The Fastest and Slowest Internet in the US

The web site HighSpeedInternet.com has calculated and ranked the average Internet speeds by state. The site offers a speed test and then connects visitors to the web pages for the various ISPs in each zip code in the country. I have to imagine the site makes a commission for broadband customers that subscribe through their links.

Not surprisingly, the east coast states with Verizon FiOS ranked at the top of the list for Internet speeds since many customers in those states have the choice between a fiber network and a big cable company network.

For example, Maryland was top on the list with an average speed of 65 Mbps, as measured by the site’s speed tests. This was followed by New Jersey at 59.6 Mbps, Delaware at 59.1 Mbps, Rhode Island at 56.8 Mbps and Virginia at 56 Mbps.

Even though they are at the top of the list, Maryland is like most states and there are still rural areas of the state with slow or non-existent broadband. The average speed test results are the aggregation of all of the various kinds of broadband customers in the state:

  • Customers with fast Verizon FiOS products
  • Customers with fast broadband from Comcast, the largest ISP in the state
  • Customers that have elected slower, but less expensive DSL options
  • Rural customers with inferior broadband connections

Considering all of the types of customers in the state, an average speed test result of 65 Mbps is impressive. This means that a lot of households in the state have speeds of 65 Mbps or faster. That’s not a surprise considering that both Verizon FiOS and Comcast have base product speeds considerably faster than 65 Mbps. If I was a Maryland politician, I’d be more interested in the distribution curve making up this average. I’d want to know how many speed tests were done by households getting only a few Mbps speeds. I’d want to know how many gigabit homes were in the mix – gigabit is so much faster than the other broadband products that it pulls up the average speed.

I’d also be interested in speeds by zip code. I took a look at the FCC broadband data reported on the 477 forms just for the city of Baltimore and I see widely disparate neighborhoods in terms of broadband adoption. There are numerous neighborhoods just north of downtown Baltimore with broadband adoption rates as low as 30%, and numerous neighborhoods under 40%. Just south of downtown and in the northernmost extremes of the city, the broadband adoption rates are between 80% and 90%. I have to guess that the average broadband speeds are also quite different in these various neighborhoods.

I’ve always wondered about the accuracy of compiling the results of mass speed tests. Who takes these tests? Are people with broadband issues more likely to take the tests? I have a friend who has gigabit broadband and he tests his speed all of the time just to see that he’s still getting what’s he’s paying for (just FYI, he’s never measured a true gigabit, just readings in the high 900s Mbps). I take a speed test every time I read something about speeds. I took the speed test at this site from my office and got a download speed of 43 Mbps. My office happens to be in the most distant corner of the house from the incoming cable modem, and at the connection to the Charter modem we get 135 Mbps. My slower results on this test are due to WiFi and yet this website will log me as an underperforming Charter connection.

There were five states at the bottom of the ranking. Last was Alaska at 17 Mbps, Mississippi at 24.8 Mbps, Idaho at 25.3 Mbps, Montana at 25.7 Mbps and Maine at 26 Mbps. That’s five states where the average internet speed is at or below the FCC’s definition of broadband.

The speeds in Alaska are understandable due to the remoteness of many of the communities. There are still numerous towns and villages that receive Internet backhaul through satellite links. I recently read that the first fiber connection between the US mainland and Alaska is just now being built. That might help speeds some, but there is a long way to go to string fiber backhaul to the remote parts of the state.

Mostly what the bottom of the scale shows is that states that are both rural and somewhat poor end up at the bottom of the list. Interestingly, the states with the lowest household densities such as Wyoming and South Dakota are not in the bottom five due to the widespread presence of rural fiber built by small telcos.

What most matters about this kind of headline is that even in the states with fast broadband there are still plenty of customers with lousy broadband. I would hope that Maryland politicians don’t look at this headline and think that their job is done – by square miles of geography the majority of the state still lacks good broadband.

The FCC’s Latest Statistics on Internet Speeds

FCC_New_LogoThe FCC recently released their annual report that looks at the number of nationwide broadband customers and data speeds. As always, this is an interesting snapshot in time of where broadband is at in the US. The data is gathered from carriers on FCC Form 477 and captures connections that are at least 200 kbps in one direction, meaning it is leaving out dial-up and other extremely slow connections to the web. I would note that these numbers are self-reported by the carriers, meaning it represents the speeds that ISPs say they are delivering, which is not the same as what customers are actually receiving.

The statistics show that overall broadband connections continue to grow. Total landline connections grew from 97.8 M in 2014 to 102.2 M in 2015. Cellular data connection grew from 223.5 M to 253.0 M. Together that’s an annual growth rate of 11%, with cellular continuing to grow faster that landlines. The 102 M landline connections in 2015 includes 84 M residential and 18 M business connections.

The latest breakdown of download speeds delivered to households show that 4.9% have less than 3 Mbps, 15.4% have between 3-10 Mbps, 23.9% have between 10–25 Mbps, 39.9% have between 25-200 Mbps and 15.9% have over 100 Mbps. Again, these are carrier reported numbers which is most important at the lower end of the scale. My work in rural areas, for example, shows that a lot of households that are being sold 3 Mbps or 6 Mbps connections are often actually only getting slower speeds like 1 Mbps.

But the statistics show an increase of speeds over time. For example, the number of connections sold that are 100 Mbps or faster rose from 9.5 M in 2014 to 15.4 M. The number of connections between 25 Mbps and 100 Mbps grew from 34.0 M in 2014 to 39.3 M. And the slowest connections under 3 Mbps shrank from 8.1 M in 2014 to 5.8 M. The FCC bases nationwide performance on these numbers and they put out a proud press release when they estimated that more than 50% of households in the country had speeds greater than 25 Mbps, their definition of broadband.

The report also looks annually at the state of competition, which might be the most important statistic for households since we know that competition generally means lower prices. One interesting statistic is the number of census blocks that have 3 or more providers competing at various speeds. The statistics count all satellite providers as if they were one provider. The FCC shows that 78% of census blocks nationwide have at least three ISPs offering 3 Mbps. 66% of census blocks have 3 providers offering at least 10 Mbps. But the numbers drop drastically when looking at higher speeds and only 4% of census blocks have 3 or more providers offering 25 Mbps  or faster. Less than 1% of census blocks have three providers offering 100 Mbps or higher – and that has to be a handful of places like Kansas City or Austin TX.

At the other end of the scale, 29% of all census blocks don’t have any ISPs offering 25 Mbps or faster. And a gigantic 53% of all census blocks have no ISP offering 100 Mbps or faster.

The report also looks at landline broadband by technology. The number of households by technology are: 59.7 M on cable modem, 28.2 M on DSL, 10.5 M on fiber, 2.1 M on satellite and 1.0 M on fixed wireless. The fiber number is up 1.3 M since 2014. I was surprised by the DSL number since the FCC shows DSL connections dropping only 400,000 since 2014. Other industry sources show DSL is bleeding customers.

The final FCC statistic tracked is the number of ISPs offering the various technologies. There are 958 providers of DSL, 390 cable companies, 984 FTTP providers, 969 fixed wireless providers, 11 satellite providers, and 97 cellular companies. It should be noted that some companies operate more than one kind of network.

How We Love to Hate the Large ISPs

Poor-customer-satisfaction-272x300I have read a number of articles lately that reminded me of the love / hate relationship that Americans generally have with the large ISPs. Here is a summary of some of these stories.

Americans Pay More for Less Bandwidth. The Open Technology Institute at the New American Foundation recently released its third annual report where it compared US broadband speeds and prices in 24 US cities and in cities around the world. This report shows that speeds have increased in US cities since 2012, but on a cost per megabit delivered most US cities still fall to the bottom of the comparative list. The broadband winner is Seoul where a gigabit of data costs $30 per month followed by Hong Kong and Tokyo at $37 and $39. Contrast this to Verizon FiOS where 500 Mbps costs $300. Very few places in the US outside of Google, some municipalities and some Independent telcos offer an affordable gigabit service.

One of the more interesting comparisons made by the report is comparing the cost for buying 25 Mbps connectivity. The most affordable place for this was London at $24 followed Seoul, Paris, Tokyo, Copenhagen and Prague. The cheapest US City is Kansas City at $41, due to competition with Google. The US cities with Verizon FioS came in around $50. The lowest price in a US City not served by a fiber provider is San Francisco at $58 per month. Most US cities are over well over $60. Not surprisingly, the larger municipal networks like Chattanooga and Lafayette LA are at the head of the US affordability list after Google. The US is also the only country that charges monthly fees for a cable modem and the cable modem customer spends over $100 per year for the cable modem.

The report went on to note that 75% of US customers who can get 25 Mbps service have only one service option. The report concluded that around the world that one thing that holds down landline data prices is significant competition with cellular data. For example, in much of the rest of the world the monthly data caps on cellular phone plans are up to 40 times higher than they are in the US. But our low data caps and the relatively slow speeds of our cellular data networks means that cellular is not a good substitute here for a landline connection.

Customers Continue to Rate Large ISPs Poorly. The results of the annual American Customer Service Satisfaction Survey was recently released and showed that satisfaction with large ISPs is still quite low and is getting worse. This is an annual poll of 70,000 consumers and asks about a wide swath of large businesses. The composite satisfaction with all large ISPs was at 63 on a scale of 100, down from 65 a year ago, and which puts the ISPs at the bottom of the list of all industries. Within those numbers, Verizon FiOS held steady at a rating of 71. Time Warner did the worst dropping from a rating of 63 in 2013 down to 54 this year. Comcast was not far behind dropping from 62 to 57. Century link is the only ISP that improved slightly and went from 64 to 65. Both Cox and Charter dropped 4 points in the last year.

Consumers felt slightly better about their cable TV service and that got a composite rating of 65 compared to the 63 for broadband, But that rating is down from a 68 a year ago.  The ratings were down for every major cable provider compared to 2013. The highest ratings for cable were 69 by DirectTV and AT&T U-verse, while the lowest rating was again Time Warner with a 56.

What is probably the most disheartening about these ratings is that they are dropping year over year. Consumers already rate ISPs and cable companies at the bottom of their satisfaction list across all industries. One would think that would prompt them to improve. And perhaps to some degree they are improving some since speeds are slowly getting faster. But overall satisfaction continues to drop. One might think that price has a lot to do with this, particularly for the cable TV business where there are hefty rate increases each year. But prices have also started to creep up for data and several of the major ISPs are now planning on raising data rates a little each year.

AT&T U-verse Told to Change Advertising. The national Advertising Division (NAD) told AT&T to modify the way they advertise  U-Verse data speeds. AT&T has widely advertised the product as offering up to 45 Mbps and NAB found that in many markets this speeds was either not available or not widely enough available to justify the claim. NAB is a division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus and monitors national advertising claims of all sorts. The NAD recommendations are not mandatory, but since big companies participate in the Better Business Bureau they generally take heed of NAD findings. NAD has made similar findings against CenturyLink in recent years.

I guess it’s really not surprising that customers rate the large ISPs so poorly when you consider some of their practices. Many of them use poorly trained contract installers who don’t put a good face on their company. Many of these companies are notorious for not showing up for scheduled appointments, which is something that a lot of consumers never get over. This year we heard several recordings from Comcast reps who would not let customers drop service. And there is the annual and persistent rate increases.