The rural broadband gap is narrowing but persists, according to new research from USTelecom. Wired broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream was available to 98% of non-rural areas but only 65% of rural areas as of mid-2017, according to USTelecom.
The 25/3 Mbps speed level is particularly important because it is the new target that the FCC has proposed for the high-cost Universal Service Fund.
USTelecom worked with consultancy Telecodata to produce the broadband research, which was based on information reported by service providers and collected through FCC Form 477.
Approximately 79% of housing units are non-rural and 21% are rural, according to U.S. Census figures cited by USTelecom.
Rural Broadband Gap
In general, the rural broadband gap widens as broadband speeds increase, according to the USTelecom data. Nearly 100% (99%) of non-rural housing units can get wired broadband at speeds of at least 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream, compared with 81% of rural housing units – a gap of 18 percentage points. But when it comes to speeds greater than 100/10 Mbps, the gap increases to 42 percentage points. Ninety-two percent of non-rural housing units can get service at those speeds, compared with just 50% of rural housing units.
Rural broadband availability is somewhat higher when fixed wireless offerings are included, but the gap continues to widen as speeds increase. The percentage of housing units that can get wired or wireless fixed service at speeds of at least 3 Mbps/ 768 kbps is 99% in non-rural areas and 90% in rural areas – a gap of 9 percentage points. The gap rises to 41 percentage points at speeds of 100/ 10 Mbps, with 92% of non-rural housing units and 51% of rural housing units having service available.
At the critical 25/3 Mbps speed, 70% of rural housing units and 98% of non-rural housing units have service available via either fixed wireless or wired broadband.
“USTelecom believes that every American should have the opportunity to connect to the internet through sufficiently robust broadband service,” wrote USTelecom in the new report, titled U.S. Broadband Availability Mid-Year 2017. “For some areas, this requires government support. The FCC’s Connect America Fund provides a good starting point. Further progress will require additional funding. Policies must be targeted, flexible and efficient. Policies should target support to specific areas where the economics do not support deployment or upgrades. In addition, governments must not fund wasteful, duplicative overbuilding of existing facilities. Policies must also be sufficiently flexible to allow for the most cost-effective solutions rather than adhering to rigid technology or speed requirements. Finally, it is essential that funding be dedicated and direct, using a mechanism like the Connect America Fund for the most economically and administratively efficient distribution of funds.”
Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.