Even in the face of persistent challenges, the nation’s independent broadband providers continue to lead in driving deployment of higher Internet speeds and greater adoption of broadband services in rural communities, according to a new survey by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

The “NTCA 2018 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report” found that NTCA members continue to take substantial steps to replace aging copper networks with fiber connectivity where possible.

Access to broadband services in rural North Carolina has been a persistent problem.

Broadband speeds made available by NTCA members have increased, with more than 70 percent of survey respondents’ customers having access to 25 Mbps or higher speeds.

The survey results demonstrate gains in rural adoption of better broadband services, with nearly 40 percent of respondents’ customers purchasing broadband at 25 Mbps or higher speeds—up from less than 24 percent in a similar 2016 survey.

Almost 16 percent of respondents’ customers now subscribe to services with speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.

Other noteworthy results of the survey include:

Despite their significant progress, the challenges of network deployment and ongoing operations in rural areas still hinder smaller carriers’ efforts to deliver higher-speed broadband to many rural residents and businesses in high-cost rural markets.

Regulatory and economic concerns were cited as primary challenges, with nearly 30 percent of survey respondents’ customers still lacking access to 25 Mbps broadband service.

NTCA members provide critically important, higher-capacity broadband service to nearly all anchor institutions in their communities, including schools, hospitals, and public libraries.

Video service is perceived as increasingly important to consumers, yet companies face significant barriers in offering it to their customers.

Nearly all respondents pointed to programming costs as a barrier in providing this service; similarly, those considering discontinuing video service attributed this decision to increased programming costs.

“Clearly NTCA members have made great strides in driving both deployment of scalable networks and stimulating adoption of broadband services in their communities,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield in a statement.

“In doing so, they have made significant contributions to the safety, health and well-being of their customers. Although much work remains to be done to advance and sustain broadband in rural America, NTCA members have yet again proven themselves to be leaders in rural broadband and trusted, committed providers for their communities.”