Back in 1993, Pete Ashdown wanted to access the internet at his Utah home but discovered “I didn’t have that option.” So he started the Xmission internet service provider company — figuring a few other “nerds” may want the same thing.
Now, 83.1 percent of Utah households subscribe to high-speed Internet service, ranking No. 3 in the nation, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I never would have dreamed that,” when his company started two decades ago, Ashdown said.
Utah looks a bit out of place among the list of the nation’s top states for internet connections. Most of the others have much higher average incomes.
“High-income states tend to have high levels of broadband internet use, but some places don’t fit that pattern” — such as Utah, said Census Bureau demographer Camille Ryan.
Ashdown sees several reasons why — including that the Beehive State and its residents were among the earliest users of the internet.
“The University of Utah was one of the first four nodes on the internet. So really you can say the internet was birthed in Utah and California,” he said.
Many of the innovations in early computer graphics came out of the University of Utah and local companies such as Evans and Sutherland — and that attracted high-tech companies to the state. “Even back in 1993, access to the internet was critical for them,” Ashdown said.
And their employees wanted online access at home, too. Ashdown said his Xmission targeted such “nerds” initially. When others gained interest in connecting, “they often went to the neighborhood or family geek. They would already be on the internet with us, so I would get a recommendation from them.”
Ashdown also credits high use to such things as Salt Lake City and Provo becoming “Google Fiber” cities, and to other cities that banded together to build UTOPIA (Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency) to spread service.
“I think the UTOPIA project is unique in the country in that cities decided to build that municipal network together, and then open it up for competition on it. That’s been very good for the consumers in those cities that are able to get it,” Ashdown said.
He added that Google Fiber coming to Salt Lake City and Provo has “not only been exciting for getting Google in here, but it also spurred competition with Comcast and Century Link to provide much higher bandwidth at lower prices.”
Another reason that Utah may rank so high in internet connections is that Utah has the nation’s youngest median age, and Census data show that younger people tend to be online more than older people.
The new Census data show that in 2015, 76.7 percent of U.S. households subscribed to broadband internet service. In Utah, that number was 83.1 percent — surpassed only by New Hampshire (84.5 percent) and Washington (83.9 percent).
At the other end of the spectrum, states with the lowest percentages were Mississippi, 61 percent; Arkansas, 64.2 percent; and New Mexico, 67.2 percent.
Nationally, 78 percent of households had a desktop or laptop to access the internet, and 75 percent had a handheld computer such as a smartphone or other handheld wireless computer. Data show that in lower-income households, internet access often was only by a smartphone or other wireless device.
Overall, 62 percent of American households had “high connectivity,” meaning they had three key computer and internet items: a desktop or laptop, a handheld computer or smartphone, and a broadband internet subscription.
Connectivity was highest among households where the occupant was younger than 65 or had a household income of $150,000 or more.