Rural Broadband Providers Continue to Lead Efforts to Bridge Digital Divide Through Faster Internet Speeds and Higher Adoption Rates, Survey Shows

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Carolyn Just, 703-351-2015, 

Arlington, Va. (December 18, 2019)— As national attention increasingly turns to improving connectivity in rural America, independent broadband providers continue to make strides in bridging the digital divide in some of the most rural areas spanning more than one-third of the U.S. landmass, according to a new survey by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

The “NTCA 2019 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report” confirms that NTCA members remain committed to their customers by providing faster broadband speeds and promoting higher adoption rates in their communities despite the challenges of deploying and operating networks in such deeply rural areas. 

NTCA members report that over 60% of their customers have access to broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps, and more than 75% of customers have access to at least the FCC’s current targeted 25 Mbps baseline for universal broadband. These figures are based upon significant progress in fiber deployment, with NTCA members reporting that more than 25% of customers in these very rural areas have access to Gigabit services, even in the face of great challenges of distance and density that drive higher costs.

The survey results similarly demonstrate gains in rural adoption of better broadband services, with 50% of customers served by respondents purchasing 25 Mbps or higher speeds—nearly tripling the adoption rate at or above this level just since 2016. Respondents also report that 18% of customers now subscribe to services with speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.

Other noteworthy results of the survey include:

  • Aiming Higher: In order to advance efforts to bridge the digital divide, realize the promise of 5G and connect all Americans in an efficient manner that will not require serial “rebuilds” of networks every few years, a focus on future-proof technology is key. NTCA members understand the long-term benefits of deploying fiber networks. They are already connecting more than 60% of customers through fiber to the premise technology, and they continue to aim higher. More than half of survey respondents state they plan to reach approximately 85% of their customers through fiber by 2025.
  • Connecting Communities: NTCA members provide critically important, higher-capacity broadband service to nearly all anchor institutions in their communities, including schools, hospitals and public libraries. Respondents connect over 80% of the primary/secondary schools in their network using fiber, and they report being able to deliver higher than Gigabit speeds on average to the anchor institutions in their rural serving areas.
  • Vexing Video: Video service is perceived as important to consumers, yet companies continue to face significant barriers in offering it to their customers. Eighty-five percent of respondents pointed to programming costs as a barrier in providing this service; similarly, 90% of those considering discontinuing video service attributed this decision to increased programming costs. 

“NTCA members have made great strides in driving deployment of scalable networks and stimulating adoption of broadband services in their communities,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield. “In doing so, they have made significant contributions to the safety, health and well-being of their customers. Although much work remains to advance and sustain broadband in rural America, NTCA members have yet again proven themselves to be at the forefront in aiming higher and doing better for their communities.”

Thirty-six percent of NTCA members participated in the online survey in the fall of 2019. The survey comprised general questions about the respondents’ current operations, competition, marketing efforts and current and planned fiber deployment. The full report is available online.