Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DSL Speed Test: Why Is Theirs Faster?

Bits readers have a serious case of broadband envy. I’ve been writing about the debate about how the government might encourage more high-speed Internet use and you’ve complained loudly that people in other countries have faster, cheaper, more widely available broadband service. Even customer service representatives of Internet service providers overseas are nicer too.

I don’t know about manners, but it’s easy to find examples that American’s broadband is second-rate:

In Japan, broadband service running at 150 megabits per second (Mbps) costs $60 a month. The fastest service available now in the United States is 50 Mbps at a price of $90 to $150 a month.

In London, $9 a month buys 8 Mbps service. In New York, broadband starts at $20 per month, for 1 Mbps.

In Iceland, 83 percent of the households are connected to broadband. In the United States, the adoption rate is 59 percent.

There’s more than just envy at stake here. President Obama campaigned on a promise of fast broadband service for all. On the White House Web site, he writes “America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access.” And the recent stimulus bill requires the Federal Communications Commission to create a national broadband plan in order to make high-speed Internet service both more available and more affordable.

I’ve spent the last week trolling through reports and talking to people who study broadband deployment around the world to see what explains the faster and cheaper service in many countries. We’ll start with where the United States isn’t doing quite so badly: the basic speed of broadband service.

If you take out the countries that have made significant investment in fiber optic networks — Japan, Korea and Sweden — the United States is in the middle of the pack when it comes to network speed.

The large European countries have average download speeds ranging from 3.2 Mbps in Italy to 6.4 Mbps in Germany, according to a study by the Saïd Business School at Oxford. The United States has an average speed of 5.2 Mbps. The study looked at speeds in May 2008, as measured by consumers checking their connections on a Web site called

Japan was the standout, with an average speed of 16.7 Mbps. Sweden was 8.8 Mbps. And Korea averaged 7.2 Mbps.


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