Broadband in the United States


It isn’t new news that the United States lags in broadband adoption and download speeds.  The United States was one of the world leaders on broadband penetration in the 1990s, ranking fourth among other developed and developing nations.  But by 2006, the U.S.’s standing slipped drastically, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, indicating a lack of leadership on broadband development on a variety of levels.

Broadband, which is used by private citizens, local governments and the private sector every day, has the ability to transform the way we communicate, work, learn and socialize.  Many experts believe that much of the economic growth that has taken place in recent years has resulted from the use of broadband networks to improve productivity, provide better products and services and support innovation in all industries.  Better access also defines our competitive edge in the world by how many of our citizens have universal and affordable access to broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband access as speeds ranging from as low as 200 kilobits per second (kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, to 30 megabits per second (Mbps), or 30,000,000 bits per second.  However, a report of countries with the fastest internet speeds shows that the average speed in the U.S. is about 616 kbps; drastically slower than in South Korea, which topped the list at an average of 2,202 kbps.  For the end user like you and me, it means there is a greater chance that your favorite Netflix, Youtube, or Hulu video will crash while you are watching it here in this country.  But there are also broader, national concerns.  Without a higher standard for broadband connection and more investment in it, this country is at a disadvantage when it comes to competing internationally in the development and provision of services delivered over broadband networks.

One of the biggest challenges with broadband access is that it isn’t universally available to all parts of the country.  Providing service to less populated areas can prove to be unprofitable for the private sector, making access uneven and spotty.  “The big carriers have stopped investing in next-generation networks, leaving communities with few options but to consider their own investments.” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  The flipside to this argument, though, is that access doesn’t always imply usage.  There is a lack of understanding of how broadband access can truly impact a person’s day to day life, from something as small as paying a bill online versus mailing a check in to opening doors up for on-line education when local options are not available.

Revisit CitiesSpeak in the weeks to come for a more in-depth look at technology and broadband issues as they play out in fields of education, health care, transportation and finance.

2 comments on “Broadband in the United States”

  1. The United States is still very strong in broadband penetration world wide and still a leader in the world. Japan accounted for a whopping 61 of the world’s 100 best-connected cities in the first quarter of 2011. The most recent State of the Internet report from US firm Akamai Technologies, a provider of cloud optimisation services, has found (amongst other things) that the global average internet connection speed increased 23 per cent on an annual basis in the first quarter of 2011 to reach 2.1Mbps.

    The report’s findings were extracted from the globally-distributed Akamai Internet Platform, which is estimated to carry up to 30 per cent of worldwide web traffic on any given day.
    Over 584 million unique IP addresses from 237 countries/regions connected to the Akamai Internet Platform in the first quarter of this year, up 5.2 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2010 and up 20 per cent from one year previously.

    The top ten countries or regions accounted for almost 70 per cent of total IP addresses in the period – a similar proportion to the previous quarter. Italy joined the top ten with an 11 per cent sequential growth in the number of unique IP addresses in the first quarter of this year, while Canada fell off the list of the top ten.

    Asia dominated the list of the 100 cities worldwide featuring the fastest average connection speeds, with Japan providing 61 of them and South Korea accounting for five. The Norwegian city of Lyse was found to be the best-connected city in Europe, being ranked 33 out 100, whilst 18 US cities made the list, with the Californian city of Riverside ranking as the fastest US city (#39).

    The report also found a dwindling number of “narrowband” or low-speed internet connections being made to the Akamai platform, defined as connections being made at speeds slower than 256Kbps. Under this definition, the report showed global adoption of narrowband decreased by 15 per cent in the first quarter of this year and accounted for only 3.3 per cent of all connections.

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