Broadband Cost and Quality

Analysis of data collected during the needs assessment found no correlation between what residents pay and the speed or quality of their internet service.  When asked about various aspects of their internet service, price consistently had the highest rate of dissatisfaction with an average of 41% of residents and 33% of businesses rating it as bad/terrible. Despite paying 5.82% more for internet only service than the $70/month national average, only 55% of all respondents to the ORS rated their overall internet service as good/excellent, with 64% of all respondents from business rating it that way. While 15 ORS respondents reported that they are paying $80/month for internet only service, their download speeds ranged from 5 Mbps to 465 Mbps.

When asked whether they would pay more for faster and more reliable internet services, just over 11% of all respondents to the standard ORS indicated that they believe their current service is already fast and reliable. Respondents paying approximately 12% more for internet only service than the $70/month national average said they "would likely pay a little more," showing some price flexibility. While over 62% of all respondents would pay more for better service, nearly half of them can’t afford to do so (29.6%).

Broadband Availability and Speeds

The second most often cited reason for not having high-speed internet at home or a place of business was lack of availability. Magellan Advisors’ inventory revealed that Marin has relatively few network assets and the incumbent internet providers’ service areas do not cover much of Marin and overlap each other only in the more densely populated eastern areas. They also found that while the five (5) geographic areas noted above lack connectivity options, so do the more prosperous areas of Marin.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) data, Marin County has 591 households that are unserved, i.e. either have no internet service available in their community or service that is below the 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload (25/3) broadband speed policy set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Of those 591 households, 208 have service but it is at or below 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up (6/1). These households are identified as underserved. CPUC’s most recently released data shows that Marin has 3,987 unserved households at their new recommended speeds of 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up (100/20).  The data for speeds of 6/1 and 25/3 also identified 1,856 households with no service, i.e. broadband service is available but these households choose not to receive it. The new data regarding speeds of 100/20 did not provide the number of households with no service.

Speed Served No service Unserved Underserved
At underserved speeds of 6/1 102,528 1,856 383 208
At FCC standard speeds of 25/3 102,528 1,856 591 N/A
At CPUC recommended speeds of 100/20 100,988 N/A 3,987 N/A

The table above is based on CPUC’s 2020 data and estimates.  According to the data, Marin County has 104,975 households representing 260,831 residents. The CPUC data is considered questionable since it is self-reported by internet service providers and the threshold for identifying what households are “served” is low.  Detractors believe that the number of un- and underserved households is higher than reported.  This issue appears to be the case in Marin County. For example, ORS speed tests for households in served areas reported results as low as 681 kb/s down and 126 kb/s up.  As such, these findings show that even “served” households, i.e. those identified as receiving at least 25/3 or higher, experience speeds below FCC standards for broadband.

The current FCC standard of 25/3 was established in 2015.  A six year old standard is not viable given the rapid pace of technology change and users’ needs and demands. Recent experience showed us that service rapidly degrades or becomes unusable when multiple people in a household and a substantial number of residents work, attend school, receive services, and interact online. Additionally, while download speeds were traditionally considered more important than upload ones, users today need to upload large files and more content which requires rethinking that approach. In terms of Marin residents’ internet experience, ORS findings showed that slowdowns and outages occurred several times a year for 61% of respondents and almost daily for over 20% of them.

More information about broadband policies, standards, and service maps can be found on the FCC’s website.

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