Munis Make PCMag Fastest ISPs List Again

Since 2011, PCMag has collected speed data and written about the country’s Fastest ISPs based on download and upload results. This year’s results reflect, once again, that locations with publicly owned broadband infrastructure contribute to communities’ ability to offer faster connectivity.

How They Did It

PCMag asked readers to use a special speed test developed specifically for this reporting that measured download and upload speeds. PCMag's Speed Index assigned to each ISP represented 80 percent download speed and 20 percent upload speed. Filtering out non-U.S. tests, they ended up with 256,016 tests that applied to the comparisons. If, however, a location (for state and regional comparisons) or ISP had fewer than 100 tests, the folks at PCMag did not consider it a contender.

While editors further broke down results so as to stack major ISPs against each other in a head-to-head comparison, they also looked at all the results in a general comparison. PCMag broke down the results further by region and city. For more details on the results, check out the full article.

Munis New and Not-So-New

FairlawnGig in Ohio made the list this year, adding a third municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the list. The city’s retail service began serving residents with gigabit connectivity back in 2017, after firmly establishing their fiber services for local businesses.

When contemplating the investment, city leaders adopted the approach that their fiber optic network would be an essential piece of infrastructure on par with sewers or roads. Fairlawn used municipal bonds with no intention of turning a profit; they considered the network an investment that would keep the Akron suburb competitive. Residents, businesses, and institutions in Fairlawn, however, have enthusastically signed up for fast, reliable, connectivity where residents can get gigabit Internet access for $75 per month.

pcmag-2019-fastest.png Fairlawn’s municipal FTTH network will keep company with a veteran to the list — Longmont, Colorado’s Nextlight. The publicly owned ISP dropped from the top of the list to a respectable number three, but that doesn’t stop other communities in the state from looking to Longmont for guidance. As an increasing number of Colorado cities and towns move toward Internet network infrastructure, they almost always hold Longmont up for inspiration.

Readers would only be surprised if Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics was NOT on the list. With fewer fiber optic networks reporting in the past, EPB ranked higher, but this year they still made the list at number eight.

The Great Plains

Consistent with last year’s results indicating North Dakota as one of the states with the fastest Internet access in the U.S., PCMag’s testing once again put North Dakota near the top. As rural electric and telephone cooperatives continue to invest in broadband infrastructure, people living in North Dakota are quickly finding that their access to high-quality Internet access outshines options for people in more urban states.

When we decided to update our policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, we determined that around 70 percent of the state’s land mass has access to fiber optic services from cooperatives. In South Dakota, cooperatives offer fiber optic connectivity to approximately 50 percent of the state’s land mass.

Learn more about North Dakota’s cooperatives by listening to our January 2018 conversation with Robin Anderson of the National Information Solutions Cooperative.

Sonic, ALLO, Hotwire, and the Communities They Serve 

Among private sector ISPs, Sonic and ALLO made strong showings once again. All three work with communities to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure.

In Brentwood, California, Sonic has been working with the city for about four years through an agreement to use the city’s conduit to house Sonic fiber. Sonic was ranked at the top of the list for all ISPs, tripling its score from last year.

ALLO Communications, which connects folks in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) via the city’s extensive conduit network, made the list again this year at eighth place. The company was recently chosen by the city of Breckenridge as a partner for their planned fiber network and will also be working with Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Learn more about the network that Lincoln developed from David Young, who spearheaded the project and has been on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast several times over the years. Most recently, he talked about Lincoln in December 2017 for episode 285:

Hotwire, operating in Salisbury, North Carolina, over publicly owned fiber also made the list. Hotwire leases fiber infrastructure from the city, which developed the FTTH in the past as Fibrant, but in 2018 chose to lease to lease to private sector partner Hotwire, rather than operate a municipal ISP.

Looking at the list as a whole it’s important to note that, with three munis and three ISPs operating via municipal conduit or municipal fiber, the presence of publicly owned broadband infrastructure plays an important role for private sector ISPs in addition to municipal Internet access providers. Google Fiber and its Webpass division has also expressed support for local communities to make similar investments in order to obtain the best possible Internet access. Results like these support the growing influence of community networks in expanding high-quality Internet access.

Image credit BigRiz [CC BY-SA 3.0]