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Status of Broadband Service in the United States

There are two main sides to the broadband story in the U.S. The first is supply of broadband infrastructure (where is this technology available), and the second is the demand for that technology.


Infrastructure (Supply)

The Federal Communications Commission provides the most comprehensive report on the status of broadband infrastructure in the U.S. This report, updated twice per year, is based on a form filled out by all broadband providers (including cable, DSL, wireless, satellite, and others). The data is then aggregated to show, at the ZIP code level, the number of providers serving that ZIP code. Unfortunately there are several problems with the data:

  1. A single subscriber in a ZIP code denotes that the entire ZIP code is "served." However, most providers do not provide access throughout an entire ZIP code. Thus, rural areas of the ZIP are depicted as having access when it is likely they do not.
  2. Proprietary concerns only report ZIP codes as having between 1 and 3 providers - the actual number is not known. This is problematic when trying to understand the level of competition in a particular area.

The following maps show this data for the U.S. in June  2000 and December 2008. Clearly, broadband infrastructure has become much more common over this time period.

June 2000

Source: FCC Industry Analysis and Technology Division. "High-speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2000." September 2000.

December 2008

Source: FCC Industry Analysis and Technology Division. "High-speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of Dec 31, 2008." February 2010.


Use (Demand)

Residential use of the Internet shifted away from dial-up to high-speed access during the mid 2000s. Still, over 30 percent of households had no type of Internet access as of 2010. Residential broadband access rates were estimated to be around 42 percent as of March 2006 and increased to 66 percent by May 2010.

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys 2000-2010. Based on all american adults 18 and older.

Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Static-Pages/Trend-Data/Home-Broadband-Adoption.aspx

Recently, the FCC has started collecting data on the number of residential broadband (>768 kbps) connections per 1,000 households, which is an indicator of broadband demand.Below is a map showing this information for the U.S.

Source: FCC Industry Analysis and Technology Division. "High-speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of Dec 31, 2008." February 2010.


The rural - urban digital divide

A distinct gap exists between rural and urban residents in terms of broadband Internet use.This gap has continued over time as broadband connections have become more common. As of 2010, only 50 percent of rural households had a broadband connection - compared to 70 percent for their urban counterparts.

Sources: Current Population Survey - Computer and Internet Use Supplement, 2000, 2001, 2003; PEW Internet Project: Home Broadband Adoption 2006, 2008, 2010.

This divide is important for a number of reasons. If rural areas do not take advantage of this technology, they risk falling further and further behind in terms of economic development. Further, rural levels of education and income are already below those in urban areas - failing to use the Internet to address this topic could lead to rural areas falling further behind. This website offers more information on effectively using broadband technology in rural areas, and on providing help to those areas currently without broadband infrastructure.

Here are a few more links to more data on this subject: