Rural broadband tales: Slow speeds and a love of


Rural America has a surprising mix of broadband options from fiber to the home in a few places to satellite broadband in the most remote. But the most common speeds aren’t much to write home about.  Median downstream speeds were between 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps in the first quarter of 2012, according to a report published by Calix. And upstream rates remained slow as well, with 95 percent receiving 1.5 Mbps or less. Other than details on speed, the gear maker also proposed a future for wireline pricing that’s less punitive than caps.

The Calix report, which covers the first quarter of the year and contains responses from 50 ISPs and 100,000 end points, also said that 71 percent of rural subscribers received a downstream broadband speed that was slower than the target for the Connect America Fund and National Broadband Plan goals of 4 Mbps. Roughly 90 percent fell below the CAF upstream target of 1 Mbps.

But rural customers surf the web just like the rest of us with 94.3 percent of social networking traffic going to Facebook (s fb) and 85.2 percent of the e-commerce traffic hitting amzn). Amazon was followed by eBay (7.3 percent) and Craiglist (6.9 percent).

And like the rest of the country video streaming is a big contributor to overall network traffic — accounting for 64 percent of downstream internet traffic. Most of that traffic (83 percent) came from large content delivery networks, but perhaps that will change now that Netflix (s nflx) is deploying its own servers into telco endpoints. Google (s goog) was another big winner when it came to traffic. The search engine delivered 76 percent of all downstream and nearly 48 percent of all upstream browsing related internet traffic.

Outside of the application-specific data, the most relevant elements of the report are those that deal with the looming reality of high-bandwidth users — not as resource hogs, but as potential customers for high-end services. The report notes that faster speeds mean greater usage with providers that delivered broadband services exclusively over fiber seeing subscribers generate 2.3 times more downstream traffic and over 2.4 times more upstream traffic than subscribers with copper lines.

It also broke down how the heaviest users affect the networks they were on as indicated in the chart to the right. Clearly with the top users consuming more than half of the network resources there is a disparity. But Calix suggests that punitive efforts like caps aren’t the way to go. From the report:

…it’s easy to determine the network inflection point at which a small subset of endpoints consume a disproportionate amount of capacity. The subscribers associated with those endpoints can be identified and proactively approached as opportunities rather than problems. They can be offered new service packages that better correlate with their use. The majority of these endpoints, for example, are heavy users of video streaming. A package that offers a superior video streaming experience may offer the service provider the opportunity for an up-sell, and the subscriber with a better experience – a potential win-win for both parties

So maybe Time Warner Cable with its new discounts is onto something as it tracks customer usage and considers how to price broadband. Caps may not be the tool to extract the most profits from broadband-loving users, but clearly faster service and perhaps better quality helps. Of course ISPs will walk a fine line with network neutrality rules as they seek to create a model for pricing access to their networks to meet the demands of video streaming.



Still waiting for high speed! AT&T will not run out to my house because its not cost effective. Not fair you cannot do anything on dial-up!

Shane Simmons

Yep, I’m in that boat, too, and allegedly my ISP, Frontier, is trying to get people who complain to switch services to something with LOWER bandwidth as well as a (imho) very low monthly cap. When you call to complain, allegedly they tell you the higher rates are no longer available.

Rural broadband is, imho, getting worse here in the U.S. So much for geographical location not mattering anymore.


I am with Frontier and had 30 year olf copper wies w/ 1.5 DL. We got them to bring FTTH because we sited poor telephone lines in the ground not poor internet. They are required by FCC to provide Universal Telephone access to all customers. When I asked for better internet they ignored me. When I sited FCC requirements for my telephone, they agreed to put in Fiber despite the poor ROI on it. Further, they signed up for the latest incentive plan to bring BB to all home in thier market who do not have it so they get about $800 per house to mitigate costs

Robert Burgin

Yea I get an amazing 1.5 mbps down and a whopping 256 kbps up, was told by the AT&T repair guy that It wasn’t cost efective to run their fastest connection to, even though the people 4 houses down from me have it.

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