Addressing the Broadband Coverage Gap: Improving Quality of Life

by Elizabeth Parks | Oct. 28, 2021

Throughout 2020, the United States’ broadband coverage gap was recognized as a major issue impacting Americans’ safety, quality of life, and ability to participate in work and schooling. According to Parks Associates estimates:

·       22% of US households, or roughly 27M households, lack a fixed home internet subscription;

·       10% of US households, or almost 13M households, are mobile-only – that is, at least one household member has a mobile data subscription via a smartphone or tablet, but no home internet subscription; and,

·       11.4% of US households overall or 14M households lack any type of internet subscription.

This unconnected and under-connected population is disproportionately older, more rural, and with lower education and lower income compared to fully connected households. OATS, the Older Adult Technology Services, in partnership with Humana, reports that nearly 22M individual Americans age 65+ – equating to 42% of seniors – lacked fixed broadband access at home[1].

This coverage gap has persisted in spite of broadband providers reporting a breakout year in terms of new residential and small business subscriptions. As per Parks Associates’ estimates, US broadband providers added 5.2M residential and small business subscribers during 2020, and an additional 1.6M in the first quarter of 2021. Of growing concern is the aging legacy DSL and even dial-up infrastructure still common throughout the US, which has been largely ignored in favor of higher speed fiber deployments. However, fiber is not profitable in many lower density locations, or in locations that would require considerable effort to trench and run new lines.

New companies and new approaches to internet access at home have arisen to help solve the coverage gap. Solutions range from ambitious low Earth orbit satellite constellations such as Space X’s StarLink, which targets rural areas, to wireless internet service providers such as Boston-based Starry making use of microwave backhaul and beamforming technology in order to offer high quality and high-speed services, to MNOs such as T-Mobile US using its mobile network to power fixed hotspots in consumers’ homes, and to a new breed of small ISP that specifically targets the MDU space – installing equipment and running connections between buildings and larger networks, but without necessarily owning substantial infrastructure of its own.

 

2021 is on track to be another hot year for broadband providers and Parks Associates will continue to watch the growth and persistence of market players to help increase accessibility to all households in the US In Q1 2021 alone, US broadband providers added an estimated 1.6M residential and small business broadband subscriptions – over half of the total additions in both 2018 and 2019.  

For more information on Parks Associates latest broadband research, visit http://www.parksassociates.com/report/modern-broadband-new-subscribers

 

 [1] Aging Connected Report: https://agingconnected.org/report/



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