CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Broadband speeds across West Virginia have increased 56 percent over the past three years, according to new data acquired by the state that will be made public later this month.
A preliminary analysis of more than one million broadband speed tests indicates the average broadband download speed in West Virginia has increased from 9.21 megabits per second (mbps) in 2012 to 14.41 mbps as of March 2014. The average download speed in the United States is about 18.2 mbps, according to Ookla, a worldwide broadband metrics company.
Tony Simental, state geographic information systems coordinator and West Virginia Broadband Mapping Program coordinator, said the results clearly show an improvement in speeds, but what the data doesn’t show is that many rural areas still typically lack the speeds that customers can get in urban areas.
“The data we have shows an increase in speeds over the years, and we are pleased with that,” said Tony Simental, GIS coordinator for West Virginia. “But of course, there are different technologies out there. We may call it legacy infrastructure, old infrastructure that hasn’t been brought up to par in rural areas. Because of that, you still have pockets where speeds are below the state definition for broadband.”
West Virginia follows the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband, which is 4 mbps download and 1 mbps upload.
The findings come from a preliminary analysis of more than a million speed test data points the state purchased in February from Ookla, which runs the popular broadband speed test website Speedtest.net. Simental said the data set cost the state $23,000; $9,500 of the funds came from the state Broadband Mapping Program, while $13,500 came from the state Broadband Deployment Council.
The state had collected speed test data from its own web page in 2013, but only 9,031 speed tests from 2,450 unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses were logged. Some members of the Broadband Deployment Council complained this was too small of a sample size, which prompted the purchase of the larger data set from Ookla.
The Ookla data set includes speed test data from 1,108,525 unique IP addresses within West Virginia from 2012 through the first quarter of 2014. A residential Internet customer typically has one IP address associated with an account.
The preliminary data indicates Comcast Cable is the fastest major Internet service provider in the state, with average download speeds of 21.39 mbps and average upload speeds of 5.56 mbps during the first quarter of 2014. In 2012, Comcast subscribers were receiving average download speeds of 15.14 mbps and average upload speeds of 3.75 mbps.
Suddenlink Communications, Time Warner Cable and Shentel Service Company were also near the top of the list when it came to speed. Suddenlink customers saw average download speeds of 16.13 mbps during the first quarter of 2014, while Time Warner Cable customers saw download speeds of 15.42 mbps and Shentel customers saw average download speeds of 12.95 mbps.
Frontier Communications’ Internet speeds lagged far behind among the state’s top ISPs. Frontier customers’ average download speeds clocked in at 4.36 mbps during the first quarter of 2014, while average upload speeds averaged 1.43 mbps. This is the first time Frontier’s Internet service has been shown to meet the state and federal definitions of broadband.
The new data shows Frontier has made significant progress on improving speeds since 2012. Frontier customers saw average download speeds of 2.36 mbps and average upload speeds of 0.60 mbps in 2012; download speeds reached 3.90 mbps and upload speeds reached 1.09 mbps in 2013.
“One of the most interesting things, when you see it on a year-by-year basis, you see there was improvements in speed from 2010 until now,” Simental said. “If you take a look at Frontier speeds, they start at 2.36 (mbps) in 2012 and improve to 4.36 (mbps) in 2014.”
The data also gives clues into trends that ISPs typically keep private, including which companies have the greatest number of customers in the state and which companies are gaining or losing customers. The data indicates how many unique IP addresses were tested from each ISP each year. When compared year-to-year, this information can indicate fluctuations within West Virginia’s broadband market.
Suddenlink apparently has the most broadband subscribers in West Virginia, with 197,960 speed tests performed in 2013. Frontier comes in second place, with 143,049 speed tests in 2013, while Comcast Cable had 132,259 speed tests in 2013. Shentel and Time Warner Cable were a distant fourth and fifth place, with 14,942 and 13,403 tests, respectively.
According to the data, 158,259 Frontier customers tested their broadband speeds at Speedtest.net in 2012. This amounts to a 10.6 percent decrease in the number of tests from 2012 to 2013. And 127,259 Comcast customers performed speed tests in 2012, amounting to a 3.9 percent increase between 2012 and 2013. Suddenlink and Shentel saw negligible fluctuations.
Time Warner Cable saw a significant increase in speed tests between 2012 and 2013, but a spokesman from the cable company said Time Warner only saw “modest growth” during that time period.
Simental said while the data shows a steady increase in speed, it doesn’t take differing technologies into account. He said broadband systems in rural areas are often out-of-date, causing residents to experience slower speeds, while residents in and near bigger cities have access to higher-tech cable and fiber Internet services.
Data collected in 2013 by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission indicates less than 40 percent of residents in Clay and Pocahontas counties have access to broadband speeds of at least 3 mbps download and 768 kilobit per second (kbps) upload. One hundred percent of residents in Hancock and Jefferson counties have access to broadband at these speeds.
The preliminary data the state purchased from Ookla has been given to members of the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council and will be discussed at its next meeting on May 14. Simental said it will take some time for the data to be fully analyzed and a complete report to be released.
Simental encourages West Virginia broadband customers to take the Broadband Mapping Program’s survey to help state officials better understand where and why broadband speeds in West Virginia are lacking. Click here to take the online survey.
Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.