In Camoin Associates’ broadband series, we’ve explored a range of available broadband data sets, including provider availability from BroadbandNow and adoption rates from Akami. Broadband internet subscription rate data is also available through the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). In December 2018, ACS released updated five-year estimates from 2013-2017.
We dove into this dataset to reveal that approximately 78% of households in the U.S. have a broadband internet subscription. However, broadband subscriptions are not uniform across all states. New Hampshire has the highest percent of households with a broadband internet subscription with 86% while Mississippi has the lowest with 64.3%.
The below chart shows the top 10 states with the highest percent of broadband coverage.
Rural/Urban Broadband Coverage Trends
Following the release of this data, one of the most talked about trends is the continued divide between rural and urban areas in level of broadband coverage. According to the ACS’ five-year estimates, at the county level, “completely rural” counties had a broadband subscription rate of 65% and “mostly rural” counties had a rate of 67%. This is compared to a rate of 75% in “mostly urban” counties.
Both the government and the private sector have recognized the need to bridge this gap and increase access to broadband in rural areas. Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative, for example, aims to leverage investments by the company in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law in late December, increased funding for rural broadband efforts and created a framework for improved coordination of funding between various agencies.
State Broadband Policies
Efforts to increase investment in necessary technology and improve coordination and communication around funding are a plus for states, as many look to continue to increase coverage. New York, for example, is delayed from meeting coverage deadlines in its “Broadband for All” campaign due to technological limits, funding delays, and disputes with utility providers.
New Hampshire, which according to the ACS data leads the way in terms of broadband coverage, expanded local authority over broadband investment by passing a measure in May 2018 to allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned internet network infrastructure.
Many states are turning to electric cooperatives to bridge the divide in broadband coverage between rural and urban areas. These cooperatives, which were established in the 1930s to expand electricity access in rural America, are working on building fiber networks to increase broadband connectivity across their respective states. Unfortunately, existing state laws present a barrier to the success of cooperatives in some states. In Mississippi for example, state law has restricted its cooperatives to working in electric services. Similarly, Georgia’s state laws do not address whether their electric cooperatives can expand into broadband. Such legislation prevents cooperatives in these states from accessing federal funds allocated to broadband expansion like those which were included in the Farm Bill, thus inhibiting the spread of broadband in their states. This is reflected in their lower % broadband subscriptions of 64.3% and 76.8%, respectively.
While the role of state electric cooperatives in expanding access to broadband continues to be debated, the ACS’s recent data release highlights the continued divide in broadband subscription rates between rural and urban areas.
 Plautz, Jason. “US Census Bureau Finds Stark Rural-Urban Broadband Divide.” Smart Cities Dive, 2 Jan. 2019.
 “Microsoft Outlines Plan to Close Rural Broadband Gap.” Philanthropy News Digest, 16 July 2017.
 Eggerton, John. “Farm Bill Boosts Broadband funding.” Broadcasting Cable, 12 Dec. 2018.
 French, Marie J. “Cuomo’s Broadband Coverage Program Will Miss 2018 Deadline.” Politico New York, 20 Dec. 2018.
 Gonzalez, Lisa. “New Hampshire Sets the Example: Expands Local Authority for Broadband Investment.” Community Networks, 5 June 2018.
 Simpson, April. “State Laws Slow Down High-Speed Internet for Rural America.” Pew, 11 Jan. 2019.