Broadband Speeds in the U.S. Increasing for Some

Carl Weinschenk
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Five Predictions for the Connected Enterprise in 2014

Yesterday, I posted a blog highlighting a few of the many broadband projects that are ongoing in rural areas. The implication of the post is that the projects are a small sampling of the good news that is happening more widely and on an ongoing basis.

Another piece of indirect evidence that these projects are ongoing is that broadband speeds, as measured by Akamai, showed a significant increase during the third quarter of last year. GigaOm reports that Akamai found that the average speed in the United States is 9.8 Megabits per second (Mbps), which is eighth best in the world. That speed is up 13 percent from the second quarter and 31 percent against the third quarter of 2012.

South Korea was in first place at a blazing 22.1 Mbps, which was an increase of 66 percent compared to its previous quarter.

It’s unclear how much rural U.S. service providers use Akamai’s content delivery network (CDN), which was the source of the data for the report. It is likely, however, that the two reflect a general increase in broadband speeds for providers of all sizes.  

Not all the increases are among the small fry, of course. Comcast, the poster child for the broadband behemoths, is also increasing its speeds. Multichannel News reports that the multiple service operator (MSO) is essentially doubling capacity for its Central Division, which covers 15 states and offers voice, video or data services to 19 million subscribers:

Under the new plan, Comcast will offer bundled customers the option to go with base packages that include a minimum of Comcast’s 50 Mbps (downstream) “Blast” high-speed Internet service, or its 105 Mbps “Extreme” service tier. Starting Tuesday (January 21), Comcast is promoting the updated, standardized speed options to new bundled customers in the Central Division, and expects to extend them to existing double- and triple-play customers in the division over the next several weeks, an MSO spokesman said.

Another of the signs of the times is that the government is looking to increase speeds to schools significantly. Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, speaking last Friday at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, laid out high hopes for the future. After speaking in general terms about schools and speed connectivity, she laid out a specific agenda:

Let me put some numbers on that and tell you what I mean by really high-speed broadband. In the near term, we want to have 100 Megabits per 1000 students to all of our schools. By the end of the decade, we want to have 1 Gigabit per 1000 students to all of our schools.

The progress is not uniform, however. The Boston Globe suggests that the east coast has very fast services and that a number of cities nationwide are among the tops in the world. Large sectors of the nation, however, continue to struggle:

The United States, the country that invented the Internet, is falling dangerously behind in offering high-speed, affordable broadband service to businesses and consumers, according to technology experts and an array of recent studies.

The seeming contradictions, an overall average increase but losses compared to other nations, is fairly easy to explain. The United States is big, with huge swatches of territory that have little population. This means that the aggregate numbers will suffer compared to nations such as South Korea and Japan, which are technically savvy and far more densely populated. The general sense is that the U.S. is moving in the right direction, though perhaps not as quickly as other nations.

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