Does the U.S. Have a Broadband Problem?

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

How to Ease the Pain of Slow Wi-Fi

News stories appear on a day-to-day basis describing higher broadband speed, usually gigabit-per-second (Gbps) services. That’s good news for consumers and businesses that now often have a choice of high-speed networks.

This trend is generating a renewed discussion of what is fast enough and how our networks fare compared to the rest of the developed world. Last week, Netflix released the rating of streaming speeds for July. (A side note is that an executive told me recently that the existence of the Netflix rankings themselves is a big deal, since it lets subscribers see how their provider measures up – or down.) Bob Cramer at Bidness Etc. wasn’t impressed:

The list highlights the shortcomings of US broadband speed in general. Of the 20 countries that Netflix evaluates, US is at number 13, with an average speed of 2.23 mbps. Netherlands took first place with an average speed of 3.61 mbps. Countries like Norway, Denmark, and Sweden had average speeds above 2 mbps. Costa Rica, with an average speed of 1.48 mbps, improved from the previous year.

Whether folks are disappointed or not at the top and average speeds may be an open question. There also may be a change at the lower end. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission proposed moving the minimum definition of broadband from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps. That is quite a change: The new level is 150 percent faster than the current definition. The Next Web says that the comment period ends on Sept. 4 and reply comments will be due on Sept. 19.

The Next Web also noted that the U.S. averaged 26.79 Mbps at that time, which placed it all the way down at 26th place in the NetIndex rankings. A more recent check of the NetIndex showed that the U.S. had moved up a notch to 25th place, just ahead of Estonia and, interestingly, barely behind Great Britain.

An interesting counterpoint to the common wisdom that the United States is lagging in broadband is offered by Roslyn Layton and Michael Horney, researchers at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University. The study doesn’t actually contradict that common wisdom, since it doesn’t deal with speeds. Instead, it dives into the cost of broadband and the economic value it creates. Using that metric, the researchers found that the U.S. is in far better position than many people assume:

They find that the United States is a global leader in broadband, as measured by the level of broadband-enabled economic activity, the number of Internet-based companies, the level of digital exports, and the level of Internet-enabled employment.

The reality probably is that the speed of U.S. broadband networks is a hindrance, but one that is showing signs of improving. The bottom line is that competition, including cable versus telco versus wireless versus Google and a myriad of other sources, works. That said, broadband providers in the U.S. still have a lot of work to do.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 20, 2014 12:44 PM crabbyolddad crabbyolddad  says:
I'm not in the world of IT, but I am in the world of consumption. My broadband problems are simple. We have extremely limited options. I own three pieces of property in varying locations. One in on Long Island within an incorporated village. There I can only get phone DSL or Cable. The phone company and the village itself are in a power play and there is no FiOS offered to me. The second is outside the village lines. There I can get FiOS or Cable. I opted for FiOS but am not happy with the service. The other property is in the state of Massachusetts. There I had a singular alternative beyond DSL and that was the local cable company. Since the usage is extremely limited right now I really can't compare it to anything. We all need the options of more than two providers so we might actually have competition instead of a monopolistic sort of "choice". Reply

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