Blog Post

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.

17 Responses to “Want Fast Internet? Don't Live In the Sticks”

  1. josh price

    all of you people complaning about only having 1mb. you should be happy for what you have. the reason i say this is because i am stuck with 3kb internet and i hate it it. takes 3 min to load a page and besides i live in Roy,Washington where there is about 40 people per square mile and half of them have DSL. but still i would rather have 1mb instead vary slow internet and the crapy part is im about 100 yards from DSL so you think you got it bad, i beg to differ.

  2. Tony D'Ambrosio

    Hi, all.

    I’m in a rural area. I’m about to pay $60/month for 1Mg down and about (I think) 1/4 of that up. I’m not thrilled; hope that doesn’t put anybody off, but why should I be?

    On the other hand, I’m not blaming anybody. The for-profit-company scenario doesn’t find any reason to develop low-usage (because of population density, natch) areas. OK, I understand that just fine.

    But, how about the long view? Personally, I think it’s short sighted to not realize that allowing any segment of our country to be significantly lacking in any support for business and education is not a good thing. The Internet is a significant means of enhancing knowledge of the world, of current events, of disparate views, of lots and lots of stuff. I believe the better educated our people, the better off our country. Yeah, low speed works for this (excepting video), but it loses a lot of its appeal (hence usage) when it’s slow as dialup. Ditto, but in spades, as regards business, commerce, small-business growth. And, lookiing through the other end of the business telescope, you can bet that sales over the Internet, which is now and will continue to be for a long time, a great growth segment of our economy, are adversely impacted when it takes half an hour to research a possible purchase adequately and then another half hour (or oftentimes more) to make the purchase.

    I believe the smarter view, not of for-profit-companies, nor of individuals who are looking only at their own short-term interests and predelictions, would be for government to find ways to encourage development of the backwoods areas and thereby give them high speed, even if it’s only of a minimal sort.

    Finally, I think all this will end up being moot, albeit a bit down the road. Science plows on, and little by little we’re going to come up with new and better ways of delivering this tremendously valuable resource.

    Best wishes,

    Tony D’Ambrosio

  3. Jesse Kopelman

    What’s funny is that there are parts of Rhode Island with no consumer broadband access at all! That’s right, even in a State 30 miles to a side, there are places where Cox can’t be bothered to run cable and Verizon can’t be bothered to install a remote DSLAM to support DSL. As you might imagine, 3G coverage is pretty much non-existent in these regions, as well. Now you start to understand why incumbents want coverage statistics provided to the public to be of as low resolution as possible. Taken as a whole, RI is great. But if you live somewhere like a few miles outside of Foster, RI, you might as well live in Wyoming.

    • Brett Glass

      Well, Jessey, I do live in Wyoming. And I provide high speed Internet service here. In fact, I was the world’s first WISP.

      I can therefore tell you that unless action is taken on the issue of “special access,” and/or the backbone owners who run their fiber through our state are required to open it up to the residents of the areas through which they pass, it will simply be economically infeasible for many people here to get fast Internet. My wholesale (yes, wholesale) cost for bandwidth is $100 per megabit per second per month. That’s right: if a user wants a connection from me that can carry just 1 Mbps, and do so 24×7, I have to charge him or her more than $100 per month just to break even. This is due to price gouging by Qwest, which is the incumbent telephone monopoly here.

      I do the best I can to provide good service that users can afford. However, until my wholesale costs go down, I can’t bring my retail costs down.

      • You appear to be saying that the root of the problem is market interference resultant of government created and protected monopolies. Logic would dictate that the solution for this would be to eliminate that market interference by creating truly open competitive markets, rather than to create even more market interference through subsidies and regulation.

  4. autoexec.bat

    This is pretty duh. I wonder if CWA isn’t putting this out to say, “See you really do need us!” But I digress.

    Someone should run a cost-benefit analysis to determine if it makes financial sense to even bother to try to truly wire everyone in the country with at least 1mbps or so.

    I say no. If you choose to live in the middle of nowhere sometimes you have to go without. Sorry to folks in the nether regions of Alaska or at the top of the tallest mountain in Montana. I guess it’s WildBlue for you.

    • It is a choice to live out in the middle of nowhere, and as a libertarian, I think folks don’t necessarily have the “right” to fast Internet anymore than they have the “right” to be within 1000 ft of a Starbucks at all times.

    • Sassy Lou

      I can’t believe how IQs have dropped in this country..or maybe it’s really sympathy, empathy and compassion.

      People can’t and don’t necessarily “Choose” where they live. This is why so many “poor” could not leave New Orleans before and after Katrina. If you don’t have money to fly, ride or stay in a hotel for a few months afterwards…then how can one just “up” and decide to move without financial backing or a job that will pay you to move.

      I would love to move back to CO from NY. My clothes, belongings, personal and backup drives will not fit on a plane, train or automobile. This would mean moving by hiring a moving service which would cost me $10,000 which I don’t have. So in essence..I’m stuck. I also could not afford to leave things and just buy all these things once I get settled.

      The point is that this is the year 2009. This “speed access” and other things should not be an issue. We are smart people, there is no excuse why we all can’t have a simple speed increase like other countries and apply it to all residents. We should be past most of this garbage, more developed as a people, as a country like other countries are far surpassing the U.S in it’s “People and equality concern”. Businesses and corporations running in this country should get their act together and figure out which side they are on – supporting People ..or…fascist money and power control mongers supported by capitalism!

      • autoexec.bat

        @Sassy Lou:
        I can tell you’re talking well out of school here but there are a multitude of reasons why people in the more rural parts of our country don’t have decent speed Internet access. Some of them are technological and some of them are business related.

        Since you seem to take issue more with the business-related aspects, I guess I’ll focus on that. The first premise here is simple, and one that I find is often misconstrued by those of a more liberal persuasion, which I presume describes you based on your comments.

        If you take away nothing else from my comments, remember this: For profit business do NOT exist to create jobs, make people happy, or enforce your notions of what constitutes equality. They exist to turn a profit. End of story.

        If you can accept that premise, then you already have your answer as to why companies don’t just “get their act together and figure out which side they are on.” Broadband deployment costs HUGE amounts of money that these companies simply don’t have to spend on customers wouldn’t receive broadband under “normal” circumstances.

        References to other countries deployment of broadband is not instructive in the American case. Whereas the government of Japan can spend money and rush headlong into completely wiring the country for high speed access, it’s important to keep in mind that Japan is slightly smaller than California and boasts *extremely* high population density thanks to large cities and easy-to-wire multiple dwelling units. Ditto for other small, well-connected countries like Denmark and Sweden.

        Calling for the provision of “simple speed increase like other countries and apply it to all residents” is a non-starter because to talk of wiring the US it to talk of wiring what amounts to an ENTIRE continent. Your comment presupposes that everyone has some form of access to begin with. Cable and DSL technologies can only extend so far from the last (or next to last) node in the network and simply can’t extend all that far.

        Next, most of the people who live out in places like Colorado or Montana can in fact receive Internet service through satellite. So to say they have no choices is disingenuous. Perhaps they take issue with the price they’re asked to pay, but that’s another matter altogether.

        Finally, I ask what good it does someone to have home broadband if they can’t afford a computer? Should the government provide those as well? We built roads, but I don’t ever recall receiving a free car. Hopefully you’re subscribed to this thread so you can reply back. I look forward to hearing others’ take on your comments.

      • I would recommend that readers perhaps take the time to read (or watch) Grapes of Wrath. This used to be a much more mobile country than it is today — with Americans, rather than whining and expecting a handout, taking the responsibility and making the commitment to make the best of whatever horrible situation was handed to them. Life’s not fair, but what you make of it can be. Passing unfairness on to someone else though through economic transfers is just childish — and decided not fair.

        Making the best of things sometimes means leaving things behind, or selling them for pennies on the dollar, in order to leverage the opportunity gained by moving into greater future wealth. That this is not understood is an issue of economic ignorance and of cultural failure. Instead, we are left with people preferring to shout ‘ignoramus’ at anyone who doesn’t agree with government funding their chosen lifestyle, rather than making the commitment to achieve that lifestyle on their own terms and with their own resources.

        It is astounding to believe that out whiny, contemporary American culture descended from a population of frontiersmen and women that only a few generations ago tamed a wild continent with little more than their raw hands, a rife, and ax. They certainly didn’t have the luxury of complaining about having to leave behind their DVD collection in order to hop on a comfortable bus (with toilet and likely Wifi), at a cost of something less than a few days labor, in order to get from one busted economy to someplace with better prospects.

        Of course, they also were not repeating voting for corrupt politicians whose legislation created that busted economy over and over again. It wasn’t even possible for them to do so with the American experiment still firmly in place. The resulting lack of centralized, unitary authority made it impossible for Washington to screw up the entire country’s economy all at one — something we ought to be remembering today.

        BTW, I live in a rural farm region in the Midwest, in a town of 1,000 people and a country of less than 15,000. We’ve had Internet access for well over a decade, and extremely affordable broadband now for almost 7 years. I’ve found that most of the people complaining about the lack of rural broadband are themselves urban dwellers trying to leverage this imaginary issue as a way to force the carriers to greatly upgrade their city speeds. I suppose watching videos online will keep them from having to worry about abandoning their DVD collections.

  5. Well duh? There is nothing here that a first year business or economics student couldn’t explain. In fact, it would have been easily predictable without spending money on a survey, if anyone bothered to study basic economic principles anymore. Clearly they don’t require any economics training in journalism schools.