eWeek brings two pieces of sobering news on the broadband front to our attention this week: much slower median speeds than other advanced nations, and a big shortfall in new customers.
The US may think of itself as a broadband leader, but that's a perception that doesn't fit the facts, suggests a new report from the Communication Workers of America (link in PDF format). Their SpeedMatters.org website offers a free upload/download test, and the data from that test was used to compare US broadband speeds with typical speeds for other countries. According to SpeedMatters, the US is 15th in the world in broadband speed, with a median speed of 2.3Mbps, compared to world leader Japan at 63Mbps, South Korea at 49Mbps, Finland at 21Mbps, France at 17Mbps, and even Canada at 7.6Mbps. Median upload speed in the US is just 435Kbps (corrected 8-15-08).
Don't blame me, by the way. I use Insight's 10.0 (10Mbps) broadband service, and the SpeedMatters test clocked my download speed at 9347Kbps, and my upload speed at 952Kbps, both very close to the rated maximums. The problem is that 10Mbps or faster speeds (Insight also offers 20Mbps service at an extra charge) are not typical in today's marketplace.
When I was researching broadband speeds for my latest book, I was stunned to discover that the traditional "cable's faster than DSL" factoid is fast becoming an urban legend. I found a number of cable broadband service providers offering tiered service at speeds comparable to DSL. For example, cable broadband provider WoWWay! offers four service tiers that are the same as AT&T's DSL offerings: 768Kbps/1.5Mbps/3Mbps/6Mbps. Road Runner offers a "Lite" service that runs at just 768Kbps, but also offers 3Mbps, 7Mbps, and 22Mbps (peak) services.
Some cable providers do a better job at offering fast services, though: Charter's three tiers run at 5Mbps, 10Mbps, and 15Mbps, while Insight runs at 10Mbps and 20Mbps. However, the current US speed champ appears to be Comcast, whose wideband service runs at 100Mbps, compared to 16Mbps for its next-fastest service.
From this sampling of DSL and cable Internet providers, it's easy to see what the problem is: the pipes in the US, with rare exceptions, aren't wide enough to post a serious challenge to other countries. The CWA has a vested interest, sure enough, in promoting better broadband infrastructure (it's spelled "J-O-B-S"), but faster broadband is in everyone's best interests. Whether you live for online gaming or make a living by working online, faster is better.
Unfortunately, another major broadband study, this one from Strategy Analytics , found that major broadband providers in both cable and DSL saw big shortfalls in new customers this spring. With slow tiered service the standard in most areas, new customers (who bring money to help pay for service improvements) becoming hard to find, and a substantial minority of people who simply aren't interested in broadband at any price, where will the money come from to build a faster Internet? Give us your opinion.
Illustration courtesy of Speedmatters.org .