Want Fast Internet? Don't Live In the Sticks

usbroadbandspeedDelaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the country, according to a new survey by the Communications Workers of America, while Hawaii, Alaska, Montana and Wyoming have the slowest. In other words, there appears to be a direct correlation between Internet speed and population density. States with more residents per square mile were almost guaranteed to have faster Internet access, with the exception of Hawaii (which has its own issues, being in the middle of the ocean and all). California ranked 11th in terms of both population density and download speed.

The linking of population density to download speed is most likely the result of the revenue that can be gleaned by introducing high-speed services in more populated areas, along with the technical limitations of rolling out high-speeds in rural areas where customers may be many miles away from the nearest switching office.

And while the report slams the U.S. for having slower broadband access than other countries — comparing our average 5.1 Mbps download to South Korea’s 20.4 Mbps and Japan’s 15.8 Mbps, for example — such discrepancies can also be attributed to the population density correlation. South Korea has some 1,290 residents per square mile, making the entire country more dense than New Jersey, our most thickly settled state with roughly 1,171 residents per square mile. Japan’s 870 residents per square mile would make it the third densest state, just ahead of Massachusetts. For comparison, the U.S. has a national population density of about 80 residents per square mile. To be sure, South Korea and Japan have strong national broadband strategies that encourage high-speed access for all, but it’s also a lot easier (technically and fiscally) to get high-speed data when you don’t have residents flung across millions of square miles, like we do.

State Density Rank Density (/mile^2) Download Rank Avg. Download Speed
Delaware 6 442.6 1 9.9 Mbps
Rhode Island 2 1012.3 2 9.8 Mbps
New Jersey 1 1171.1 3 8.9 Mbps
Massachusetts 3 822.7 4 8.7 Mbps
California 11 234.4 11 6.6 Mbps
Idaho 44 18.1 47 2.6 Mbps
Wyoming 49 5.4 48 2.6 Mbps
Montana 48 6.5 49 2.3 Mbps
Alaska 50 1.2 50 2.3 Mbps

The report, because it comes from a telecom workers union, has its own biases, however. It lumps all broadband users with speeds between 768 kbps and 6 Mbps together, showing most of the country with average speeds in that range. There is a huge difference between the two: 768 Kbps is only enough for email and web browsing while anything above 3Mbps is fast enough to handle almost all online activities, barring large video downloads. Of course, it’s in the union’s best interest to paint a poor picture of broadband in the U.S., as that will help it drum up support for large-scale projects designed to provide high-speed access for all — and provide its members with telecommunications jobs for years to come.

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