The United States is home to some of the biggest, most influential tech companies in the world. Homegrown giants like Apple
(NASDAQ:GOOG), and Microsoft
(NASDAQ:MSFT) have revolutionized personal computing and mobile technology across the globe, making America not only a leader, but also a forerunner in advancing the way in which we all connect and communicate online.
But you wouldn't know it by looking at how shamefully slow our Internet speeds are.
According to a new study
by Speedtest.net, the US ranks an embarrassing 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds. At 20.77 megabits per second (Mbps), America falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, and Uruguay. And considering the average download speed across the globe is 16.20 Mbps, we are only a handful of spots away from ranking below average.
Upload speeds are even more humiliating. Globally, we rank 42nd with an average upload speed of 6.31 Mbps, behind Lesotho, Belarus, Slovenia, and other countries you only hear mentioned on Jeopardy
In terms of upload speeds, we are nearly one megabit below the global average.
And just in case you weren't thinking about grabbing a pitchfork and marching toward the offices of Time Warner Cable
(NASDAQ:CHTR), and Comcast
(NASDAQ:CMCSA), Hong Kong -- the worldwide leader in both download and upload speeds -- averages 71.03 Mbps down, 58.74 up. That's roughly 3.5 times faster than our download speeds and over nine times faster than our uploads.
Just think about that the next time you can't get YouTube to stop buffering.
Despite President Obama's lofty plan to increase Internet speeds across the country and link 99% of American students to high-speed Wi-Fi in five years, our connections remain as sluggish and exorbitantly priced as ever.
In New York City, Verizon
(NYSE:VZ) FIOS offers a "triple-play" package with bundled Internet speeds of 15 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up for a ridiculous $70 a month. Comparatively, in South Korea, you can get speeds of 100 Mbps for both uploads and downloads -- as well as phone and TV access -- for roughly $35 a month.
Invariably, the multibillion dollar telecoms always blame America's land area as a deterrent for high-speed access. The way these companies put it, they couldn't possibly provide gigabit connections for everyone -- let alone improve their existing infrastructures so they aren't "forced" to implement data caps.
But subscribers need only look at the number of choices they have in cable providers in their area to realize the actual reason why we rank 31st: a total lack of competition.
Susan Crawford, a tech analyst and professor at Cardozo Law School in New York City, believes Internet access should be considered a public utility, similar to gas and electricity -- with all the variety and choices therein. Crawford sees a connection to the web as essential as heat and water to a home.
However, in her book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Gilded Age
, Crawford argues that the lack of choice in Web and cable providers creates a broadband market dominated by high prices and infrastructures that are seldomly improved, if ever.
"In Seoul, when you move into an apartment, you have a choice of three or four providers selling you symmetric fiber access for $30 per month, and installation happens in one day," Crawford said in an interview
. "That's unthinkable in the United States. And the idea that the country that invented the Internet can't get online is beyond my imagination."
Google has highlighted the woeful lack of competition in Web providers by offering up affordable gigabit connections in Kansas City and Austin. Although it's not offering not the rock-bottom prices you'd find in Seoul, Google grabbed the fretful attention of Time Warner Cable in Kansas City, which literally had Time Warner knocking on customers' doors begging them not to switch.
Unfortunately, it's unlikely the majority of us will revel in the ultimate schadenfreude
that is a whimpering and desperate cable provider. Google has said it doesn't have immediate plans to roll out Google Fiber nationwide, and analysts say the cost isn't scalable or economically feasible. (See: Google Fiber Isn't the Telco-Dropping Sucker Punch We Need It to Be
So until the unthinkable happens and we all have a choice in which company supplies our Internet access, we'll keep paying through the nose for sluggish speeds and gritting our teeth with every study that ranks us below the Republic of Moldova.
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