dispersion of Internet download speeds

Better Internet connectivity tends to be associated with more urban areas, areas with a greater concentration of high-tech industries and employees, and areas with wealthier, more educated populations. These factors, however, do not provide simple explanations for the actual geographic pattern of Internet download speeds from Akamai’s server network.  According to Akamai’s measurements (which include residential and business customers), the U.S. state with the highest average Internet download speed in the second quarter of 2009 was New Hampshire.  New Hampshire is noted for extensive forests, beautiful mountains, and ice fishing.  Illinois, in contrast, includes Chicago, the third-largest U.S. city and long a major hub of trading and banking.  In average Internet download speed, Illinois ranks 45 out of all 51 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.  Illinois’ average Internet download speed is only 46% that of New Hampshire.  While New York state is near the top of the average speed ranking and Alaska is at the bottom, unexpected relative positions, such as those of New Hampshire and Illinois, are prevalent in the ranking.

Unexpected dispersion in Internet download speeds appears in other Akamai data.  Looking at the distribution of download speeds across IP addresses within states, Washington state, which includes the headquarters of Microsoft and other high-tech companies, has among the lowest shares of IP addresses downloading at faster than 768 kbits/s.   That share for Washington is 77%. Nevada and Maine, in comparison, have 98% and 96%, respectively, of IP addresses downloading at faster than 768 kbits/s.[1] Looking at download speeds by cities, the city with the highest average download speed is Sandy City, Utah, and the next highest, Norman, Oklahoma.[2] Most persons have never heard of either.

Dispersion in Internet download speeds suggests that idiosyncratic organizational factors greatly affect Internet connectivity.[3] Technology for providing relatively high-speed Internet access is well understood and widely available. But Internet connectivity impinges on a vast array of organizational activities and interests.  That’s a real Internet congestion problem.

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Data: Internet download speeds across U.S. states and cities, as measured by Akamai (Excel version)


[1]  For the U.S. as a whole, the FCC’s OBI Technical Paper No. 4, Broadband Performance, shows that 88% of U.S. Internet users have actual download speeds greater than 1 Mbps.  See Exhibit 18, which is based on comScore data for the first half of 2009. Few comScore data are publicly available and little is know about the specifics of comScore’s measurements.  See Steve Bauer, David Clark, and William Lehr, “Understanding Broadband Speed Measurements,” pp. 16-7. In the UK in May, 2010, about 92% of residential broadband connections had actual average download speeds greater than 4 Mbps.  See UK Broadband Speeds 2010.  Estimate based on Figures 4.2 and 4.5.

[2]  The set of cities considered are the top-ten cities by IP address density in each state.  See Akamai, “Observed Average Internet Speeds for U.S. Network Connections,” p. 2.

[3] This dispersion does not particularly characterize the U.S.  Considering mobile broadband world-wide in 1Q 2010, Akamai observed:

we see that there is an extremely wide range in average connection speeds – oddly enough, the highest (7175 Kbps) and the lowest (105 Kbps) were both seen on providers in Slovakia.

See Akamai, State of the Internet, 1st Quarter, 2010 Report, p. 25.

2 thoughts on “dispersion of Internet download speeds”

  1. Far those of us who are removed from the high tech world: Can you direct us to instructions on how to test our own download speed. What should we expect to find?

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