NTCA: Rural Broadband Systems Expand Their Fiber Deployments

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ARLINGTON, Va.—The annual “Broadband/Internet Availability Survey” from the NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) shows that fiber broadband technologies are being increasingly deployed in rural areas by its members and that the majority (55%) of their subs have access to gigabit speeds. 

NTCA represents nearly 850 rural rate-of-return regulated telecommunications providers in 44 states. Each year it surveys members on their broadband services. 

Respondents to this year’s survey reported an average of 4,467 residential and 469 business fixed broadband connections in service. They also reported an average of 7,581 serviceable locations within the respondents’ incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) service, with about 72% of customers in their areas subscribing to broadband services. 

With respect to downstream service availability, respondents reported that on average 55.4% of their customer base can receive maximum speeds of greater than or equal to 1 Gig, a notable bump from 45.1% in 2020. 

About one in five (20.2%) were able to access downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig and 10.6% had service speeds of greater than or equal to 25 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps. Only 3.7% were in areas with speeds slower than 10 Mbps.

The survey also found that 86.2% of subscribers could receive a service faster than 25 Mbps, up from 80.4% who could access those speeds in 2020. 

The companies that responded to the survey also indicated that fiber was being increasingly deployed in rural America. 

Respondents indicated that they use a variety of platforms within their respective ILEC service areas to provide fixed broadband service to their customers, the NTCA said. 

On average, three-quarters (75.0%) of serviceable locations are served by fiber to the home (FTTH) in 2021, up 5.1 percentage points from the 2020 survey. An average of 15.0% of locations continue to be served via copper loops. The remaining connections were served by fiber to the node (6.1%), cable modems (2.7%) or some form of fixed wireless access (1.3%), the NTCA reported.

In 2021, an average of 80.0% of respondents’ customers can receive maximum upstream speeds of greater than or equal to 20 Mbps, while an average of 52.3% of respondents’ customer base are able to receive maximum upstream speeds of greater than or equal to 1 Gig.

The percentage of customers subscribing to speeds greater than or equal to 25 Mbps has also increased steadily in the past four years. In 2020, this percentage was approximately 64%, compared to 50% in 2019, and just under 40% in 2018, the NTCA reported. 

Additionally, the percentage of customers subscribing to higher levels of broadband speeds of 100 Mbps to less than 1 Gig increased in 2021 to 28.3%, up from 20.2% in 2020. But only 9% of subs signed up for services faster than a Gig, up from 7.9% in 2020. 

The full report can be accessed here

George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.