The comparison on broadband speeds between the United States and the rest of the world has consistently raised yellow flags for the red, white and blue. Generally, the U.S. finishes between 15 and 20, amidst countries with economies smaller than Apple’s.
To some extent, that’s always been a bit unfair. The United States is far bigger than all but a handful of nations, and thus has a tougher task than Rhode Island-sized nations. South Korea and Japan are consistent high fliers. Undoubtedly, both feature advanced telecommunications networks. But both also have far less area to cover. That excuse only goes so far, however: Speeds in U.S. cities also don’t light up the cyber speed gun.
A rare bit of good news on that front – indeed, the first news in memory that isn’t doom and gloom – is a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). The ComputerWorld story on the research suggests that it could do a lot to reset the thinking about where the nation stands:
The average network rates of all broadband connections in the U.S., residential and commercial, was 29.6M bps in the third quarter of 2012, with the country ranking eighth in the world, the ITIF said. More than 80% of U.S. residents have access to a cable broadband network that will eventually be capable of delivering 100M bps, raising concerns among European authorities that they are falling behind the U.S., said Richard Bennett, a co-author of the ITIF report.
That upbeat paragraph characterizes Computerworld’s take on the report. Unfortunately for service providers and their subscribers, the ITIF is far too upbeat, according to Ars Technica. The site paints an entirely different – and far more dismal – picture. Indeed, it presents what essentially is a point-by-point rebuttal.
It starts by pointing out that the report categorizes critics of American broadband policy as thinkers of a certain “ideology or economic doctrine.” That position seems to be a bit too much of a preemptive strike -- a rhetorical tool rather than a reasoned position. In other words, Ars Technica is suggesting that the ITIF is disqualifying criticism on an ad hominem basis. The piece goes on to argue against the report on 10 separate points.
The top few broadband providers indeed are offering pretty fast service. Netflix offers the monthly ratings based on the wide distribution it has. Last month, the top 10 broadband providers were Google Fiber (3.02 Megabits per second and only available in Kansas City); Cablevision’s Optimum service (2.24 Mbps); Suddenlink (2.08 Mbps); Charter (2.05 Mbps); Verizon FiOS (2.04 Mbps); Comcast (2.01 Mbps); Mediacom (2 Mbps); Time Warner Cable (1.99 Mbps); Cox (1.96 Mbps); and Bright House (1.90 Mbps).
Whether or not the ITIFs’ report is overly optimistic, there are good signs for domestic American broadband. The emergence of 4G LTE is a step forward in its own right. Ways of combining 4G with the growing stable of Wi-Fi standards will take pressure off, enabling more efficient off-loading from wired networks. On the business front, moves by Google Fiber in Kansas City (and soon beyond) and others – such as RST Fiber -- certainly are being followed by the incumbents. At some point, they will have to follow suit.