Fiber-based internet access is now available for more than eight out of 10 (84%) rural customers, according to a new study from NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. NTCA members are small, rural broadband providers; the research is based on a survey of those companies.

NTCA members have continued to install and activate fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks, which provide increasingly higher downstream and upstream speeds in rural communities. These providers indicated in the survey that approximately 84% of their customers can receive speeds of at least 100 Mbps. More than two-thirds of customers had access to 1 Gbps download speeds.

Upload speeds are important for user applications including video conferencing, remote work and school. Almost 82% of survey respondents’ customers, on average, have upload speeds of 100 Mbps or higher, while an average of 61% of customers have access to 1 Gbps upload capability. Availability of higher download speeds continue to increase as well.

The report highlights that customers are quick to add higher speeds as soon as they are available. An average of nearly 60% of respondents’ customers subscribe to 100 Mbps downstream broadband or better, up from just over 49% in the 2022 survey.

The study asked providers about the technologies they use to deliver fixed broadband service. Almost all respondents (98%) indicated using optical carrier/fiber to the premises to provide service to a portion of their area; this represents a very slight increase from 2022’s survey results.

Fewer than half (45.9%) reported the use of copper wire for customers in their service area, a falloff from the 53.1% of providers who reported in 2022 that they used copper loops and fiber to the node deployments, the study showed.

Usage of other technologies to provide fixed broadband service, such as unlicensed terrestrial fixed wireless and coaxial cable HFC, was reported by providers in the study to be more limited.

“NTCA’s Broadband/Internet Availability Survey has long tracked how our members have consistently led the charge in deploying the best possible broadband in deeply rural areas,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a prepared statement.

“This year’s survey reinforces and underscores NTCA members’ abiding commitment to the communities they serve, advancing broadband built to last in rural America, and highlights how rural consumers are making greater use of these services.

“But as our members know well and as the survey also highlights, the mission of service is just beginning once initial deployment is done. We need to sustain these foundational efforts so that rural consumers have access to affordable broadband that keeps pace with their escalating demands for many years to come.”

Expansion of high-speed broadband in rural areas is certain to continue when the states begin making awards in the $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband funding program next year.

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