Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

If Speed Matters, Why Is American Broadband So Slow?

The Communications Workers of America have completed their latest survey of broadband connections in the U.S., and if the point wasn’t already well-established, then they’re here to remind you: Broadband connections in America are slow and service availability is lousy or non-existent in many areas, and that’s leaving a lot of people–millions actually–at a severe educational, economic and cultural disadvantage.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Half of all U.S. residential broadband connections fall below the minimum speed established by the Federal Communications Commission of four megabits per second down and one megabit up. That definition of what constitutes “broadband” is however all of six months old.
  • The median download speed was three megabits per second and 595 kilobits up, and these have only improved a little bit since the 2009 survey. At the rate the U.S. is going it will take 60 years to catch up with South Korea, where broadband network speeds are legendary, averaging 34 megabits per second.
  • Only one percent of broadband connections in the U.S. run at 50 megabits per second down and 20 up, meeting the FCC’s goal for the year 2015.
  • The report points out a few other findings from the FCC’s research: As many as 100 million people–roughly one in three–don’t have access to broadband at home, and of those, 24 million can’t get it if they want it, usually because they live on the wrong side of a seemingly arbitrary line on some map. Others say it’s too expensive or that they simply don’t know how to use it.

    The 68-page report (PDF) goes on to break down the broadband situation in each state and a few U.S. territories.

    The CWA released the report at a press conference in Washington, D.C., today, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was on hand to lend his support and talk about his plans to reform the Universal Service Fund so that besides funding telephone service in rural areas, which was the reason it was created, it can be used to help fund broadband deployments in markets where service is limited for one reason or another. He also talked about getting some of the hurdles out of the way of private companies, so that when they choose to build infrastructure they can move fast. Simply cutting red tape can reduce the deployment costs by 40 percent.

    Below is a grab of the CWA’s speed map of the U.S. (Click on it to zoom in.)

    Update: And here’s a video of today’s press conference at the National Press Club. Genachowski is the second speaker.