U.S. Internet Speeds Are Getting Better, But Still Lag Behind Global Elite

Internet company Akamai keeps its pulse on the state of broadband at home and worldwide, and they update their state of the Internet reports every quarter. The latest report has great news for Americans in a handful of states… but it also shows how far, still, the nation has to go on broadband infrastructure before catching up to our international peers.

Akamai’s most recent State of the Internet Report (PDF) covers the third quarter of 2014. Like the Q2 report, it shows significant progress in the download speeds U.S. internet users can get.

Although the effects are far from evenly distributed, the good news is that nearly everyone is seeing at least some improvement. Only one state out of 51 (the report includes D.C.) saw a decrease in average speed quarter-over-quarter — but even there, in Virginia, the difference was just 0.6%.

Akamai's top ten states for internet connection speeds, as of Q3 2014.

Akamai’s top ten states for internet connection speeds, as of Q3 2014.

The entire report is filled with good news for Delaware: the first state clocks in with both the highest average and highest peak connection speeds in the nation at 17.4 Mbps and 75.7 Mbps respectively. After that, the two top ten lists feature mostly the same players but in different places.

On the other end of the scale, Alaskans face the lowest average connection speed (7.8 Mbps) and residents of Arkansas see the slowest peak speed (33.1 Mbps).

Not only does the first state clock in with the highest average and peak connection speeds in the nation, but also Delaware residents are the most likely in the nation to be connecting at a speed greater than 10 Mbps, the threshold Akamai calls “high broadband.” 69% of Delaware connections exceed that threshold, and 96% of Delaware connections exceed the current (but soon changing) FCC broadband definition of 4 Mbps. Delaware also tops the list of states where connections hit or exceed 15 Mbps (the “4k readiness” baseline, as Akamai puts it), with 39% of connections hitting that goal.

In “high broadband” and “4k readiness” terms, Delaware is at the top of some very short lists. The Akamai report identifies only seven states where half or more of connections hit even the 10 Mbps threshold. The others are Connecticut (64%), Rhode Island (58%), Massachusetts (56%), New Jersey (55%), and New Hampshire and Washington both at 50%. Connecticut, meanwhile, is the only state other than Delaware to cross the 30% adoption rate for 15 Mbps connections, at 31%.

West Virginia rounds out the bottom for the fourth consecutive quarter; only 57% of connections from that state hit or exceeded even the 4 Mbps threshold, Akamai reports.

Still, despite all of the quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year growth, internet connectivity in the U.S. remains nowhere near the top ten globally, and we are far from among the elite of the world.

U.S. internet speeds, both average and peak, are indeed the best in the Americas, Akamai finds. But we remain consistently outperformed by nations in other regions — not just South Korea, Singapore, and Japan, but also Ireland, Romania, Israel, and the Czech Republic, among many others.

Akamai's top 10 fastest average internet speeds in Q3 2014.

Akamai’s top 10 fastest average internet speeds in Q3 2014.

Of course, every time global internet statistics are released, we have to admit that it’s apples to elephants to compare internet connectivity in the United States to someplace compact like Singapore.

The U.S. is 3000 miles wide, with 315 million residents spread out across 50 differently-governed states. Deploying anything nationwide is a major and complicated undertaking, rife with challenges from geography to politics to cost. So national averages don’t necessarily mean as much here as the state-by-state portraits do.

The FCC has also noted, year over year, just how uneven broadband deployment is in the United States. The most recent draft findings show that our digital divides persist, especially between urban and rural consumers.

However, the FCC draft report also proposes changing the definition of “broadband” in the U.S. from that current 4 Mbps threshold to a 25 Mbps baseline. That would immediately make adoption statistics look far weaker, but also would (hopefully) spur the development of faster, better networks, both public and private.

In the meantime, Americans face a landscape essentially devoid of competition, dominated by a small handful of ever-larger players that don’t see a problem with the status quo. As long as that holds true and alternatives get squashed, improvement will keep being a long, uphill road.

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