The report found that Arkansas, Mississippi and New Mexico are the three states with the highest percentage of households without Internet access, averaging 19.17 percent without Internet access.
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For more context and advice on Internet access, we turned to Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA; and Robert Gilbert, CEO of Fiber Homes, which has a platform that helps consumers find communities with broadband services. Both replied via email and their replies have been edited.
How many locations in the US don’t have high-speed internet access?
Gilbert: While great strides are being made in bridging America’s digital divide, it is estimated that more than 20 million homes still lack access to what would be termed high-speed Internet. Most of these homes are located in the more rural areas of the country.
Even with so much focus on expanding high-speed internet access, it’s far from guaranteed that someone trying to buy or rent a home outside of a major metropolitan area will be able to reach the level of high-speed internet achieve what he needed.
Bloomfield: This question is more difficult to answer than it should be due to complications with definitions and shortcomings in broadband coverage mapping. The answer first depends on how you define high-speed access. The FCC previously said just over four percent of Americans don’t have access to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) broadband speeds, while eight percent don’t have access to 100 Mbps. But while work is being done to improve them, the FCC’s current maps only measure bandwidth based on advertised speeds, and they admittedly overstate coverage. So we all have to work with estimates – but it’s clear that millions of Americans don’t have access to robust broadband, and it’s also clear that many of the most unserved and underserved parts of the country are in rural America. But there are also hundreds of community-based broadband providers across the US, serving some of the hardest-to-reach parts of rural America. Connectivity is great in these areas. For example, 75 percent of our members offer fiber-to-home connectivity, which is not always the case even in urban areas.
How can homebuyers find out about Internet access before making a purchase? Is this information typically on an MLS listing?
Gilbert: Unlike utilities, Internet access is rarely included in Multiple Listing Service listings, although access to reliable broadband is becoming increasingly important, especially for remote workers. As such, some MLS are working to make this data available to their members and consumers. For example,
Based near Raleigh, NC, Triangle MLS is working with Fiber Homes to integrate the information directly into their data service, making it as easy for consumers to search for homes with broadband as they can for three-bedroom, three-bath homes. The hope is that other MLSs across the country will follow suit.
Is there a way to test how well the internet is working before making an offer to buy?
Gilbert: Besides physically running a speed test on your device at the property, asking the seller or seller’s representative is the best option, but not always the most reliable. For example, the current resident may not be aware of the options available at the address or even what service or speed they are currently receiving.
The most reliable way of knowing this is to identify and contact the local ISP directly and find out what types of Internet service are available at that address specifically. If it has a fiber optic connection, the buyer can rest assured that they are getting the fastest, most consistent internet available. If it has wired Internet access, quality of service can still be good, but not guaranteed. If the home only has access to DSL or satellite, the internet quality may very well be below the standard that the buyer expects or needs.
Bloomfield: Testing a connection before buying an apartment can be difficult. At NTCA, we recommend researching the Internet Service Providers in a community and what they offer before choosing a home. In particular, if the ISP is a community-based business or cooperative, they have a vested interest in providing the best possible services and speeds as they also live and raise families in the areas they serve.
What basic internet services does someone need to work from home or stream movies or play video games?
Bloomfield: Years ago a download speed of 4 Mbps was considered good enough for the average consumer, and more recently the FCC has defined 25 Mbps as the effective “baseline” for broadband. But the pandemic has made it clear that we need more robust and reliable connectivity everywhere. As life shifted almost exclusively online, we saw parents working from home and kids on Zoom for school — all at the same time. You need bandwidth to do all of this. Although every home is a little different, the NTCA has recommended that the FCC set the standard at 100 Mbps so that we can better keep up with the ever-evolving levels of service that consumers require.
Gilbert: If your household likes using multiple devices at the same time – for example, you want your kids to stream a show while you’re on a video call for work – you probably need at least 250Mbps download speed and 100Mbps upload speed Speed . Just remember that the more speed you have, the easier it is to use multiple devices in your home without buffering, lagging, or dropping connections.
If a home doesn’t have high-speed internet, is there anything a buyer or homeowner can do about it?
Gilbert: In this case, there are not many options. You can contact your local ISP to bring the service into your home, but often the homeowner has to pay some or all of the construction costs involved in building the home, which can be very expensive. Satellite internet is available in most places, but download and upload speeds will be much slower than fiber internet and other options.
Bloomfield: If finding a house with good connections is not an option, I would recommend contacting the local ISP to see if they can provide broadband service in the future. Fiber is the gold standard (and the technology best suited to future bandwidth needs), but other options such as satellite and fixed wireless could provide at least some level of connectivity if fiber isn’t available.