According to the latest broadband/Internet availability survey report, connection options in rural areas of the United States are improving, which is based on the annual membership survey of the NTCA-Rural Broadband Association.

NTCA represents nearly 850 rural regulated telecommunications providers in 44 states. In its annual survey, respondents reported an average of 4,467 residential and 469 commercial fixed broadband connections in service.

In this survey, the broadband standard is very low. As the footnote of the survey revealed, “Broadband is defined as a throughput equal to or exceeding 200 kilobits per second in at least one direction”.

And, although this is an obvious point, it is still found that the land covered by these networks and the people living in these places are so few. “The average ILEC service area identified by the interviewees is approximately 1,906 square miles,” the survey said. Approximately “one-fifth (21.3%) of the service area is 2,000 square miles or more.”

In comparison, Delaware has an area of approximately 1,982 square miles.

Half of the operators that responded to the NTCA member survey still use “TDM switching facilities to handle voice traffic in certain parts of their ILEC network”. About half of them also use copper wires to provide fixed broadband services for certain parts of their service area. However, the survey shows that telecom companies using copper cables to provide broadband this year have dropped from 65.8% in 2018 to 50.5% this year, so fiber deployment is playing a role.

Rural telecommunications companies are seeing more and more fixed wireless broadband service providers competing in their traditional ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier) field. The survey pointed out that 75.8% of respondents “represent that fixed wireless Internet providers operate in certain parts of their service areas”.

About 20% of NTCA survey respondents now provide fixed wireless broadband services and do not plan to expand. 13.4% of respondents said they “provide this service and either plan to expand it or are considering expansion”。

For many in the industry, the new gold standard for broadband in the United States is to achieve 1-Gbit/s symmetrical connections through optical fiber. Rural suppliers participating in the NTCA survey stated that an average of 52.3% of the collective customer base can obtain broadband services with “maximum uplink speed greater than or equal to 1 Gig”.

As one might expect, the reported downstream service speed is slightly higher. NTCA survey respondents reported that an average of 55.4% of the customer base can obtain a fixed broadband maximum downlink speed greater than or equal to 1 Gig. In 2019, only 25.3% of the NTCA member customer base can get such a fast downlink speed.

For various reasons, not many people adopt 1-Gig services, but as more fibers are deployed, these penetration rates are rising. According to the survey, about 9% of respondents now have a subscription speed greater than or equal to 1 Gig. This is almost three times the percentage reported in 2019 (3.4%).

The NTCA said that, on average, more than half (52.3%) of its survey respondents’ customers can receive a maximum upstream speed of greater than or equal to 1 Gbit/s. Here’s a version of the graphic that humans can read.

Supply chain delays caused by the pandemic will accompany us for several years. But the delay has already begun to affect network deployment and upgrades. Approximately 80.4% of the NTCA members surveyed stated that they encountered shortages or delays in purchasing supplies needed for network deployment. Most of them (80.9%) said that they “either cannot obtain fiber, or it was delayed in purchasing optical fiber.”

For most companies, this is a drag on businesses that are already difficult to connect to the hinterland. Among companies experiencing various procurement delays, only 11% stated that supply constraints “have no impact on their operations”. Nearly half (46%) said that it takes longer to replace old equipment.