A Harvard University study published this month ranked Highland Communications Services as fifth among municipal fiber-to-the-home providers reviewed on providing the most savings in basic broadband services as compared to its private competitors.
“So we are very excited about this study. It’s pretty clear that Highland Communications is saving our customers a substantial amount of money,” said Angela Imming, HCS’s director of technology and innovation.
Imming said that it is one thing to have an unbiased source do a study, but that this study comes from the halls of Havard and cites HCS in a national ranking means something big.
“It is pretty clear that our technology consumers here in the city of Highland are pretty savvy and they recognize a good deal,” Imming said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
The study is titled “Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America” and was from the Responsive Communities project at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. The study used data from 2016.
Imming said that while the study was based on older data, it should still be consistent with HCS rates, because there has not been a rate increase for two years.
The study looked at 40 community-owned fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) companies across the country. The authors then compared 27 of those companies to their local, private competitors. In study, Highland was compared to Charter, though HCS also competes with other private providers as well.
The study focuses only on what it would cost consumers to receive at least a 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload connection — the threshold the Federal Communications Commission defines as broadband. As for HCS, the study used the services 40 Mbps upload and 40 Mbps download compared to Charter’s service of 60 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload.
At these levels, the study found HCS charges its customers about $383 annually for the first four years, while Charter charges about $679 annually. That figure averages all costs and fees, as well as Charter’s initial promotional rates with later, higher rates. HCS does not use promotional rates. Instead, it charges the same every month from day one. As a result, HCS entry-level users save about $295 annually, which is about 44 percent less than what they would have spent at Charter, according to the study.
“The numbers showed HCS was providing its customers better value for basic broadband service, as well as clearer pricing,” said David Talbot who co-authored the study with fellow researchers Kira Hesselkiel and Danielle Kehl.
Talbot also said that while HCS’s download speeds were somewhat slower in the plans that the researchers compared, upload speeds were 10 times faster.
“The data shows that, not only is Highland less expensive for basic broadband, but when people get it from Highland, they are getting symmetrical services and very fast upload capabilities,” Talbot said.
Talbot said researching the topic was difficult and said in the study was “limited in scope” for many reasons. For instance, he said it was difficult to compare companies, because they had many variable pricing options, such as customized bundle deals, that are not consistent across the board. Talbot also mentioned that the data in the study is not available through the FCC, because broadband pricing is not comprehensively tracked in the United States. As a result, the study authors had to manually collect the information by looking at pricing advertised on websites.
The municipal FTTP providers that provided more savings over Highland were in Lafayette, Louisiana; Sebewaing, Michigan; Morristown, Tennessee; and Longmont, Colorado. But those services also had higher basic rates over the four years, ranging from about $419-599, and higher average competitor pricing ranging from about $625 to $1,199, the study found.
The raw data from the study can also be found online at the Berkman Klein Center Dataverse.
Imming said that this study came at a very serendipitous time for HCS, as the Highland City Council just voted to start the planning phases for the last stage of the fiber-build out. Imming said the city is hoping to have the project done by the end of this year.
“I feel like the cloud of doubt has been lifted,” Imming said.