U.S. Broadband Speeds Lag Far Behind Other Nations, And Are Improving Slowly

Broadband speeds in the United States have incrementally increased in the past couple of years and if things don't improve soon, it'll take 15 years for speeds here to catch up to where South Korea is today, according to a report released today.

The Speed Matters Test was administered by the Communications Workers of America and measured the speed of Internet users' connections. More than 413,00 folks took the online test between May 2008 and May 2009.

The results were sobering: Just 20 percent of those who took the test have Internet speeds that measure up to the top-ranked countries: South Korea, Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands. And fully 18 percent didn't even meet the FCC definition for basic
broadband, which is a consistent "always on" connection of at least 768 kilobits per second downstream.

Where you live in the U.S. made a big difference. Generally speaking, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states had good speeds. The five fastest states:
• Delaware — 9.9 mbps
• Rhode Island — 9.8 mbps
• New Jersey — 8.9 mbps
• Massachusetts — 8.6 mbps
• New York — 8.4 mbps

Live in the South or West? Not so much. The five slowest:
• Mississippi — 3.7 mbps
• South Carolina — 3.6 mbps
• Arkansas — 3.1 mbps
• Idaho — 2.6 mbps
• Alaska — 2.3 mbps

On average, the average Internet download speed in the U.S. increased just 1.6 megabits per second between 2007 (3.5 mpbs) and 2009 (5.1 mpbs). The average speed for uploads was even worse, barely increasing from 873 kbps to 1.1 mbps in that same time. At that rate, the report said, it would take 15 years before the U.S. had average download speeds in the range of South Korea's today.

It's worth noting the test, in its third year, is a project of Communication Workers of America, the labor union that represents employees in telecom fields, which includes telephone companies and Internet providers (which are often one and the same).

Still, 28 nations have faster average download speeds than the U.S., including:
• South Korea — 20.4 mbps
• Japan — 15.8 mbps
• Sweden — 12.8 mbps
• Netherlands — 11.0 mbps

The report noted the U.S. remained the only industrialized nation without a national policy to promote high-speed Internet access, though that's being worked on. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law this year did include $7.2 billion in grants for broadband installation in unserved and underserved areas of the nation, as well as a call for a national broadband plan by Spring 2010, which the Federal Communications Commission is currently working on.

Test Your Connection Speed Here

A speedy Internet is vital to the nation's economic growth, the report stated, as it defines what it's possible to do online. While there has been much talk about home-based medical monitoring (which would involve DIY medical record-keeping and, therefore, the need to be able to transfer large files to one's doctor), distance learning and more people being able to work from home either through telecommuting or a home-based business, slow Internet connections can hamper the practicality.

The entire report, including state-by-state breakdowns, can be downloaded here.