Is the Internet Getting Faster?
I still remember the days of dialup. Back in the mid 1990s, it was a big deal to move from a 14.4K modem to a 56K model. Download times were measured in hours, not seconds. And web pages loaded at approximately the same speed as paint drying on a wall. Now high-speed broadband Internet that's hundreds of times faster is nearly ubiquitous. Let's take a look at how far we've come, and where things need to improve most…
How Fast Is Your High-Speed Internet?
Americans enjoyed a 360% increase in Internet download speeds between March, 2011, and September, 2014, according to the FCC’s 2015 “Measuring Broadband America: Fixed Broadband Report.” (“Fixed” broadband included cable, DSL, satellite, and fiber optic connections.) The latest measurements, in September, 2014, showed an average download speed for all ISPs of 32 Mbps; in 2011, it was only 9 Mbps.
But wait! The only other broad measure of U. S. Internet speeds, Akamai Technology’s “State of the Internet” report, shows an increase of only 290% over the same time period. Yet Akamai reports an average overall U. S. download speed of 48.8 Mbps in Q3 2014, more than 16 Mbps faster than the FCC’s figure. What’s going on here?
The differences arise from different ways of measuring different populations. The FCC uses SamKnows, a measurement system developed by the FCC’s counterpart in the UK, OfCom. It involves putting boxes in selected consumers’ homes that measure the actual speed of Internet traffic where it really matters to the average American family. Akamai’s figures are based upon the speed of connections to Akamai’s global network of content-caching servers.
Households, businesses, universities, government offices, and military units are included in Akamai’s measurements; many of those entities have Internet connections that are much faster than the typical household’s. So for you and me, the FCC’s figures are probably more relevant. Still, the FCC and Akamai agree that broadband average speeds have increased by about three times during the three-and-a-half years measured.
Most home Internet subscribers got actual download speeds that were pretty close to the speeds advertised by broadband ISPs, the FCC found. More than 90% of subscribers to Comcast, Cablevision, and Hughes Networks got average download speeds of at least 95% of the advertised speeds. Cablevision, Comcast and Verizon FiOS performed well under stress, delivering advertised speeds or faster to 80% of their subscribers during 80% of more of peak usage hours.
How Fast is Fast Enough?
Cablevision subscribers saw the fastest average speed (60 Mbps), followed by Verizon and Charter at 50 Mbps, Cox at 40 Mbps, and Comcast at 35 Mbps.
DSL average speeds remained stuck at about 12 Mbps. As I warned in, “Are Landlines Doomed To Extinction?” the century-old copper wire network upon which DSL and plain old telephones depend is on its way out. Don’t expect significant upgrades there.
The good news (sort of) for DSL subscribers is that they may not need faster connections, if all they do is surf the Web. The FCC found that the average speed at which Web pages download maxes out at about 15 Mbps no matter how fast a household’s connection is. (See chart below) This limit is due mainly to Web servers that can’t keep up with demand; consumers and ISPs can’t do much about it.
My own experience indicates this is correct. After upgrading my Verizon FiOS connection from 25 to 50 Mbps, I didn't notice any appreciable increase in web page loading time. It's like trying to drive a Ferrari in a traffic jam.
The fastest States were New Jersey (57 Mbps) and Connecticut (47 Mbps). Idaho, Ohio and Arkansas were at the bottom with average speeds around 14 Mbps.
While domestic ISPs have made dramatic strides, the U. S. still ranked 12th among nations in terms of average download speed in Akamai’s global rankings for 2014. The UK’s OfCom reported a 22.8 Mbps average download speed in 2014, using the same household-focused methodology that the FCC used. If Internet speed is your top priority, you should consider moving to South Korea, Hong Kong or Japan. Those are the top three countries on the Akamai chart
I’m not sure how much faster we really need to get, given the FCC's findings on web speed mentioned above. If taxpayer dollars are to be used to improve the digital infrastructure, I think the U. S. should focus more on faster and more reliable Internet speeds in rural areas. There are still many areas where only temperamental satellite or (gasp!) super-slow dialup access is available. For those folks, things like Netflix, Skype and VoIP calling are out of reach.
Your thoughts on these subjects, as well as your personal Internet experience, are welcome.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 8 Jan 2016
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is the Internet Getting Faster? (Posted: 8 Jan 2016)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved