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 has 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:

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Check out a larger map here.

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.

To learn more about how rural cooperatives have helped rural communities, including North Dakota and South Dakota, check out our policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era. We also had an interesting conversation during episode 288 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Robin Anderson from National Information Solutions Cooperative. She and Christopher discussed North Dakota’s incredible cooperative tradition. You can also check out our Rural Cooperatives Page, a one-stop-shop for everything co-op.

Munis Do What it Takes

Within the top five fastest ISPs, two are municipal networks: #1 NextLight from Longmont, Colorado, and EPB Fiber Optics from Chattanooga. Two others involve publicly owned conduit — #3 Sonic in San Francisco and #5 Allo, operating in Lincoln, Nebraska

When local communities have the opportunity to make investments to improve connectivity, they typically know what will work best for them. We’ve documented how each of these communities have improved economic development, improved Internet access for schools and other institutions, cut costs, and improved digital inclusion.

Offering services directly to the public or working with a private sector partner are two options that local communities should be allowed to investigate. Most of the states that made PC Mag’s top ten fastest list still allow local communities to enter into video franchising agreements with cable companies rather than imposing statewide franchising. The fact that these states made the list proves that local authority enhances chances of success in the digital age, rather than endangers it.

NextLight Marches On

People who don’t live in Longmont may not know about NextLight, but it’s quickly becoming a gold standard in the West. As in the past, Chattanooga’s EPB has been held up as the vision that other communities looked toward for inspiration. As towns in Colorado consider ways to improve their Internet access, many are looking at Longmont as a model. 

Since the city began developing its network in 2014, they’ve strived to keep the community involved and engaged. In addition to continuing to take steps to improve service and lower rates, the network has helped reduce costs for the community and inspire incumbents to improve their services. These are only a few of the benefits the folks in Longmont enjoy and mirror the benefits in Chattanooga, Lincoln, and San Francisco.

Being named the fastest is something to be proud of, but we know that the people at NextLight are also proud of their many other accomplishments that come from serving the community.