The Pursuit of Broadband (Happiness)

I dream of broadband data. After weeks on immersing myself into millions of lines of speed tests, census data, and FCC filings, I see scrolling Excel files when I close my eyes. My usual go-to sleep aid of bourbon doesn’t help; it just reminds me of Bourbon County (just 25% of all households seeing broadband speeds). And of Cumberland Gap, by David Rawling, reverberating deep in the back of my head as I drove into Kentucky during the last wave of the study.

It takes a certain level of craziness to embrace this depth of data, hitting the limits of Excel’s capacity on a regular basis, leaving my Mac’s fan whirring frantically to keep up with the CPU demands. But I, with my colleague Sara, are in pursuit of realistic broadband data as a starting point for our next deep dive into the U.S. market and particularly the more rural parts of the country: the “fly over states” as many coastal people refer to them – and as many of the residents I met two years ago disparagingly acknowledge.

The data is worth the sleep deprivation: it is key to understanding current market trends and how they do – or do not – also apply to households on the other side of the digital divide. Take Mary, from Kentucky, who two years ago was enthused that she finally had broadband to her home, meaning, as she put it, that her smart tv could finally live up to its name. Or Lance, in Dodge City, who tried to stream Netflix on just a few megabits of data per second which often led to a run to the nearest Redbox when someone else was browsing the web on the same shared tower.

These issues are not just a social one for these communities, although that is clearly top of mind with stories of school kids hanging outside the local McDonalds so they can complete their online homework. It is also an economic issue: a lack of broadband limits job opportunities (and the ability to search for new jobs) but also, from a vendor perspective, limits the sales opportunity for consumer tech. No bandwidth, no streaming and therefore no need for that larger, smart TV or streaming box. Conversely, a lack of broadband is an opportunity to continue to sell DVDs and Blu-ray disks. Indeed, we saw video rental stores doing a booming business on our last exploration of rural America.

In other words, in some ways it is like stepping back 20 years for many of the urban markets. It reminds me of living in Northern Virginia, the core of the East Coast Internet, 20 years ago, surrounded by behemoths such as America Online and MCI Communications, but still waiting for a DSL connection to arrive in my neighborhood.

And, just like 20 years ago in more populated areas, the businesses that are connecting people in more rural markets are small, local ISPs, or cooperatives. The only difference between now and 20 years ago is that they are no longer in rooms crammed full of dial-up 28.8 kbps modems but instead with wireless line of sight (WISP) or fiber focused routing gear.

We will be publishing the Broadband America report with results of our initial analysis in January and following it up with a look at buying habits based on surveys and interviews later in the year. But back to the data, and the modicum of madness it creates; we kept our sanity thanks to some of the names that these small ISPs choose for their businesses or the Network IDs. Some of these folks have a good sense of humor. And with that in mind, Sara and I chose our top ten favorites below. Happy Holidays.

Evoking an image of their location:

  • Suite 224 Internet (yes, they are located in Suite 224 and can never move!)
  • High Mountain Farm Broadband
  • In The Stix Broadband
  • Hillbilly Wireless

The promise of delivery:

  • Wicked Fast Internet
  • Awesome Net

Just a little different:

  • Redzone Wireless
  • Rebeltec Communications

And finally, for the oddest:

  • PogoZone
  • Bug Tussel Wireless