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According to Speedtest.net, Americans are currently getting around 135 Mbps of download speed and 52 Mbps of upload speed through their fixed broadband connections — good for eighth in the world and around double the global average. Considering “fast internet speeds” are generally defined as any download speed above 100 Mbps, Americans are doing quite well by this measure.
That’s an incredible improvement from just six years ago, when the U.S. had an average download speed of just 31 Mbps. In 2013, America ranked 25th of 39 nations for broadband speed.
Granted, the rest of the world improved too — Speedtest.net estimates that global speeds went up 37.4% between 2017 and 2019 alone — but the U.S. has outpaced even that rapid progress. Much of that improvement was a result of faster fiber-optic connections being installed around the country. Around 33% of Americans currently have access to fiber internet, with most offering incredibly fast speeds up to 1,000 Mbps.
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Americans may be doing well on average, but it’s not spread equally
That said, those with access to fiber internet are largely concentrated around cities, and they likely skew U.S. broadband averages significantly. In other words, while we’ve jumped from No. 25 globally to our current No. 8 spot, not everyone in the country is benefitting from that improvement in the same way.
We still have a staggering internet divide in the U.S. While some people are getting 1,000 Mbps download speed — enough bandwidth to stream 4K video on 40 TVs at the same time — others are struggling just to check their emails.
Microsoft recently analyzed the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) broadband data in the U.S. and found that 157.3 million people — nearly half of the U.S. population — aren’t using the internet at minimum broadband speeds, which the FCC considers 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. For context, that’s around what the average house in Uzbekistan gets.
Almost all of these people live in rural areas. According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, 26.4% of rural residents and 32.1% of people living on tribal lands did not have access to minimum broadband speeds (25 Mbps), compared to only 1.7% in urban areas.
As FCC Chairman Ajit Pai put it: “If you live in rural America, there’s a better than a 1-in-4 chance that you lack access to fixed high-speed broadband at home, compared to a 1-in-50 probability in our cities.”
Why is America behind seven other countries?
Despite consistently climbing the rankings over the past decade, America still ranks well behind several other countries. Singapore has by far the fastest average speeds in the world, with 202 Mbps, followed by Hong Kong at 170 Mbps. So what is Singapore doing that we’re not?
In short, they just have a lot less ground to cover. Singapore is an island of 278.6 square miles — about half the size of Los Angeles. In fact, the average landmass of the seven countries ahead of the U.S. in internet speed is around 81K; America’s is 3.8 million. As a center of finance in Asia, Singapore’s economy is also highly dependent on a high-functioning digital infrastructure.
Americans get fast internet, but we pay more for it
A recent Wall Street Journal analysis of more than 3,300 internet bills from all 50 states found that customers in the U.S. are paying a median of $66/mo. for standalone internet service, including equipment rental fees and discounts. If you bundle with TV service, that number goes up to $143/mo. for the entire bill. The analysis determined the median download speed to be 100 Mbps — slightly slower than Speedtest.net’s average speed of 135 Mbps.
Even though we get fast broadband speeds on average, that’s a lot to pay. According to the FCC’s most recent International Broadband Report, the U.S. came in at No. 21 of 26 countries on the “Fixed Hedonic Price Index” — which adjusts for “cost, demographic and quality differences across the countries.”
Of course, the U.S. is more spread out geographically than most of the countries on the list, so costs for delivering broadband will necessarily be higher. But some heavy internet users might actually be better off here than anywhere else.
“For so-called bandwidth hogs who stream lots and lots of video, the U.S. offers some of the lowest cost per megabit transmission speed and megabyte data delivered,” Penn State telecommunications professor Rob Frieden told Politifact. That’s one way to tilt the price-value ratio in your favor — just start streaming more Netflix.
The bottom line
The U.S. certainly still has a lot of issues to work out with its broadband infrastructure — the rural internet divide chief among them — but the latest numbers are still encouraging. An average speed of 135 Mbps would be plenty for all but the highest usage homes. The problem is just making sure everyone can access speeds that high.
Still, no other country with America’s landmass can boast such high speeds. Canada is the closest comparison, and it doesn’t show up until No. 15 with download speeds around 125 Mbps.
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Written by:Joe Supan
Senior Writer, Wireless & Streaming Content
Joe oversees all things wireless and streaming for Allconnect. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users navigate these complex spaces. These in… Read more
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