportunities for additional expansion are going to quickly disappear. That’s the point when industries consolidate – because growing by acquisition can be profitable when organic growth is not possible.

The other reason for eventual roll-ups is that operating fiber-based networks is an economy-of-scale business. The overheads per customer are a lot less in an ISP with 200,000 customers compared to one with 20,000. Size also brings operational improvements in areas like customer service and software systems that favor big ISPs over small ones.

I could be wrong about this, but the evidence all points to an eventual roll-up. I’ve worked with several cities lately looking to attract an ISP to build a fiber network, and each got several responses from newly-formed ISPs that seem to have been assembled for the purpose of taking advantage of the current fiber land grab. I seriously doubt that these many fledging investor-backed ISPs intend to operate last-mile networks for the next fifty years.

Licensed Spectrum and Broadband Mapping

As I work with clients who are thinking about applying for the BEAD grants, I keep stumbling across new issues that I see as problems. Today’s blog talks about how the BEAD grants in a given location could go sideways because of the NTIA’s decision to declare facility-based wireless technologies that use licensed spectrum to be considered as a reliable technology that is eligible for BEAD grants. I can foresee two different problems that might result from this decision.

There are two kinds of wireless carriers that could qualify under this new definition. First, cellular carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon are aggressively marketing FWA fixed wireless for homes using licensed spectrum. In the not-too-distant future, we can expect AT&T, Dish Network, and probably many of the smaller cellular carriers like U.S. Cellular to deploy the technology using licensed spectrum. The carriers are largely advertising this as 5G, but the actual technology being used for now is still 4G LTE.

The other set of facility-based wireless providers are the fixed wireless WISPs that use a mix of licensed and unlicensed spectrum to deliver broadband from towers. Most of these WISPs are using the licensed portion of Citizen Band Radio Spectrum (CBRS), but they can use other licensed spectrum like 700 MHz or other cellular spectrum purchased at auction in the past.

The first problem I foresee is that these wireless carriers can use the upcoming FCC broadband mapping update to lock down huge areas of real estate from eligibility for BEAD grants. Anywhere that these carriers claim speeds of 100/20 Mbps in the next set of FCC maps will be initially declared by the BEAD rules to be served and ineligible for grants.

Unfortunately, the new mapping rules allow for this since ISPs can claim marketing speeds in the FCC mapping. I’m positive that many WISPs will declare the speeds that will classify their areas as served, because many of them already have been reporting these speeds in the past. In just the past year, I’ve worked with at least thirty counties where at least one wireless ISP claimed countywide coverage with broadband  – in some cases at speeds of 100 Mbps or faster. These WISPs might have the 100/20 Mbps capability for some customers close to a tower, but it’s impossible to be able to deliver those speeds to everybody across an entire county.

To use an example, I talked to a farmer recently who is thrilled to get the new T-Mobile FWA product at the farm. The tower is on his property, and he is getting 200 Mbps downloads. But the stories from his neighbors are quite different. One neighbor less than a mile away is seeing 75 Mbps download speeds. A few other neighbors two miles or more away claim the broadband is unusable. If T-Mobile was to claim a fairly wide coverage for this technology in the FCC maps, it would be blocking BEAD grant money inside whatever areas it claims.

But let’s say that T-Mobile reports honestly. Under the new FCC mapping rules. a wireless ISP is supposed to input a wireless propagation map like the one below. This map is typical of wireless coverage in that the wireless signal travels further in directions where it is unimpeded. But this example propagation map doesn’t tell the whole story because you might imply that the speeds are the same over the whole propagation area. My farmer example shows that wireless speeds can drop off rapidly with distance from a tower. A map of a 200 Mbps coverage area or even a 100 Mbps coverage area will be tiny for a wireless ISP. The map that should be input to the new FCC maps is just the areas that can get good broadband speeds. In the propagation map below, probably 80% of the green areas probably don’t even see one bar of broadband. It’s also worth noting that the propagation map is not fixed – the coverage area changes with temperature, precipitation, and more mundane factors like the amount of backhaul provided to a given tower.This raises the second issue. If the wireless carriers with fast licensed spectrum report properly in the new maps, there are going to be splotches of areas around every rural cell tower that will be off-limits for grants. In the same way that the swiss cheese RDOF awards goofed up anybody else from bringing a fiber broadband solution, these fixed wireless or cellular blotches will make it hard to build a coherent network in areas that have to avoid the wireless areas. In a real deployment, An ISP will likely build to everybody in an area – but because of the mapping rules, they won’t get grant funding everywhere. I can’t even begin to imagine how somebody building a fiber network is going to properly account for assets that are inside and outside of areas that are supposedly already served.

I wonder if the NTIA understands what it has done. The agency seems to have worked very hard to avoid the problems the FCC caused in the RDOF reverse auction. But this ruling brings in one of the most damaging aspects of RDOF – incoherent grant serving areas. I know there is a challenge process for the maps used for BEAD, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to dispute an ever-changing propagation map around every cell tower or fixed wireless radio. I fear this is going to be one of the newest nightmares to pop out of the revised FCC maps.

Reusing Existing Easements

Casey Lide and Thomas B. Magee of Keller & Heckman highlight an issue that anybody building fiber on utility poles should be aware of. A recent article on their website notes that in some cases, an easement obtained for using private land to bring electric service might not automatically allow an easement for bringing fiber.

There is a subtle difference between easements and rights-of-of way. An easement allows somebody to carry out an activity on private land. It was typical when electric companies built the power grid to seek an easement from each landowner to give permission to erect electric poles for bringing electric service. Rights-of-way are generally more specific and wider in scope. A city will often decree that it has a right-of-way in perpetuity to use the first few feet from the street of each property for civic purposes. The city can then use the right-of-way to allow for underground utilities or to place a fire hydrant.

The article warns that the original language of the easement might restrict usage for adding fiber. If the original easement language was narrow and only talked about bringing electric service, then somebody adding fiber would need to seek a new easement for every property underneath a pole line. If the original easement was more generic in nature, it might have allowed for electric and other services, in which case the electric company would have an easement to cover allowing others on its poles.

There are cases where a property owner has refused to allow fiber or other wires to be added to a pole line. In such cases, the new attacher has to get permission from the property owner and possibly pay for the easement when property owners insist there is a value for the easement.

The legislatures in twenty states have dealt with this issue in the last few years by passing legislation that says that the original easement given to the electric company covers other wires added to the poles. Within just the last three years, the following states have enacted this legislative fix as a way to make it easier to build broadband networks. Note that some of these laws are aimed only at electric cooperatives but not for commercial electric companies. The states are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

If your state is not on that list, or if you are building fiber on the lines of a for-profit utility, then this is an issue that you should investigate as part of building fiber. The natural place to start is to ask the utility if it has clear easements for adding fiber. This is not always an easy thing for a utility to guarantee since some of the easements might have been negotiated more than a century ago. Examining the utility’s easement language should show if the easement is restrictive or open.

The chances are that you can build a network and never worry about this – many people have built fiber networks and never asked the question. But if an easement dispute is raised, you could be stopped in the construction process or even be stopped from using fiber that was built without an easement. Add this to the list of worries that come with building a new fiber network.