Latest FCC data shows rural and inner-city Ohioans share a broadband problem

Ohio politicians looking for an issue that unites the interests of Ohioans on both sides of the “urban/rural divide” should take a long hard look at this map.

(Click on the double arrow on the left side of the map to enlarge it.)

The map shows the Federal Communications Commission’s newest Form 477 data on the percentage of households in each Ohio Census tract with “fixed” Internet connections (cable modem, DSL, fiber, satellite) that provide download speeds of 10 mbps or more.  The data is from December 2016 and was released on February 18, 2018.

The light and dark red areas on the map are Census tracts where fewer than 40% of households have home broadband connections at 10 mbps down or faster. The yellow areas are tracts where the 10 mbps connection rate is between 40% and 60% — which means the non-connection rate is also 40% to 60%.

Looking at the map as a whole, it’s evident why Ohio officials are so concerned about the state of rural broadband. The majority of rural Ohio tracts still have fast home broadband connection rates below 40% or even below 20%.  The rest are mostly in the 40%-to-60%-connected range.  This puts rural Ohio communities far behind the national norm for Net access; the same FCC data for December 2016 shows about 87 million U.S. households, or 68%, with fixed connections above 10 mbps.

In contrast, the map shows that most suburban Ohio tracts have between 60% and 90%+ of their households connected to fast, fixed home Internet service. No wonder many rural community leaders and residents are desperate to catch up.

But look more closely — or better yet, zoom the map down on the state’s large cities — and you’ll see that Ohio has another big collection of tracts where the majority of households don’t have fast broadband. They’re in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods of Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown, Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati and Akron.

Some of the story behind the low connection rates in urban Ohio is AT&T redlining, which has left large areas of some cities — i.e. Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, Akron — with no fast broadband options other than $65-a-month cable modem service.  And some of the story is simply high Internet prices coming up against limited household incomes. (Cost vs. poverty is a big part of the rural broadband story, too, though that part doesn’t get talked about much.)

But for whatever reason, as the map shows, Ohio’s rural and inner-city communities have what could, and should, be a common issue this election year.

If there are any candidates who really want to bring Ohioans of different backgrounds together in a common cause, “affordable fast broadband for all Ohioans” would be a pretty good place to start.