Broadband gains still leave some behind, report says
Despite progress and the promise of more investment, the Fiber Broadband Association said work lies ahead to get low-income and rural areas connected.
Average residential internet speeds have increased noticeably since 2009, but low-income and rural Americans lag in adopting broadband, according to a report by the Fiber Broadband Association, as federal funding to expand access starts to flow to local governments.
The report found that average download speeds in the United States have increased from less than 4 megabits per second to more than 120 Mbps between 2009 and 2022. Similarly, average upload speeds have jumped from about 0.4 Mbps to 26 Mbps in the same time period.
The report also found that the cost per Mbps based on download speeds has decreased to 55 cents in 2022 from $9.14 in 2010. The Fiber Broadband Association said that shows consumers getting better value for money for faster internet speeds, especially compared to other home consumer services that have seen prices jump.
But the report notes some yawning gaps in internet service that still need to be addressed. It found that speeds are lower in low-density rural areas but noted that the issue is “currently being actively targeted with new government programs.” Additionally, the ZIP codes with the lowest population density have service levels that are one-third the bandwidth of high-density areas, researchers said.
Similarly, lower-income Americans also have “somewhat” lower speeds, the report said, something researchers said could be because of the lack of availability or residents’ inability to access higher speeds due to their financial limitations. Despite that, researchers said 58% of those who have adopted broadband internet are from low-income households.
The report also found that cable remains the dominant method for connecting homes to the internet, with its 49% market share ahead of fiber at 21% and digital subscriber line at 13%. While cable is ahead of its competitors, researchers said fiber is “winning where available,” while 5G wireless and fixed wireless connections are also gaining ground, often at the expense of DSL.
Researchers found that fiber has the fastest and most reliable internet connections, and that low-income workers that have access to fiber at home are more likely than others to have a job in the information economy. The report noted the need to “broaden the workforce to prepare for an increased percentage of these types of jobs in the future.”
While many experts have previously noted that fiber is not the only method to provide broadband internet, Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, said in the report that 2022 is a “pivot year” for advancing fiber, especially with almost $130 billion in federal, state and local aid available to help expand it.