Broadband Map Shows More Availability, Speeds, and Competition


The National Telecommunications and Information Administration in late January released an updated “National Broadband Map,” including data describing the availability of broadband across the United States.  Overall, the data indicate broadband availability is edging up, and speeds are increasing significantly, for all fixed and mobile broadband technologies.  Below I provide more detail regarding overall availability in 2012, availability trends over the last couple years, and increasing broadband speeds.

Perhaps the most striking shift over the last couple years, since the initial publication of the broadband map, is the increasing availability of mobile wireless broadband at increasingly higher speeds, which are comparable to mass market landline broadband speeds.  Wireless broadband availability of at least 10 megabits per second download has grown from near zero two years ago to over three-quarters of the population today—and growing.

Highlights in overall availability as of mid-2012:

  • Broadband via any terrestrial landline or wireless technology is available to 99.6 percent of the population (excluding satellite broadband).*
  • Landline broadband is available to 96.0 percent of the population. 86.9 percent of the population can choose from two or more landline broadband technologies. The vast majority of this is telco-cable competition, though it is possible that a very small portion reflects fiber-DSL overbuild.
  • Among landline technologies, DSL was available to 89.5 percent of the population; cable modem was available to 87.6 percent of the population; and fiber-to-the-home was available to 20.5 percent of the population.
  • Mobile wireless broadband is available to 98.9 percent of the population.  88.0 percent of the population can choose from at least four mobile broadband providers.

Trends in overall availability since mid-2010:

  • Landline broadband is up 1.8 percentage points, from 94.2 percent to 96.0 percent.
  • In terms of technologies: DSL is up 2.9 percentage points, from 86.6 percent to 89.5 percent; cable modem is up from 5.5 percentage points, from 82.1 percent to 87.6 percent; and fiber-to-the-home is up 6.0 percentage points, from 14.5 percent to 20.5 percent.
  • Mobile wireless broadband is up 2.6 percentage points, from 96.3 percent to 98.9 percent.

The fact that individual technologies are growing faster than total growth indicates that cable and telecom footprints are overlapping more. In other words, telecom-cable competition, which is among the most widespread in the world, is increasing on the margins. However, we should not overstate the extent of the cable footprint growth: in the initial release of the broadband map for 2010, there were some-well documented cases of non-participation (e.g., Insight cable); so, some of the cable growth is due to greater participation.

Increase in available speeds from mid-2010 to mid-2012:

The portion of the population able to get broadband of at least 3 megabits per second download and 768 kilobits per second upload—the Federal Communications Commission proxy for its definition of broadband of 4 megabits per second download and 1 megabit per second upload—is rising.

  • Landline broadband availability overall is up 3.1 percentage points, from 90.3 to 93.4 of the population.
  • In terms of technologies: DSL is up 1.3 percentage points, from 72.2 percent to 73.5 percent; cable is up 6.8 percentage points, from 80.1 percent to 86.9 percent; and fiber is also up 6.8 percentage points, from 13.4 percent to 20.2 percent.
  • Mobile wireless broadband availability is up 13.3 percentage points, from 78.5 percent to 91.8 percent.

Looking at higher speeds, say at least 10 megabits per second download, we also see increasing availability.

  • Landline broadband availability at 10 megabits download is up 6.1 percentage points from 84.8 percent to 90.9 percent of the population.
  • In terms of technologies: DSL is down slightly, from 50.7 to percent to 47.4 percent; cable is up 4.0 percentage points, from 82.2 percent to 86.2 percent; and fiber is up 4.4 percentage points, from 14.5 percent to 19.9 percent.
  • Mobile wireless broadband availability at 10 megabits per second download is up an astounding 77.9 percentage points, from 0.8 percent to 78.7 percent.

The decline in DSL availability at these higher speeds is a recent phenomenon as providers rely to a greater extent on fiber only; for year-end 2011, DSL was available to 55.0 percent of the population.  Moreover, fiber appears to be performing well. A recent paper by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation notes that telco fiber services added more subscribers than cable in the third quarter of 2012.

At the highest speeds, say more than 25 megabits per second download, cable and fiber lead the field. As of mid-2012, 91 percent of fiber deployments offered speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download (18.7 percent availability out of 20.5 percent availability at any speed) and 87 percent of cable deployments offered speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download (76.4 percent availability out of 87.6 percent availability at any speed).

* NTIA publishes selected data for both households and population.  The household availability is typically a half of a percentage point lower than the population availability, plus or minus roughly a quarter percentage point.


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