In the context of Net Neutrality debate, one often hears claims that "X% of people live in the area with only one cable internet provider" (last one I heard was a podcast so don't recall exact # they quoted). This seems like an actual problem needing resolution; but one thing that bugs me is whether this is accurate, as it doesn't seem to match reality based on personal anecdotal examples. Back when I was considering ISPs (even before Fiberoptic from Verizon became an easy second choice where I lived), research showed that I had options such as Dish network; more recently, power lines; and there also seem to be ISP-ish offers from cellular providers (4G seems to be fast enough to stream video) recently.

As such, are there reliable estimates of what the amount of population of people that have only one broadband ISP (even if alternatives aren't cable companies)? For the purposes of disambiguation, it's probably best to use the Wikipedia's definition of which Internet access is "broadband"; although any reasonable technical definition would work.

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    The fault in your question is that you're being overly literal in interpreting what 'one choice' means. It doesn't mean one option. It means having only one usable option. Yes, most people have more than one option. Rarely are any of the options practical other than one. We could all still use AOL dialup if we wanted to, but it's not a real option for most people in terms of it being usable.
    – user1530
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 15:28
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    @blip But "AOL dialup" isn't broadband? The question explicitly limits to just broadband, and not any internet connection.
    – user11249
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:14
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    @Trilarion Lack of free market competition is an often used argument in debates about net neutrality. Questions about it seem on-topic to me.
    – user11249
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:16
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    This FCC report talks about "25 Mbit/s down, 3 Mbit/s up" :-/ Guess it's one of those vague terms that means different things to different people. Either way, a good answer would mention speeds to which consumers have access to remove any ambiguity, which is exactly what the current answer does.
    – user11249
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:22
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    This should probably be closed as too ambiguous. It doesn't point to a specific claim, and then asks whether all such claims use or ignore wireless access. Then it goes on to say, paraphrased, "We should agree to use wikipedia's definition, but actually any technically relevant definition should also work." This is a great example of a very poorly defined question. I'm not sure what the point is - what exactly is going to be accomplished by answering this definitively, assuming it's possible? The extensive "comments" on the first answer show the OP arguing about the definition as well.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


From this Arstechnica article I went extracted this report that is cited and reported in the article itself. The report is from June 2017, so not particularly old.

Figure 2, reported also in the article, I think that answers your question quite clearly:

enter image description here

If we define "broadband" as anything above 25Mbps (as the FCC suggests [see note] we do), about 40% of US households have 1 provider or less. If we raise the bar to 100 Mbps, that raises households with 1 or less broadband provider to 75% (I am including wireless and wired, so looking at the chart on the right).

If we accept 3mbps (I would not consider it broadband anymore in this day and age), you would still have 15% of the households without a choice.


From the FCC document linked:

As required by section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as amended, we issue this Report on our annual inquiry regarding the availability of "advanced telecommunications capability" to all Americans and to determine whether such capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.

They proceed to define "advanced telecommunications capability":

For purposes of this and future Reports, we believe it is appropriate to take a fresh, holistic approach as to what constitutes "advanced telecommunications capability" in order to evaluate its availability to all Americans. [...] Because it is an evolving standard, and there is no single standard for what should qualify as advanced service, the Commission must exercise discretion when it conducts its annual inquiry. Given this, we adopt an approach that is designed to place America at the forefront of broadband offerings and ensure that all Americans, wherever they live, have access to the extensive and ever-expanding offerings available today or on the near horizon.

They then proceed discussing what can and cannot be done with different connection speeds (page 27 of the pdf) and they conclude with a section titled

"Advanced Telecommunications Capability" Requires 25 Mbps/3 Mbps for Consumers

(that's 25 in Download and 3 in Upload)

  • What's the basis of using 25 MBPS and not 10 or 3 3MBPs? Especially since both are explicitly included in a graph labeled "broadband"?
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 15:42
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    @user4012 30 is usually not on offer, also in Europe I mostly see offers for 10-25-100. You also said "streaming video" and that technically removes the 3 option (superuser.com/q/196093/157847). Personally I also don't consider 10 as "broad", because it easily gets laggy (hell, it gets laggy at 25+). As for power lines, they seem to be included, if you read the report.
    – Federico
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 15:45
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 23:36

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