Online speed in U.S. improves from a decade ago but lags other nations

I can faintly recall the days when my only connection to the Internet was a dial-up modem. Brrrrrr. Brrrrrr. Click. Boing-boing. Shhhhhhhhhh. Shhhh. Boinnnggggg.

The process took 15 or 20 seconds, and more often than not the initial attempt was "unsuccessful," meaning I had to repeat the above steps. It wasn’t easy, but it was my only on-ramp to the "information superhighway" in 1995. It was a one-way, cobblestone alley, circa 1850, compared with today’s high-speed byway.

Flash Gordon never had it so good. Now I have a wireless router at home and connect to Net at light speed compared with a dozen years ago. Maybe even warp speed, Scotty.

But how much speed do Americans have compared with the rest of the connected world? Not a lot, a report by the Communications Workers of America suggests. We’re still in the horse-and-buggy days compared with 15 countries with more bandwidth.

You can download the full report in portable document format at Speed Matters (www.speedmatters.org), a project of the Communications Workers of America. You can also test the speed of your Internet connection, both download and upload speeds, and learn more about how to get involved with the movement to make affordable high speed Internet access more available in our country.

The first state-by-state report on Internet connection speed ranks the nation’s fastest and slowest states (and District of Columbia) in median download speeds. Tiny Rhode Island tops the list; massive Alaska brings up the rear in 51st place.

The top five states, and their median connection speeds in kilobits per second are: 1.) Rhode Island, 5,011; 2.) Kansas, 4,167; 3.) New Jersey, 3,680; 4.) New York, 3,436; 5.) Massachusetts, 3,004.

The bottom five: 47.) Iowa, 1,262; 48.) Wyoming, 1,246; 49.) West Virginia, 1,117; 50.) South Dakota, 825; 51.) Alaska, 545.

Nevada is 31st at 1,617 kbps.

It means a 10 megabyte file that takes 15 seconds to download in Rhode Island would take nearly 2 1/2 minutes to download in Alaska.

The report is based on aggregated data from almost 80,000 users and shows the United States lagging far behind other industrialized nations. The median real-time download speed in the United States is only 1.9 megabits per second, with Japan more than 30 times faster at 61 mbps. South Korea is a close second at 45 mbps, with France at 17 mbps and Canada at 7 mbps.

The amount of speed you need depends on what you plan to do with it. A 56 kbps dial-up connection is fine for low-quality streaming audio, but you’ll need about 4 mbps if you plan to watch Internet-served television programs. Reliable videoconferencing requires a 6 mbps connection and high-definition TV takes 20 mbps.

More certainly is better.

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.

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