Why is this page text-only?

« Ways That NTIA/RUS Are Failing Stimulus Applicants | Main | Crafting A Comprehensive, Pragmatic Solution For Net Neutrality »

January 19, 2010 10:08 AM

Oh Great: American Broadband Getting SLOWER

While we often bemoan America's trailing position in the Great Bandwidth Race, I've just learned that not only are we not doing enough to catch up, we're actually slowing down, so says the latest State of the Internet report from Akamai (registration required to download).

American broadband, in terms of actual measured throughput, has decreased 2.4% from last year. Let that roll around in your head for a moment. Not only are we not going fast enough, we're going slower, we're getting less access to bandwidth, which is the lifeblood of the digital economy.

Now let me acknowledge that I think I know a reason for this, namely that more people than ever are accessing the Internet over mobile broadband connections. Given that mobile broadband often delivers less than 1Mbps, that puts downward pressure on our 3.9Mbps overall average.

But that's not an excuse I'm willing to accept. Other countries face the same challenge and yet are doing great. For example, all but three of the top ten countries in terms of average measured connection speed increased more than 10% year-over-year. So not only are they already significantly ahead of us, but they're increasing their lead as we slow down.

Imagine what the impact on our economy would be if instead of bandwidth these trends related to electricity. What would it mean if South Korea could run anything and everything that electricity enables, yet we could only use one appliance at a time? That's how important bandwidth is to the digital economy. Slower broadband means less bandwidth means what we can do with the Internet is constrained.

While some argue that we focus too much on bandwidth relative to the health of our broadband ecosystem, there's really no other number that's as important as it sets the limits of the capacity of our digital economy.

What makes this report even more significant is that it's not just an academic study of average advertised broadband speeds like most international rankings, but instead is based on the actual measured throughput of broadband around the world as measured by the world's largest content delivery network.

This report also features some other interesting tidbits, like the cities with the fastest average connection speeds. So who leads in the US? New York City? LA? Chicago? Nope, Sandy, Utah. In fact, no major metropolitan areas make the top ten for fastest cities in the US. This shows how smaller cities and towns are actually taking the bandwidth lead in America.

Another interesting, though potentially very troubling, revelation is that when you break down that year-over-year performance you see that half of US states have slowed down and half have increased. One thing this tells me is that perhaps it's not just a matter of slower wireless connections bringing down our average as some states are realizing double digit increases. But this then suggests is that networks in some states are failing.

In particular, look at Kentucky. They showed a 40% decrease in measured connection speeds just in the last quarter. Numbers like this have me worried that perhaps the century-old copper telephone wire is rapidly deteriorating and impacting DSL performance, or perhaps the cable providers' shared networks are overwhelmed with demand, or maybe wireless broadband is constrained by insufficient backhaul.

What makes Kentucky even more troubling is that they're supposed to be a leader in encouraging the deployment and adoption of broadband. What does that say about the health of the country if a state that's been seen as a leader is falling off this badly.

It makes me start to wonder if we might have a national emergency on our hands in states like Kentucky and others where broadband speeds are dropping. It leads me to think that perhaps we need a national commission to study these issues in depth and get to the bottom of what's happening as no state should be slowing down ten years into the 21st century.

But regardless of the details of why this is happening in any particular state, the overarching and overwhelming trend is that American broadband as a whole is much worse off than even I have been able to admit.

At a time when we should be hitting the afterburners and skyrocketing forward into a better tomorrow through bigger broadband, instead we're stuck, losing ground, and without any national consensus about how to move forward.

News like this raises the stakes for our upcoming national broadband plan. If we don't produce a unified framework for how to push the bandwidth ball forward in a much bigger way then we're going to continue this downward slide where before we know it we won't even be in the top 20.

And if we allow ourselves to fall further behind the bandwidth curve, then we might as well give up on being economic leaders in the 21st century because absolutely everything in the 21st century economy hinges on the ability to access affordable, high capacity bandwidth.

Del.icio.us Digg Yahoo! My Web Seed Newsvine reddit Technorati


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)