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PCMag Fastest ISPs 2022: Municipal Broadband and Local ISPs Outperform Major ISPs Once Again
For the past four consecutive years, community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure has proven to be a key ingredient in the makings of some of the fastest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the nation.
As was the case last year, PCMag’s recently released Top 10 list of “The Fastest ISPs of 2022” feature operators that are either municipal broadband networks or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint (with the exception of this year’s ninth-place finisher). Another way of saying that is: not one of 10 fastest networks in the nation are owned or operated by the major national ISPs, many of whom have embarked on an aggressive lobbying campaign to misinform public officials in particular and the public in general on the viability and successes of municipal broadband and local partnerships.
After ranking the major ISPs in their own slower category, PCMag turns to “talk about real speed.”
For that, you don’t go to the big guys … Higher speeds are found in smaller, localized ISPs.
Need for Speed? Look to Local ISPs and Munis
After PCMag compiled a year’s worth of speed tests to analyze which ISPs offer the fastest download and upload speeds, Sonic – a California-based independent ISP – came out on top this year, having “posted the highest number we have ever seen in our test results. Because the uploads this company offers are, on average, eclipsing download speeds—by a lot.”
Catapulting to the top of this year’s list (from 10th place last year), Sonic is a privately-owned company that uses publicly owned conduit in Brentwood, California.
PCMag’s Fastest ISPs in America List Once Again Proves the Value of Cities Investing in Internet Infrastructure
After three years in a row with similar results, PCMag’s “Fastest ISPs in America” for 2021 analysis shows a clear trend: community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure supports networks which, today, handily beat the huge monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - cable and telephone alike – for sheer speed.
The latest list proves it. Of the ten-fastest ISPs in the country, all of them feature operators that either are cities themselves or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint.
City-run networks making the list again this year include Longmont, Colorado (third); Chattanooga, Tennessee (sixth); and Cedar Falls, Iowa (seventh). Cedar Falls topped the list last year, but all three networks are regulars over the last three analyses done by the outlet. Broken down regionally, they are also joined by other municipal networks around the country, including FairlawnGig in Ohio and LUS Fiber in Louisiana.
Cedar Falls Utilities Tops PCMag Fastest ISPs List
This is the tenth year that PCMag has conducted its Fastest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) test, and it comes at a time when tens of millions more Americans across the country are working from home. This time, the results show two significant categories of winners — municipal networks and private-sector ISPs using publicly owned fiber or conduit — which says a lot about the state of high-speed Internet. Like last year, municipal networks and their private-sector partners, along with locally-owned providers, dominated the rankings.
PCMag’s methodology doesn’t seem to have changed much in 2020. Using a customized tool, the outlet tests ping, jitter, and per-second data throughput on the download and upload side of things. The results are weighted 80% towards download and 20% towards upload. From June 1st to June 2nd, 443,940 tests were completed, with the magazine ruling out non-U.S. benchmarks for a final aggregation of 358,358 tests. The minimum threshold to earn a place on the list is 100 tests, and PCMag breaks down the results in two major categories: Fastest Major ISP (those with at least a million subscribers) and Fastest Overall ISP. Read the full report here.
Cedar Falls Utilities Dominates
Service Providers Start to Adjust to Increased Demand, New Environment
With everything from shelter-in-place orders to partying on Florida beaches, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country have had to figure out their own responses to Covid-19. We reached out to a mix to get a sense of what they are seeing and how they are adapting.
Some ISPs have cut all installs and have disbanded their offices as much as possible to work remotely and try to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. Others have detailed new protocols. Almost all are seeing some increases in bandwidth usage. Lots of ISPs have special, temporary offers to get low-income families signed up during this time of need.
When it comes to usage, we are seeing a lot more activity. We don't have enough evidence to confirm our recent predictions, but things are more or less where we expected. Most networks usually have peak activity in evening prime time hours, and that remains true. The daytime peaks are expanding, but 4K streaming is keeping those evening peaks much larger.
At Sonic, California's largest independent ISP, they have seen an increase of 25 percent in evening peak, which is remarkable, but well within the capacity of their network to handle it.
Week over week @Sonic internet traffic, annotated. #COVID19 #WFH #gigabit #fiber pic.twitter.com/eUKL9FGXMk
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's Fastest and the Local Links That Made Them
On June 18th, PCMag came out with its list of “The Fastest ISPs of 2018.” The analysis looks at ISP performance in several different ways and provides a range of different side-by-side comparisons. The results prove that publicly owned infrastructure has in important role in bringing high-quality Internet access to Americans.
The Dakotas' Co-ops Rock
When taking a wide angle lens view of the fastest U.S. states results, we noticed that two of the top four states with the fastest ISPs were North Dakota and South Dakota. Rural cooperatives in these two states have excelled at deploying high-quality Internet access via fiber optic infrastructure. As a result, North Dakota and South Dakota have some of the most complete coverage of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access and gigabit FTTH in the country. Notice all the coverage on our cooperative map:
Like rural electrification in the 1930s, cooperatives are taking on the task of bringing high-speed Internet service to members in rural areas. They live and work in the areas they serve. Big ISPs don’t consider sparsely populated areas suitable investment opportunities, so electric and telephone co-ops are repeating the approach of the 1930s, but this time with fiber networks. Dickey Rural Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota and Venture Communications Cooperative in South Dakota are only a few that have worked to get their members connected.
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 261
This is the transcript for episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Dane Jasper of Sonic joins the show to discuss how the company, publicly-owned infrastructure, and public-private partnerships. Listen to this episode here.
Dane Jasper: I think a city that adopts an open access, dark fiber model creates the greatest opportunity for a diversity in choices for the consumer and a diversity in the performance and price of services. That's the model that I think would be the most interesting.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Dane Jasper from the internet service provider Sonic visits with Christopher this week. We've written about Sonic on MuniNetworks.org and how the company has used publicly-owned infrastructure to bring better connectivity to Brentwood in California. In this interview, Dane offers his perspective on different types of publicly-owned community networks, and how those networks affect a potential partnership with a company like Sonic. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this is a commercial-free podcast, but it isn't free to produce. Take a minute to contribute to ilsr.org. If you're already a contributor, thanks. Now here's Christopher with Dane Japer from Sonic.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Dane Jasper, the CEO and Co-founder at Sonic. Welcome to the show.
Dane Jasper: Thanks, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Dane, I suspect most of our listeners are familiar with Sonic. Although you serve three cities in California, your reputation is much wider and deeper than that. Maybe you can just enlighten those who haven't heard of Sonic. What is Sonic?
Dane Jasper: Sonic is an alternative access provider, so we're a regional, competitive, local exchange carrier and internet provider. Today, we offer broadband services in 125 California cities using copper technologies, VDSL, pair bonding, ADSL2+, and three cities, as you noted, with gigabit fiber to the home. We have a little over 400 employees and about 100,000 customers.
Sonic Suggests Dark Fiber for Munis - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 261
Sonic is one of the best ISPs in the nation - well beloved by its California subscribers and policy geeks like us in part because of its CEO and Co-Founder, Dane Jasper. Dane combines a tremendous amount of technical and business knowledge in a thoughtful and friendly personality. And while we don't always agree, we are always interested in what he is thinking about.
Dane joins us for Community Broadband Bits episode 261, where we focus on how cities can invest in infrastructure that will both allow firms like Sonic to thrive and permanently break any concerns about a monopoly over Internet access. Dane encourages cities to focus on dark infrastructure -- conduits or dark fiber that allow ISPs more freedom to pick and perhaps change the technologies they want to deploy services.
We also talk about network neutrality and a very brief history of Sonic.
Additionally worth noting, Sonic gets five stars from the "Who Has Your Back" evaluation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Conduit Policy the Foundation for Affordable Gig Service in the Bay Area
Smart conduit policy, implemented in 1999, is now paying off in Brentwood. The Bay Area community of 52,000 recently reached an agreement with Sonic.net to bring fiber to the community via city-owned conduit. The partners anticipate a fall 2015 project completion.
The City requires all new development be constructed with conduit to the premise via a joint trench. Over the past 15 years, the amount of conduit has expanded to approximately 150 miles reaching more than 8,000 homes and all commercial construction. Brentwood has grown exponentially in the past 15 years. Between 2000 and 2010, its population more than doubled as it transitioned from farms to suburbs.
A number of other communities have implemented similar conduit policies to improve connectivity options. Mount Vernon, Washington, and Sandy, Oregon, are only a few towns where conduit policy for new development has facilitated fiber deployment.
We checked in with Kerry Breen, Assistant Finance Director for Brentwood, who offered more details on the partnership. Sonic.net will pay to lease the conduit, connect City facilities, provide dedicated fiber to the City, fill in any gaps in the conduit network, and maintain the network. The ISP will also develop a pilot program to install conduit in a pre-1999 subdivision containing 250-500 homes.
Sonic.net will connect public facilities that are adjacent to existing conduit. If the City wants to connect facilities situated in other areas, it will pay Sonic.net to complete the connections. Brentwood will save approximately $15,000 per year immediately because Sonic.net will provide gigabit service to City Hall at no charge.
The company will also pull fiber through traffic conduit and connect City traffic signals at no extra cost in these locations. If Sonic.net ultimately provides Wi-Fi, the City will have access at no charge, increasing efficiencies and reducing costs for municipal employees that work in the field such as city inspectors or public safety personnel.