The need for fast and reliable broadband is more acute than ever, especially in the year of the coronavirus pandemic in which most Americans have been stock working at home for much of the year, often with children around and using the same router.
Broadband providers in 2020 gained millions of high-speed customers, including more than 1.5 million in the third quarter. So many Americans signed up for such plans in 2020, in fact, that U.S. broadband speeds nearly doubled this year.
It’s also well known that some parts of the country have much faster and more reliable broadband on offer than others. Most often, the states with higher population density offer better broadband, and states that are more spread out, offer the opposite.
So what parts of the country have the worst broadband?
According to Get Internet, the state in the country with the worst Internet is Montana, with an average speed of 20.3 Mbps and 69.2 percent broadband coverage. Second with Mississippi, with 25.2 Mbps and 70.2 percent coverage, with Arkansas third, with 25 Mbps and 73.3 percent coverage. Oklahoma was fourth with 26.8 Mbps and 74.5 coverage, and Wyoming was fifth with 29.9 Mbps and 75.2 percent broadband coverage.
The next five worse were West Virginia, Alaska, New Mexico, Missouri and Alabama.
Why is it this way?
Get Internet says “developing broadband in large, wealthy areas with a high population density, will always be the safest investment for Internet providers.”
Broadband Now’s 2020 rankings of the best and worst states for Internet coverage and speeds used a different criteria, but also had more densely populated states ranking more highly than more rural ones. The site’s criteria also took into account pricing.
That ranking put Alaska last, with just 60.8 percent terrestrial broadband access, and an average speed test of 58.6 Mbps. Second was Montana, with 72.4 percent broadband access and 81.4 Mbps, while third was New Mexico, with 66.5 percent terrestrial broadband and 93.1 Mbps. Nebraska ranked fourth-west, with Vermont fifth.
Wyoming, Iowa, West Virginia, Maine and Mississippi were the next five-worst.
“Alaska ranks lowest overall, with 61% wired and fixed wireless broadband coverage and no low-priced (wired) plan availability,” Broadband Now said. “Despite being the 2nd largest state by population, Texas came in 8th overall for broadband availability and pricing. California, the largest state, came in 13th place.”
U.S. News’ most recent rankings, meanwhile, placed Arkansas in last place, followed by West Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Montana.
What can be done about the rural broadband divide? That’s a question that’s been faced by governments and tech companies alike.
“Tradeoffs between technology and spectrum are complex but need to be understood if policy makers are to encourage the most effective strategies to deliver broadband widely to rural environments,” engineer Peter Rysavy wrote earlier this year.
President-elect Joe Biden has proposed universal rural broadband, a plan which would “invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure, and ensure that the work of installing broadband provides high-paying jobs with benefits.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. Image: Reuters.