More than a dozen smaller, more rural broadband providers received endorsements of sorts this week from PC Magazine, which created a list of the 50 best U.S. work-from-home cities for 2021. Among the providers were decades-old companies that started out as telephone service providers, as well as rural utility companies and newer competitive companies.

Also on the list were some of the nation’s larger broadband providers, including AT&T, which offers the best price on gigabit service in 16 of the 50 cities, according to the researchers. Comcast won that honor in seven cities, CenturyLink in three and Verizon in two. Windstream and RCN each offer the best price on gigabit service in one of the top 50 cities.

The top city on the list, unsurprisingly, was Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the local utility company EPB was the first broadband provider to undertake a citywide gigabit deployment. The next four cities, in descending order, were Bear Valley Springs, California; Pawlet, Vermont; Kaysville, Utah; and Jonesborough, Tennessee.

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Pawlet, Vermont (Source: PC MAG)

The providers in those four cities, respectively, were Race Communications, Vermont Telephone Company, Veracity Networks and AT&T.

Best Work-From-Home Cities

Whether large or small, only cities with gigabit service were included on PC Magazine’s best work-from-home cities list – and researchers confirmed network performance by making sure connections had been tested to provide speeds of at least 800 Mbps downstream and 200 Mbps upstream. They also looked for cities with a relatively low cost for gigabit service and noted the provider with the best price and coverage for that service.

Inclusion on the best work-from-home cities list also depended on overall quality of life in the city.

Researchers only included cities with median home values below $500,000 – and in quite a few of the cities, the median values were in the $100,000 range. Another factor was median home size, the thinking being that larger homes have more room for home offices.

Cities also got points for being in an attractive setting with “nearby coasts, mountains or lots of parks” and for having a high percentage of home-based workers, the thinking being that those cities would have amenities to support home-based workers.

Other factors considered: the presence of coffee shops, the percentage of local restaurants that are not chains, the percentage of residents in arts and education and the percentage of residents in health care diagnostic and treatment professions.

And if two places were within 50 miles of each other, researchers consolidated or eliminated some places.

The Smaller Providers

Vermont Telephone, or VTel, serves two cities on the top work-from-home cities list, including Springfield as well as Pawlet. Other long-lived companies on the list that started out as telephone providers include Paul Bunyan Communications, C Spire, Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative, GRM Networks, Empire Access, Smithville Communications and Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative (ATMC). Smaller more recently formed providers on the list include Race Communications, Visionary Broadband, CTI Fiber and Volo Broadband.

Several rural utility companies that have branched into broadband also made the list, including Great Lakes Energy (Truestream), Reedsburg Utility Commission (LightSpeed) and Tombigbee Communications (freedom FIBER).

The PC Magazine top work-from-home cities list is a timely one, considering that one recent survey found that 23% of workers at high-tech companies had moved out of major metro markets since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing PC Magazine didn’t look at, but which might be worth considering for a future survey is the availability of provider offerings targeting home workers that include virtual private network and other capabilities.

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