U.S. Broadband “Speed” Remains Contradiction in Terms

IntroductionWASHINGTON: The tubes are still a bit clogged. Since 2007, the average download Internet speed in the United States has increased by only 1.6 megabits per second, from 3.5 Mbps in 2007 to 5.1 Mbps in 2009. That’s according to research from the Communications Workers of America. At the current rate of increase, the United States will catch up to Korea’s broadband speeds in 15 years. Korea’s average is nearly 21 Mbps, the fastest among countries measured by www.Speedtest.net. Japan is next, with nearly 16 Mbps. Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea beats the United States with 14.6 Mbps. Lithuania, Latvia, Moldovia, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Romania, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Germany have the top download speeds among countries. The United States ranks 27th. (Speedtest estimates the U.S. download rate at 6.8 Mbps.)

The CWA based its findings on data collected from more than 413,000 Internet users who took its online test between May 2008 and May 2009. The group said that 20 percent of participants had Internet speeds in the range of the three fastest countries. Another 18 percent didn’t meet the FCC’s definition of broadband as an “always-on Internet connection of at least 768 kbps downstream,” CWA said.

The data also showed lavational discrepancies. Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states were fastest. The top five states were Delaware (9.9 Mbps), Rhode Island (9.8 Mbps), New Jersey (8.9 Mbps), Massachusetts (8.6 Mbps) and New York (8.4 Mbps).

Southern and Western states were the most sluggish: Mississippi (3.7 Mbps), South Carolina (3.6 Mbps), Arkansas (3.1 Mbps), Idaho (2.6 Mbps) and Alaska (2.3 Mbps).

CWA said job creation increases with broadband speeds. For every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructures, an estimated 97,500 new jobs are created in the telecom, computer and IT sectors.

Larry Cohen, president of CWA, said universal, fast, affordable broadband is essential to the nation’s economic growth. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law earlier this year included $7.2 billion in broadband grants for underserved areas and instructed the FCC to form a national strategy.

CWA said a reasonable goal would be to build a network capable of handling 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps uploads speeds. Benchmarks would be established in successive years to accommodate multiple hi-def TV channels, and reach a global standard of 100 Mbps.
-- Deborah D. McAdams

(Snail image by BetsyMartian; abstract image by Spitfirelas)