FTTH Quickens Broadband Speeds, But U.S. Still Lags

Carl Weinschenk

Digital Home last Friday presented the highlights of RVA's survey of fiber-to-the-home penetration in North America.

The firm found that 18 percent of homes had access to fiber-to-the-home services (FTTH), and that more than 500,000 have connections of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) or more. One third of those reach speeds of 100 Mbps or greater. Average download speeds increased from last year's 16.6 Mbps to 19.7 Mbps in 2011.

The firm surveyed more than 2,000 households and found that 74 percent of FTTH users were "very satisfied." That percentage was 54 percent among cable subscribers and 51 percent for digital subscriber line (DSL) customers.

The lion's share of the fiber to the home or nearby in the United States is provided by Verizon (through its FiOS project) or AT&T (through U-verse). The two have similarities, but also differ. FiOS delivers fiber to the home, while U-verse stops short and uses advanced copper technologies to go the last few yards into the home. It is unclear if RVA counted U-verse as an FTTH provider.

While the gap between FTTH and DSL - 23 percentage points - is worth noting, it also is significant that more than half of those surveyed were very satisfied with DSL technology, which observers have long said is on the way out. If half that amount are moderately satisfied, fully three-quarters of telephone customers essentially are at peace with DSL. This suggests that the telcos are paying attention to the platform and upgrading it as new versions emerge.

Recent surveys of broadband speeds in the United States present a mixed bag. Last year, according to a study released in February by In-Stat, downstream speeds increased a whopping 34 percent, from 7.12 Mbps in 2009 to 9.54 Mbps in 2010. The firm found that the increase over two years was 71 percent, with cable and FTTH showing the biggest improvement. Wireless broadband "acts as a driver" for increasing the speeds. The cost last year, the firm said, was only a 4 percent increase between prices at the end of 2009 and 2010.

On the other side of the ledger was the International Broadband Data Report, which merges FCC and OECD data. The report says that the United States finished ninth of 29 nations in mobile broadband adoption and 12 out of 33 countries in fixed broadband, according to coverage in DSL Reports.

The bottom line is that the United States, which likes to think of itself as number one in just about everything, has long been in the middle of the pack in broadband. Its overall position doesn't seem to be changing relative to other countries, though its raw speeds do seem to be on the way up.

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