The U.S. now has the ninth-fastest average Internet connection speed in the world, behind South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Sweden. That's a slip in the rankings: In the last Akamai report, the U.S. was eighth, with faster average connection speeds than Sweden.
Given that Akamai surveys 243 countries to produce its "State of the Internet" report, ninth place might not seem too low. U.S. Internet providers, after all, contend with a bigger landmass -- and a larger population -- than those in South Korea or Japan. And in real terms, the U.S. average connection speed improved in the interval between reports, becoming 27 percent faster than last year. It just wasn't enough to beat ever-speedier Sweden.
The drop from eighth place might not be worth a worry if it weren't indicative of bigger problems in the U.S. broadband market. Marguerite Reardon of CNET recently wrote that U.S. cable providers aren't exactly encouraging consumers to adopt high-speed broadband -- "and when they do, they charge significantly higher prices that escalate as you move to faster tiers."
In other words, why pay $115 a month for 100Mbps (megabits per second) when you can get 20Mbps for half that or less?
Pricing tiers in the U.S. seem to support Reardon's argument. Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, claims it's capable of providing 3Gbps broadband -- but its fastest service currently on the market is $320 a month for 305Mbps. Verizon, meanwhile, has just announced its fastest FiOS ever, 500Mbps for $310 a month.
Compare that to Hong Kong, where consumers can get 500Mbps for $25 a month, or Seoul, where the same speed is priced at $30 a month. Only Google Fiber's broadband plan seems competitive with those of other tech-savvy nations: It offers 1Gbps for $70 a month, which is only outpaced by Japan's proposed Nuro network with speeds of up to 2Gbps for $51 a month.
The Huffington Post reported last month that several cable company CEOs had begun releasing editorials extolling U.S. broadband prices and speeds, likely in response to spates of recent criticism about both. And again, ninth out of 243 countries isn't bad. But if America's large cable companies keep pricing their services so as to discourage high-speed broadband adoption, the Internet in the U.S. will only keep slowing down relative to the rest of the world.
How slow can we go? And do we really want to find out?