BENNINGTON — Nearly the entire town can connect to the internet, above the average for the county, state and nation. But the local connection speeds still pose a challenge, an industry survey shows.
Some 99.2 percent of Bennington, which sits on 42 square miles of land, can connect to at least one internet service provider offering broadband connection.
The average broadband coverage in the county is only at 91 percent, higher than Vermont's 86.5 percent average but lower than the U.S. average of 96.5 percent, according to a report by BroadbandNow, a website that helps consumers find and compare internet service providers in their area.
Broadband refers to high-speed internet access including fiber optic, DSL transmitted over telephone lines and cable modem acquired through cable TV operators.
Bennington has 15 internet service providers, ranked the third most in Vermont. Burlington and Williston are at the top with 17 providers, followed by Essex Junction, Middlebury and South Burlington, which have 16 each.
The number of provider options translates into more competitive prices and better customer service.
"Having two or fewer providers in an area is a situation that we have seen played out across hundreds of cities in the US," Ana De Castro, a BroadbandNow spokeswoman, said. "This creates a duopoly of sorts, with both providers being able to increase the prices consumers pay for subpar speeds, as well as reducing the incentive to improve existing services."
The average download speed in Bennington is 40.39 megabits per second, about 60 percent faster than the state average but slower than the national average of 42.1 mbps.
In comparison, the fastest cities in the country are Nine Mile Falls, Wash., with 891 mbps; Hoschton, Ga., with 729 mbps; and Independence, Ohio, with 681 mbps.
BroadbandNow says its reports are based on Federal Communications Commission data, which internet service providers are required to submit to the agency twice a year, with the latest being this January. Providers also directly give their data on BroadbandNow's website.
Matt Harrington, executive director of the Bennington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he is not surprised by the report on extensive internet availability in Bennington given that the town is the county's "epicenter" of industry.
But, he added, there's work to be done in improving the county's internet infrastructure to increase the download speeds. Improving internet quality should be a priority and would help draw younger, innovative companies and workers to the area.
"There are homes in the rural parts of the county that are having trouble connecting," Harrington said. "I would encourage our officials and our stakeholders and our people to not settle for just connecting, but we need high-speed internet."
A bipartisan group of state legislators is already advocating bringing high-speed, affordable internet to rural areas, citing small businesses' need for high-quality internet service.
Tiffany Tan can be reached at email@example.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.