NTCA members serve gigabit broadband to over 50% of their rural subs

Fiber is penetrating further into rural America, and gigabit broadband speeds are now available to more than half of members’ rural customers, a new survey report from NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association found.

NTCA said its 2021 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey was conducted in August with nearly 300 of its 850-strong member base responding. Participants reported having an average of nearly 4,500 residential and more than 400 business fixed lines in service.

Among other things, the survey report found that on average 75% of members’ serviceable locations were covered by fiber to the home this year, compared to 69.9% in 2020 and 39% in 2014 when the first survey report was issued. The remaining connections were served by copper loops (15%), fiber to the node (6.1%), cable modems (2.7%) or some form of fixed wireless access (1.3%).

In terms of service availability, respondents indicated that on average more than half of their customers can get maximum speeds of 1 Gbps or higher both downstream (55.4%) and upstream (52.3%). The downstream figure was up from 45.1% in 2020 and 23.4% in 2018, which was the first year the report mentioned gigabit speeds.

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However, the number of subscribers taking top-level speeds remains low. The report noted an average of 9% of customers signed on for speeds of 1 gig or higher, compared to 7.9% in 2020 and 2% in 2018.

Around a fifth of respondents to the 2021 survey said their customers can receive maximum downstream (20.2%) and upstream (21.3%) speeds somewhere between 100 Mbps and 1 gig. Approximately 13.8% of respondents said customers can only get downstream speeds of less than 25 Mbps, while 14.7% reported availability of maximum upstream speeds of less than 10 Mbps.

NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a statement the group’s members stepped up to expand connectivity in 2020 when the pandemic hit and “continued this trend in 2021, expanding fiber broadband service to some of the farthest reaches of our country and bringing higher speeds to more rural Americans.”

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She added “As we stand now on the cusp of once-in-a-generation investment to bring connectivity to all Americans, NTCA members have proven they are up to the task of delivering the best possible networks in rural communities—and they are eager to prove themselves again and build upon this success as these new programs come online.”