Survey Says: Rural Broadband Ready to Meet the Connected Future


By Josh Seidemann, VP of Policy, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association

If numbers are your thing, then consider this: According to CISCO, global IP traffic will reach 4.8 ZB per year by 2022. (I bet you didn’t know there were numbers that big). What’s more, the number of devices connected to IP networks will be more than three times the global population by 2022; and, broadband speeds in 2022 will be nearly double what they were just five years earlier.

On the other hand, if narrative is your thing, then consider NTCA Smart Rural CommunitiesSM Showcase award winners Green Hills Communications (Breckenridge, Mo.), whose broadband enables local farmers to load nearly 400,000 bushels onto Union Pacific freight trains in less than eight hours, or Wilkes Communications (Wilkesboro, N.C.), whose network connects a local rural hospital to one of the most advanced medical facilities in the Southeast.

And if you relish both numbers and narrative, then NTCA’s latest Broadband Survey Report is for you. This survey, conducted annually for nearly 20 years, explores both empirical data that reflects NTCA member achievements and perspectives on challenges, opportunities and strategic approaches for their respective rural markets. The survey is a one-of-a-kind for our industry: it is the only of its type that is undertaken by a rural telecommunications association and is subject to rigorous analysis and review by both outside experts and NTCA staff.

The 2019 findings are a resounding affirmation that smart federal policies combined with the fierce commitment of locally operated broadband providers to their communities will stimulate rural infrastructure investment. This, in turn, enables better rural economic development, health care, educational opportunities and more.

Consider these numbers:

  • The average service area of NTCA survey respondents is 2,577 square miles; 64.1% had population densities of 10 residential customers per square mile, or less; 23.5% had population densities of two residential customers per square mile, or less.
  • More than 60% of NTCA customers can receive broadband at speeds equal to or greater than 100 mbps; more than 25% can obtain gigabit service.
  • Fiber-to-the-home is deployed by 93.5% of NTCA respondents in at least a portion of their network; 63.8% of NTCA residential locations are served by fiber.
  • More than 80% of primary and secondary schools and nearly 73% of libraries in NTCA member service areas are connected by fiber; nearly 70% of public safety entities (police, fire) and hospitals and medical clinics in NTCA service areas are served with fiber-powered broadband.

Consider these narratives:

“[Broadband] has enabled us to maintain and attract new jobs locally; helped local business be competitive with urban areas; improved educational opportunities for all.”

“Having the broadband coverage we do in our serving area has helped our communities obtain ‘Work Ready’ status which is used as a tool to incent companies to establish locations in those communities to hopefully help create jobs.”

Numbers and narrative are key components of rural advocacy. Policymakers base decisions on empirical data—numbers that translate to jobs and illustrate costs and returns on investment. But policymakers and providers understand that the most profound impacts of rural broadband are not measured in miles of facilities or revenues. Returns on rural broadband include every rural business that expands its market; every rural patient who benefits from telemedicine (and, those returns can be quantified, too – see this Smart Rural Communities report); every rural student who benefits broadband-enabled distance education.

So, bring on the future. NTCA members are ready to meet it.

For additional information on rural broadband adoption, health care, education and other issues, please visit the Smart Rural Communities education portal at