aerial photography of city during night time

It has been said many times that Millenials are the last generation that knew a time before the internet and smartphones became commonplace. Most of the planet’s population has some way to access the net, whether through public cybercafes, mobile devices, or on a PC.

Around 63.5% of the world’s population, or 5.07 billion people use the internet now, and that number keeps growing. In the states, 90.9% of the population uses the internet today for work, entertainment, and daily activities, including managing finances or shopping. 

In terms of headcount, China has more people accessing the net than any other nation. With over 1 billion individuals having internet connectivity, they have more individuals online than any other country. 

Nevertheless, the US has one of the highest percentages of digital populations in the world. This should mean that internet access is available pretty much anywhere in the states, right? Sadly, and perhaps slightly surprisingly, this is not quite the case. 

How many internet service providers are based in the US?

Americans are blessed with choices for their internet needs. Mobile devices are easily the most popular choice for browsing the net. Over 92% of internet users will pick up a tablet or smartphone when they want to browse or log on to a site today. In the US, there are about 49 LTE and mobile broadband providers. 

Other providers of internet services abound in the states. There are approximately 1,744 fixed wireless broadband ISPs, 1,609 providers offering fiber internet, and nearly 450 cable providers. 

This has led to stiff competition and, for some, unequaled download speeds. Does this mean that trying to find the internet in the middle of nowhere, such as in rural areas, is a thing of the past? Below is a brief look at the shape of broadband coverage in the US now. 

Where in the states has the best internet?

Figures differ slightly from one comparison site to another, but the common consensus is that New Jersey has some of the fastest broadband speeds in the country. Delaware and Maryland also clock in with speeds fast enough to put them in the top three states in 2022. 

Looking at the bottom three, Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia appear in many studies. West Virginia’s top speed has been measured at 60.7 Mbps. Incidentally, New Jersey has been clocked at 144.7 Mbps. However, these are average speeds, and herein lies some of the problems with how broadband is measured. 

The Federal Communications Commission set a standard for broadband at 25 Mbps. This is the minimum download speed that needs to be reached to be classed as broadband. While the FCC notes that improvements need to be made, it also reports positively on how widespread broadband is today in the USA. 

Yet, The Verge published a map in 2021 showing that the majority of the US was struggling to reach the FCC broadband minimum speed. In fact, many regions had 5% or fewer users enjoying 25 Mbps, and some areas had no fixed broadband access at all. Although satellite is normally an option anywhere, this has some drawbacks too. 

What areas suffer from poor fixed broadband coverage?

Perhaps not surprisingly, Alaska suffers from poor coverage. The terrain is often cited as a factor when network infrastructure is discussed. 

Some poorer areas of the country also suffer from poor coverage. Economics has been known to play a big part in network investment. The question for some ISPs will be, are there enough people willing or able to pay subscriptions for broadband to warrant installing fiber and expanding the network coverage?

Yet some ISPs are investing in rural network expansion as they see the potential for tapping into this market and helping people get online. Rural areas, in particular, have problems getting access to broadband speeds, and this can have an impact on daily life for many. 

What problems exist because of poor internet access?

The internet has become a tool for many in places where you may not even realize it could help. Rural farmers, for one, need internet access to gather information on relevant markets and for communication. 

Anyone working from home in a rural area will need a reliable, fast connection. Students, too, need to be able to use the internet. One of today’s must-have technical skills for students is computer literacy.  

During the pandemic, internet usage rose dramatically. 90% of Americans said that the internet became essential during Covid for a number of reasons, one of which was for communication. People living in rural areas often live some distance from their neighbors. Just as the lockdowns of recent times proved, the internet is invaluable for communicating. 

How many people have been left with poor or no internet service?

Officially, the FCC reports that about 6% of the US population has no fixed broadband access. This equates to around 19 million individuals. 

But, whether these figures are accurate or not, one interesting point to note is how they are concentrated. About 14.5 million people in rural areas in the US cannot use broadband. This is around 25% of the total rural population. 

Of course, some people choose not to use the internet regardless of the available choices to them. Nasdaq reports that 17.9 million people don’t use the internet. Some have no need or desire to use the web, and some have financial reasons for not acquiring broadband services. 

What is being done to improve broadband service in rural areas?

There are several investments at the local and government level being introduced to help improve broadband access. 

Just recently, in October 2022, the USDA announced that a cash injection of $759 million would be used to introduce high-speed broadband across 24 states where access was lacking. 

In June 2022, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced an investment of over $200 million to allow businesses and individuals to use broadband. And private ISPs are also helping to provide better service in many areas. 

Can you do anything to speed up your current connection?

It has been reported that 99.2% of Americans have access to at least one broadband ISP and 97% have access to a choice of 3 providers. However, there are conflicting reports, and of course, advertised speeds are not always met. 

There are many myths surrounding VPNs, and one is that they will speed up your internet connection. However, they might in certain circumstances. If your provider is throttling your speed, then a VPN might give you a way to overcome this and help you to achieve faster downloads. Barring that, you may need to change your provider. 

If you are lucky enough to have a choice of providers, then shop around for a better service, Check coverage, and look for reviews. Try to ascertain whether the advertised speeds are available in your area or whether you will struggle to reach them. 

Summary

While slow broadband speeds can be frustrating, having permanently slow connections or no coverage at all can impact hugely. Remote workers could lose their jobs if they cannot access the net. Rural farmers may lose money and clients if they have no broadband. And people living in remote areas can become more isolated. 

While the US largely has internet access, it seems that the connection speeds can still leave something to be desired. And for many, there is still a wait for any fixed broadband access.