- Hawaii has the fastest download speeds in the West
- Wyoming has the slowest average download and upload speeds in the country
- Hawaii has the cheapest average internet prices in the region at $22/mo. Alaska has the most expensive prices at $51/mo.
- San Francisco has the fastest speeds of any major city in the region
- Challenge-Brownsville, CA has the slowest average speeds in the region, While Bingham Canyon, UT has the fastest
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The American West is a land of extremes. It’s home to the highest and lowest points in North America, the country’s most remote backcountry and some of its biggest cities. Now we can add internet speed to that list of contrasts, too.
The West has both the states with the slowest average download speeds (Wyoming with 69 Mbps and Montana with 70 Mbps) and the states with some of the fastest. Its cities and the suburbs surrounding them enjoy some of the best connectivity in the country. At the same time, its remote rural towns have some of the worst. Even the price is sharply split: Hawaii’s internet plans start at just $22/mo. on average, while Alaska’s are $51/mo.
In the 13 states we looked at for our analysis of the West — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — populations are almost entirely clustered around the largest cities, with vast swaths of wilderness covering the rest of the region.
Those demographics produced similar trends to those we saw in our report on broadband speeds in the Northeast. But in the West, the gap in internet speeds is even more dramatic.
To put this into perspective, the city in the country’s Northeast region with the slowest average download speed is Wilkes-Barre, PA at 36 Mbps. This sharply contrasts the Western region with the slowest speed: Challenge-Brownsville, CA with only 5 Mbps.
Similarly, the Western city with the fastest average download speed is Bingham Canyon, UT at 241 Mbps but the Northeastern city with the fastest speed is Irvington, NJ at 312 Mbps. It’s safe to say that the West falls behind even in its wealthier areas that have more broadband access.
“The key difference between the Western and Eastern U.S. when it comes to internet access is population density,” said Jameson Zimmer, a principal analyst at ConnectCalifornia, a regional broadband consultancy in the region. “The Western U.S. just has way more rural population to contend with than the Eastern seaboard.” In many parts of the West, the only internet options are slower satellite and DSL connections.
For this report, the Allconnect team analyzed internal data from over 130,000 speed tests in the United States collected between June 2020 to March 2023. We also analyzed pricing information from the NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program for average internet pricing information. We relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau for information on population and from the Pew Research Center for internet statistics.
Suburbs have the fastest internet speeds in the West
Like the rest of the country, the fastest internet speeds in the West can usually be found just outside the more densely populated cities. In these areas, residents generally have several internet service providers to choose from, and they typically offer competitive speeds. Most importantly, they often have access to the fastest broadband connection types around: fiber.
“Suburbs and MDUs (multi-dwelling units) are considered the ‘gold standard’ for fiber build outs by private providers because they provide predictable subscription rates at lower install costs compared with rural or complex urban settings,” Zimmer told us. “Suburbs in particular tend to have higher median income than urban or rural locations, which sweetens the deal.”
Rural towns are stuck with fewer options and slower speeds
Like our regional report on the Northeast, rural areas with smaller populations dominated our bottom 10 lists for both upload and download speeds in the West. Cities like Lovelock, NV, and Challenge-Brownsville, CA, are located far outside major metro areas and don’t have the kind of population that draws investment from providers. In these places, residents typically rely on slow DSL or satellite service or forgo home internet altogether.
72% of rural Americans said they had a home broadband connection, compared to 77% of urban residents and 79% of suburban residents, according to a Pew Research Center report.
“California in particular has a ‘90/10’ problem,” said Zimmer. “90% of the population lives in 10% of the state, with huge swaths of rural areas that mostly get by on satellite or niche fixed wireless ISPs.” These connections usually average around 15 Mbps, but they’re often much slower in more remote areas, as the chart above shows.Learn more about the digital divide
San Francisco has the fastest download speeds of any major city in the region
The suburban areas we’ve mentioned have the fastest overall speeds in the region, but of all the major Western cities, San Francisco ranks first for average download speed.
With 177 Mbps of average download speed, the Golden Gate City tops other cities like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Right behind San Francisco is Spokane, WA with an average download speed of 144 Mbps.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Phoenix with the slowest average speed of 83 Mbps. Keep in mind that the top speed in the region falls within Bingham Canyon, UT, a small town outside of Salt Lake City, UT at 241 Mbps.
This presents a much different view on the digital divide, which is often painted as a strictly rural problem. While access is still a major problem in many rural parts of the country — more on that below — urban residents are often saddled with few options, low speeds and high prices, too.
According to research by John Horrigan, a Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, 20.4 million households in the U.S. don’t have home internet. 15.9 million of them live in urban areas and 4.5 million live in rural areas. In cities, internet service is almost always available, but it’s often too expensive for many people.
Wyoming ranks last in country for speed
Wyoming ranks dead last not only in the Western region, but also in the entire country for speed.
With 69 Mbps (U.S. average) download speed, Wyoming falls far behind other states throughout the U.S. This is because of Wyoming’s vast rural areas where providers don’t want to build out broadband infrastructure – and for this reason, the internet is also very expensive for Wyoming residents.
Hawaii ranks first for speed in region
With 126 Mbps of average download speed, Hawaii has the fastest speeds in the West. Hawaii also ranks ninth overall for average speed. Every state in front of it is in the Northeast region.
Honolulu also ranks high for speed with 126 Mbps. Out of the major western cities we’ve analyzed, Honolulu ranks fourth for speed behind Fresno, Spokane and San Francisco.
Price varies widely by state
The price of internet in the West is as varied as speed. Hawaii residents enjoy the cheapest internet in the country, with an average starting price of just $21.84/mo. On the other end, Alaska has the most expensive internet costs, with plans starting at $51.19/mo. on average. In the middle are California,New Mexico and Nevada which fall right between $43/mo. and $46/mo.
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Community solutions and alternatives
With broadband internet on the expensive side in many areas of the West, local communities, the federal government and internet providers have developed several solutions to help get more people connected without breaking the bank.
“Some of the largest municipal broadband projects in the U.S. are in the western region,” Zimmer said. Think of these projects like your electric or water utilities. Municipal broadband networks are run directly by local governments to provide broadband where private companies have fallen short.
Unfortunately, many states have restrictions in place that make setting up these community networks almost impossible. In the West, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming and Montana all have restrictions against establishing municipal broadband.
Wireless mesh networks
Some towns have turned to community Wi-Fi mesh systems, which allow people to share access to the internet. In San Rafael, CA, the nonprofit Canal Alliance has worked with the local city, county and school boards to build a large-scale free public Wi-Fi network to keep people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Communities that are predominantly low-income immigrants tend to have low home internet access,” said Zimmer. “The language barrier can create an issue on top of cost and access when it comes to taking advantage of traditional low-income access programs for these communities, especially for those who are undocumented.”
While government programs can be challenging to navigate, there are several resources available for low-income internet options. Government programs like Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit can cut up to $9.25 and $75 off your monthly bill, respectively. Additionally, a number of internet service providers now have their own low-income assistance programs that offer affordable internet access.
As efforts to bridge the digital divide continue, analyzing regional, state and city internet speeds has never been more important. In the past, drastic inaccuracies in broadband reporting have affected broadband infrastructure funding, resulting in many areas being overlooked for affordable and reliable internet options. Places like Wyoming, which have the slowest speeds in the region and the country, are the areas that need broadband options the most.Read more to find out what your state is doing to bridge the digital divide.
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Written by:Camryn Smith
Cammy is a writer with Allconnect, growing her broadband industry knowledge for over a year on the internet marketplace. Her expertise lies in home internet and broadband service with a focus on providers, plans… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content