Not all Internet connections are created equal

internet_speeds

Anyone still remember the dark days of dial-up? Back then logging onto the Internet meant a wait of 30 seconds plus, and every new website gave you enough time to grab a drink or use the bathroom while it loaded.

We might think this level of (dis)connectivity is behind us for good. Most U.S. residents now live in areas where “high speed” access is available, often from multiple providers. But just because something qualifies as “high speed” doesn’t mean it’s fast. Average download speeds vary tremendously across the country. In some cases it’s because there’s simply not a good network in place. Other times it’s because part of the state has very low population density and installing broadband is considered too expensive for private Internet service providers.

So where does your state stack up? The Communications Workers of America has tabulated download speeds from hundreds of thousands of tests. I took their data and made the map above to illustrate what regions have the fastest Internet access. Check out their site yourself for more detailed information, including breakdowns by county.

This isn’t just an issue of convenience. A relatively slow connection (regardless if it’s called “high speed”) dictates what users are able to do on the Internet. With U.S. speeds as a whole much faster than say, five years ago, it’s now common for websites to have embedded video, audio, high-resolution photos and animations — all of which take a long time to load. If your connection is slower than the rest of the country, you’re effectively segregated in the tasks and services you can accomplish online.

In other words, there’s still a form of dial-up in spirit if you’re network is slow. Only this time around, others aren’t waiting. They’re getting things done at work and at home while you’re just trying to upload a basic file.

Fortunately there are a number of developments — some driven by profit, some by charity — that are bringing more residents into the fast lane. I discuss them in greater detail in the digital divide research paper I’ve just completed. But at least for now those with a speedy Internet connection should recognize that it’s something for which to feel fortunate.

Advertisements
  1. March 14th, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: