77% of Americans can access low-priced broadband: report

The drive to make broadband available for all is being taken more seriously at the federal and state levels, and among service providers. (Pixabay)

More than 77% of Americans now have access to low-priced wireline broadband service plans, marking a significant jump over the 50% who had access to those plans one year ago, according to the new BroadbandNow Research report, “The State of Broadband in America, Q1 2021.”

The most recent figure also represents a climb from 70% in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the report, which was released this week. The qualifiers for low-priced plans are that they need to cost $60 or less per month, excluding any promotional pricing, and deliver minimum speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. 

While such services have become more common and accessible, it’s still pretty difficult to find premium broadband speeds at low-cost entry points. The research indicated that only 31% of Americans have access to low-priced plans that serve at least 100 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream.

Meanwhile, in a new BroadbandNow research category, about 41% of Americans have access to symmetrical services of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload. Access to adequate upload bandwidth has become increasingly important over the last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as work-at-home trends and lockdown restrictions caused upstream traffic to jump more than 63% during 2020, according to separate research from OpenVault.

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Yet, even in states with wide availability of low-priced broadband, symmetrical services may be found lacking. For example, BroadbandNow found that more than 93% of Connecticut residents have access to low-priced 100/25 plans, but less than 10% have access to symmetrical 100/100 services.

There also were wide discrepancies in latency, another marker of broadband service quality, from state to state, BroadbandNow found. The research indicated that 21 states across the U.S. saw overall improvements in latency between the fourth quarter last year and the first quarter this year, but 24 states recorded an overall decline in latency performance (eight states saw no change).

Across the U.S. there have been signs from the federal government, individual states and service providers of intensified commitments to make affordable broadband more widely available. Universal broadband is a major element in President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure program, and at the state level New York recently became the first state to pass a law requiring service providers to offer low-priced plans with at least 25 Mbps internet access. More states also have started to loosen restrictions on municipal broadband projects. Among service providers, AT&T, Comcast and others recently have committed to spend more to close the digital divide.