US broadband: Still no ISP choice for many, especially at higher speeds
The latest Federal Communications Commission statistics show that Americans still have little choice of high-speed broadband providers. On the surface, the numbers appear to show that the broadband market has gotten slightly less competitive since 2013. But what has really happened is the FCC is collecting more granular data that better illustrates the lack of choice for most Americans. Things are probably getting a little better as providers boost speeds and new entrants like Google Fiber and municipal ISPs2 offer service. But the FCC’s improved statistical analysis shows how far there is to go.
At the FCC’s 25Mbps download/3Mbps upload broadband standard, there are no ISPs at all in 30 percent of developed census blocks and only one offering service that fast in 48 percent of the blocks. About 55 percent of census blocks have no 100Mbps/10Mbps providers, and only about 10 percent have multiple options at that speed. At the 10Mbps/1Mbps threshold which captures slower DSL technology in addition to cable and fiber about 90 percent of census blocks have at least two providers. These numbers exclude satellite, which is available nearly everywhere but has high latency and often low data caps. Even these numbers overstate the amount of competition, because an ISP might offer service to only part of a census block.
The percentage of households with choice is thus even lower. Still, the census block data that the commission began collecting from ISPs in 2014 is better than the census tract data that the FCC previously collected. Census blocks are smaller than tracts, so while there are only 74,000 tracts in the US there are more than 11 million4 census blocks. Any given ISP is a lot more likely to offer service to at least one household within a census tract than within a census block. (The FCC limited its data to developed census blocks, excluding about 4.9 million5 that have zero population.)
Using the old census tract data, the FCC’s December 2013 statistics6 showed that 94 percent of tracts had at least two providers offering 10Mbps download speeds and 1.5Mbps upload speeds. The mid-2015 data shows a bit less competition at those speeds but isn’t comparable because of the switch from tracts to blocks. The 2013 data didn’t go above 10Mbps download speeds.
The only other report since then has data as of December 31, 2014. This report7 was the first to use developed census blocks and shows that there was little change between the end of 2014 and the mid-2015 numbers from earlier in this article:
Overall, the FCC counted 91.1 million residential fixed Internet connections as of June 2015, up from 87.6 million in December 2013. A majority now has download speeds of at least 25Mbps, while only about a third of connections were that fast in 2013. Cable dominates broadband, accounting for 52.4 million connections of at least 3Mbps/768kbps. There were 17.5 million DSL connections at that speed, as well as 8.8 million fiber-to-the-home, 1.7 million satellite, and 588,000 fixed wireless. While the vast majority of cable and fiber connections are at least 10Mbps/1Mbps, fewer than half of DSL connections reach that modest threshold.
At 25Mbps/3Mbps, it’s nearly all cable and fiber as there are just 723,000 DSL connections at that speed.
You can check out those statistics and more in these figures from the FCC report:
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- ^ 24 posters participating (arstechnica.com)
- ^ municipal ISPs (arstechnica.com)
- ^ Internet Access Services report (transition.fcc.gov)
- ^ more than 11 million (www.census.gov)
- ^ about 4.9 million (tumblr.mapsbynik.com)
- ^ December 2013 statistics (transition.fcc.gov)
- ^ report (apps.fcc.gov)
- ^ Enlarge (cdn.arstechnica.net)