How fast is internet in the U.S.?

Robin Layton

Jun 13, 2024 — 7 min read

The government set the minimum speed for 'fast' internet at 100 Mbps. Allconnect examines if that's fast enough and how the U.S. compares worldwide.

Family using the internet with laptops, phones and tablets.

A contractor working on my porch asked me what kind of internet I had that allowed me to work from home. I shared that we had cable and an 800 Mbps plan, which enabled my family to keep multiple computers, TVs, phones and tablets running at the same time. Tom was shocked, saying he lived only about 10 miles from us and could only get DSL for his house, which gave him about 30 to 40 Mbps “on a good day.” His family struggled with online homework, medical appointments, invoicing for his business and other necessary tasks. 

“The kids go to the library and use that internet for homework,” Tom told me. We live in a rural West Virginia area, but only a few miles from a larger town with a private university and a strong infrastructure, so I took my good internet connection for granted. 

Tom and I swapped monthly costs and realized he paid exactly the same amount of money I did but for much worse connection speed and type.

This is a perfect example of the digital divide, which the U.S. government has pledged to close on state and federal levels. The divide is the gap between those who have affordable and accessible internet and those who do not. 

With federal funds and a new “high-speed” internet standard set at 100 Mbps, states and internet service providers (ISPs) are ready to create or expand the necessary infrastructure. 

What is broadband?

The world of internet providers, speeds, and terms like broadband and Wi-Fi can get very confusing. 

The term “broadband” is often used synonymously with the internet, but it’s actually defined as an internet connection that always stays on. It includes all types of internet connections, such as cable, DSL, fiber, fixed wireless (5G Home) and satellite

The fastest internet connections may not always be found in a big city. Some rural U.S. areas are seeing gig speeds depending on infrastructure and deployment of expansion funds.

Like most utilities, broadband speeds are usually regulated by a country’s government. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May 2024 increased the minimum speed to be defined as broadband to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload to close the divide between those who have access to and can afford internet versus those without access or ability to afford it. Previously, it was 25/3 Mbps and considered inadequate for the tasks most people used the internet for.

Across the world, government agencies have set standards and made similar plans for closing their own country’s digital divide. 

U.S. broadband speeds

In 1996, U.S. broadband was defined as any faster internet connection than dial-up, which was around 40–50 Kbps, but as internet use grows, so does the threshold for broadband speed. 

Kbps vs. Mbps

Kbps: Kilobits per second, up to 1000 bits per second.

Mbps: Megabits per second, up to 1 million bits per second. 

U.S. internet speeds have slowly increased, from just over 30 Mbps in 2017 to 150 Mbps in 2024. The progression was fairly steady until 2020 when the worldwide pandemic led to a 66% increase, and 2022, when there was a 30% jump. 

We are using more data than ever before, up to a half-terabyte (650 Mbps) a month. 

U.S. broadband speed defined over time

  • Pre-2015: 4 Mbps download speed/1 Mbps upload speed
  • 2015: 25 Mbps download speed/3 Mbps upload speed
  • 2024: 100 Mbps download speed/20 Mbps upload speed

How the FCC determines the broadband speed standard

When deciding what type of internet and speed qualifies as broadband, the FCC looks at several factors: 

  • Speed requirements: The FCC sets specific speed thresholds like the 100/20 Mbps update to ensure broadband connections can support online activities and these requirements are regularly reviewed.
  • Latency and congestion: Low latency ensures minimal delay in data transmission, while congestion management ensures consistent performance during peak usage times.
  • Scalability: Internet service providers must expand their networks and increase capacity to accommodate growing customer needs.
  • Availability and access: Availability and access to broadband services vary greatly across different geographic regions. The FCC’s National Broadband Map keeps track of serviceability and internet type across the country.

Challenges of broadband standards

Setting universal broadband standards comes with several hurdles:

  • Rural connectivity: Providing broadband access in rural areas can be financially challenging due to the sparse population density. 
  • Technological advancements: Broadband standards must be adapted as technology advances and different types of internet connections emerge. 

It would be prudent for the FCC to evaluate broadband speed standards on a more frequent basis to ensure that a new digital divide doesn’t emerge.

Matthew Davis

Does the new U.S. broadband standard of 100 Mbps go far enough?

When the FCC set broadband speed at 100/20 Mbps, it also suggested 1 Gbps/500 Mbps as a long-term goal. The current administration is aiming for Internet for All by 2030.

“The 100/20 downstream/upstream standard is a significant step forward in terms of practical broadband speeds,” said broadband expert Matthew Davis of Independence Research.  

Internet speed access of U.S. households

“Most consumer broadband consumption is still downstream usage – primarily video streaming – and 100 Mbps will easily do the job in most use cases. 20 Mbps upstream is adequate, but more questionable with the surge in real-time video communication like Teams or Zoom that require a greater two-way capability.”

While 100 Mbps currently supports most activities like streaming, gaming or telecommuting, our reliance on smart devices is growing, along with the need for greater speed. Game designs are becoming more sophisticated, and more home functions are being introduced that can be controlled via an online app.

“We are rapidly moving into a Gig world and new innovations like virtual reality or the metaverse may create a requirement for significantly more broadband speeds than the new standard recommends,” said Davis.  

“With government funding through the BEAD program poised to impact the availability of fiber in the U.S., consumer expectations for more speed both upstream and downstream will likely increase as bandwidth capacity grows and symmetrical Gig+ offerings start to proliferate the U.S. market. It would be prudent for the FCC to evaluate broadband speed standards on a more frequent basis to ensure that a new digital divide doesn’t emerge and those with 100/20 speeds become the new broadband ‘have-nots.’”

The average speed in the US during Q4 2023 to Q1 2024:

U.S. broadband vs. global speeds

Broadband definitions and internet speeds vary worldwide, as do the types of internet connections that are available. The U.S. ranks 6th in the world for top internet speeds. Most developed countries recognize a similar fast internet speed starting around 100 Mbps. 

  • Japan: The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) defines broadband as having a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps and an upload speed of 30 Mbps.
  • Germany: The Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) defines broadband as having a minimum download speed of 50 Mbps.
  • Singapore: The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) defines broadband as having a minimum download speed of 50 Mbps for residential areas and 500 Mbps for non-residential area.
  • Sweden: The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) defines broadband as having a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps and an upload speed of 10 Mbps.
  • New Zealand: The New Zealand Commerce Commission defines broadband as a minimum download speed of 20 Mbps and an upload speed of 1 Mbps.
  • United Kingdom: The government set 10 Mbps as the “decent” broadband connection and the minimum speed needed to meet an average household’s digital needs in March 2018. 

The European Union has declared 2030 the Digital Decade to make gigabit connectivity available for all citizens and businesses. Those countries include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The United Kingdom approaches the need for more speed a bit differently: Every home and business in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) has the legal right to request a “decent,” affordable broadband connection. The definition of decent and affordable is at least 10 Mbps and at or under £56.20 per month ($72.72/mo. U.S.). 

Handled by Ofcom, the regulator for communications services in the UK, like the FCC in the U.S., an infrastructure is set up for consumers to request a decent broadband speed and avenues for resolution if the request is denied. 

Even with regulations on internet speed and avenues to increase your speed, the biggest challenges for most developed countries in closing the divide are fiber expansion cost and rural typography. 

Personal internet speed experiences 

I asked some friends from the U.S., Canada and Europe to take Allconnect’s speed test the same day. None are heavy gamers, but most do some work from home, so the majority functioned fine with about 100 Mbps on cable and DSL connections. With one exception in the Czech Republic, the speeds were comparable across the countries and states. 

They were all testing speeds on a wireless connection, which is often less than if an Ethernet cable was used:

In Europe and Canada

  • Joost, Belgium: 107 Mbps on a DSL connection, which gives him ample bandwidth for streaming.
  • Liza, Czech Republic: 248 Mbps on a fiber connection. Liza noted they pay extra for that level of speed to work from home, stream or game.
  • Allie, Czech Republic: 15 to 70 Mbps on a cable connection, depending on the time of day. The speed works for one person streaming or gaming in the evening.
  • Lori, Canada: 191/189 Mbps with fiber powers her five-person smart household

In the U.S. (all parties working from home and/or streaming)

  • Karon, Maryland: 91/100 Mbps fiber
  • Laura, Arizona: 91/20 Mbps with cable
  • Carol, Arizona: 104/4 Mbps with cable
  • Chuck, West Virginia: 410/34 on cable
  • Chandra, Oklahoma: 137/14 with cable
  • Judy, Florida: 381/22 with cable

Top 5 international speeds

The future of internet speed

The FCC plays a critical role in defining broadband internet and ensuring its accessibility and quality across the United States, like other governing agencies in various countries. Speeds near 100 Mbps seem to be sufficient for most online tasks but not for large smart homes or heavy gamers.

By establishing specific speed thresholds, considering factors like latency and scalability, and addressing challenges such as rural connectivity, governments are striving to ensure that broadband services meet the evolving needs of consumers and businesses alike. Continual monitoring and adaptation are essential to keep pace with technological advancements and bridge the digital divide for all.

Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. She built her internet industry expertise writing and editing for four years on the site, as well as on Allconnect’s sister site MYMOVE.com. … Read more