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Fiber Preferred by Nearly Two-Thirds of U.S. Consumers

At Fiber Connect 2023, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and RVA LLC Market Research and Consulting (RVA) released their annual consumer research report. This year’s research, titled “The Status of U.S. Broadband: The Growing Preference to Fiber Broadband,” documents that fiber broadband is considered the best internet service delivery method in terms of speed and reliability among 63% of all U.S. consumers, including 54% of cable users.

“The Status of U.S. Broadband” annual report is built on consumer research, with the study focusing on internet use among U.S. online customers. The 2023 edition, conducted in May 2023, had a sample size of 4,000 households. Mike Render, Founder and CEO of RVA, presented findings from the study on the October 11, 2023, episode of FBA’s Fiber for Breakfast podcast.

“People see broadband or high-quality internet as extremely important in their lives and increasing over time,” said Render. Overall interest in broadband has gone up from 60% to 75% since 2019, when the first RVA consumer survey was conducted.  

The survey asked households to indicate their interest in potential broadband applications, ranging from medical and safety to using VR to work remotely. Individuals highly valued high-speed broadband to provide access to medical care (71%), independent living for seniors (70%), and home safety (69%) among the highest applications, with more exotic uses such as being able to inhabit and socialize with a remote Avatar-esque robot cited by more than a third of the respondents surveyed. 

Clean Clothes and Broadband

RVA examined the relationship between reliable high-speed broadband and other amenities sought in single family homes and apartments and came up with some interesting results. “We ask people every few years about what’s important when you buy a house,” said Render. “The laundry room always comes out number one, very high-speed broadband is number two. Broadband beats hardwood floors, a great kitchen with granite countertops, and all those other things.” The laundry room came in at 69% while broadband rated very important at 65%.

The exact same results emerged in the multiple dwelling units (MDU) space of apartments and condominiums, with an in-unit washer and dryer being the number one feature most desired and high-speed broadband coming in second. “It’s more important than good parking, soundproof walls, storage space,” said Render, with the in-unit washer/dryer at 59% while broadband was ranked at 52%. 

Fiber’s Gains in 2023

Over the last two years, fiber has gained a net change of 15% over other types of broadband connections in operation as consumers change their providers, while cable modem took a net 14% decrease in usage between the gains of fiber and fixed wireless, a point Render said was more evidence of fiber’s gains since the media is only available in less than half the country.

Overall, fiber holds a 23% market share, compared to cable’s 47%, with other types such as wireless and satellite at 17% and DSL at the bottom with 13%. “You can see over time as fiber continues to grow in market share, cable is starting to dip.” 

While fiber is gaining in market share, it is also providing gains in value to the housing market.
“For single-family homes, you’re adding almost 5%, which is the highest number we’ve seen,” said Render. “People are seeing it is important and they’re willing to pay some extra price for fiber.” MDU condo owners receive 3.2% additional value by having fiber available while renters will pay nearly 13% more for units that have fiber broadband.

Fiber is perceived to be the best delivery method for broadband, according to the survey. “Sixty-three percent, nearly two-thirds of everyone says fiber is the best, with cable second and fixed wireless third,” stated Render. “Fiber’s mindshare has never been higher. We know this from the greatest movement to fiber during broadband churn. We know it from the real estate premiums that we saw and the greatest percentage calling fiber best, so the consumer is getting it. This matters because the market share move to fiber will probably be faster and deeper than most expect.”

Render expects the fiber shift to happen more rapidly than most predict due to the increasing number of public and private fiber networks being built over the next five years. “Service providers are anecdotally telling us that they’ve never seen getting to their first 20% uptake rates faster than it’s happening currently. So we expect that the sheer take was going to happen fairly quickly.”

The growth in fiber leaves cable companies dependent upon legacy coax plants and vulnerable, with the lagging deployment of DOCSIS 4.0 only expected to start later this year or early next year insufficient to counter the surge. “It will be a next step in their case to try again, to move fiber deeper in many cases, but it’s still coax for the last leg. It improves the upload speed and reliability somewhat, but it probably is not going to be sufficient.”

Render said that cable companies simply advertising gigabit speeds is not enough to get past fiber’s reputation of speed, reliability, and latency, leading many operators to transition over for cost savings and competitive reasons. “I’m going to have fiber from Cox, so you know cable companies are getting into the game, but for the biggest ones, it’s hard for them,” said Render. “They’re steadfastly trying to hold to coax as long as they can, but I think it’s going to be more difficult than they think.” Fiber may pass cable’s U.S. market share within the next seven to ten years, Render speculated, but RVA will have to conduct some more research to be confident of that timeframe. 

Building new broadband access networks with anything other than fiber “with rare exceptions” using government funding is “irresponsible,” stated Render. “There are mountaintops and so forth out there, so there’s a reason to get fiber closer, but not all the way. But generally, the public gets it that it’s important if we’re spending government money. We want to spend to build something that’s going to last. When the Rural Electrification Administration came with funding to do electricity, there were options of putting in a pretty windmill that would cost less. It would have powered light in a room and maybe a radio, but it certainly wouldn’t have handled everything that came out over the next 80 years. They were smart to go all the way to the best solution.”