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How Many People in the U.S. Have Fiber?

Last Updated on October 23, 2018 by Karen Quach

Fiber-optic internet is the newest, fastest internet available—but it isn’t easy to access everywhere in the United States. In fact, connecting to the web via fiber-optics isn’t a possibility for the majority of people in the U.S., and fiber’s spread has been frustratingly slow and cumbersome.

Curious to know why fiber hasn’t spread across the nation yet? Want to find out where you can get fiber and how the American fiber-optic network compares to the rest of the world? Keep reading to learn all about it!

Which Parts of the U.S. Can Get Fiber Right Now?

According to the most recent data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nearly 75% of U.S. consumers lack access to a fiber-optic internet service provider. Slightly over 25% of the country can get fiber internet through one local provider, 1% of the country can choose fiber from two providers, and only .03% live in areas where three or more providers offer fiber service.

Most areas that can get fiber are urban centers like Salt Lake City, Utah; Seattle, Washington; and Nashville, Tennessee. Meanwhile, the majority of rural areas are left in the dust, many of them still relying on slow speeds or satellite internet that experiences frequent interruptions from storms and sun flares.

Where do the lucky 25% of urban web users with fiber access live? No one region of the country has more access to fiber than others, and you can find fiber hotbeds across the nation. On the West Coast, California still has limited fiber access, but Washington and Oregon both have expansive fiber coverage. North and South Dakota’s fiber networks span the states, and certain areas of Utah are part of the .03% of the country with more than three fiber internet providers.

In the Midwest and South, capital cities in states like Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri have fiber networks while states like Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Florida lag behind. And in the East, most fiber networks cluster along the coast in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.


Why Is Fiber Internet Taking So Long to Spread?

Fiber-optic internet connections can reach speeds up to 1 Gig. With speeds this fast, you can connect virtually any number of internet users and any number of devices without losing internet quality or speed. Gigabit internet lets everyone in your household perform their own high-bandwidth activities, from streaming HD shows to MMO gaming, with next to no lag time. But if fiber is so great, why hasn’t it caught on everywhere by now?

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Fiber-optic internet requires a new telecommunications infrastructure that not every city and web service provider have the time or means to build.

Older types of internet reach your home using the pre-existing copper cables. In most cases, these cables were put in decades ago to connect each building to the telephone network. It’s easy for internet service providers to use these same cables to connect you to the world wide web—just as copper transmits voice signals quickly, so do they transmit web data at speeds as fast as 100 Mbps and above.

In contrast, fiber-optic cables made of glass or plastic are about a tenth of the width of a single strand of hair and send data as light signals. These cables transmit information more quickly, clearly, and reliably than copper cables. They’re also cheaper to operate in the long run, but they can take a long time and cost a lot of money to install.

Before they can start digging to place new cables, cities and companies need permits allowing them to excavate on private property where the cables need to run. They also need to create a thorough excavation and placement plan that won’t interfere with any of the city’s other underground utilities. Sometimes fiber installers need to work with utility pole companies to ensure there’s room for a new utility.     


How Does the U.S . Fiber Market Compare to Other Countries?

Even though only 25% of American households can access fiber internet, Americans are still better connected than most of the rest of the world, with two notable exceptions: South Korea and Europe.

South Korea consistently leads the world in both top internet speeds and percentage of people connected. Around 94% of the country has internet access, and South Korea is the only country where the average available internet speed exceeds 25 Mbps. Government regulations require internet service providers to offer high minimum speeds to rural and urban customers alike.

Just how fast is South Korean internet? Currently, South Korea is working on commercializing 10 Gig internet for public consumption; by 2022, the country aims for 10 Gig internet to reach at least 50% of the country.

In continental Europe, the Fibre to the Home Council meets annually to set goals on expanding fiber coverage across the continent. According to findings from its 2017 meeting, over 45% of Latvians could access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) or fiber-to-the-building (FTTB) services. Sweden and Lithuania came in second and third for fiber access, with just over 40% of the country’s homes and commercial buildings having access. According to the same report, the number of European fiber subscribers increased 23% over 2016, meaning over 148 million people had reliable fiber access.


What Can You Do If You Want Fiber?

First, find out if your area has fiber internet options. If not, don’t despair quite yet. Even though fiber-optic cables are costly and time-consuming to install, municipalities across the nation recognize that fiber internet is a huge draw for individuals and businesses alike. The long-term economic benefits can mitigate the costs of expanding the market if cities and internet service providers work together to update the nation’s internet infrastructure.

To get involved, reach out to your city council representatives and attend infrastructure meetings to find out if the city plans to collaborate with any fiber internet providers in the future. You can also sign up for internet service provider newsletters that will let you know if (and hopefully when) fiber internet is making it to your area.

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