Narrowband on the Decline in the U.S.
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Americans are saying good-bye to dial-up.
According to Akamai's third-quarter State of the Internet study, narrowband penetration numbers are down as higher connectivity speeds continue to proliferate across the U.S. and globally.
The company, which maintains a content delivery infrastructure with edge servers throughout the world -- giving it a good look at how and how often users connected to the Internet -- found that in the U.S., penetration for connections of 256 kilobits per second (Kbps) or slower declined 29 percent during the quarter. As a result, U.S. narrowband penetration dropped to 5.8 percent.
"From a connectivity perspective, things are moving in what I would consider to be the right direction," David Belson, Akamai's director of market intelligence and the author of the report, told InternetNews.com. "Greater uptake of broadband connectivity, greater shedding of narrowband connections and some states and some countries are very quickly shedding the amount of narrowband they have."
Despite the gains, Akamai found that worldwide progress toward greater broadband deployment continues to outpace efforts in the U.S. The latest study reported that 5 percent of global connections operate at 256Kbps or slower, representing a 32 percent decline from the previous quarter.
Critics have long pointed to the fact that the U.S. lags behind other countries in encouraging the spread of affordable, high-speed connections, prompting calls for changes to the nation's broadband and wireless spectrum policies as a result. Efforts at addressing the problem may take center stage with the coming change in administration under Barack Obama, who has singled out efforts to subsidize rural broadband while discussing other policies designed to encourage broadband proliferation.
However, for the most part, the president-elect has yet to formally announce plans for his administration's legislative agenda on those fronts, nor has Obama yet appointed a tech czar -- a position he touted during his campaign that may oversee such efforts.
Either way, the new administration will have to contend with the fact that the U.S. continues to comprise a decreasing role in overall Internet traffic.
Akamai examined nearly 380 million unique IP addresses to compile its most recent report and recording a 9.7 percent increase in visits, compared to second quarter. For the U.S. alone, Akamai saw 109 million unique IP address during third quarter, an increase of 7.2 percent.
States on the rise
Akamai said it detected the largest declines in traditional narrowband connectivity in the U.S. states of Delaware, Washington, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, which all had quarterly declines of greater than 40 percent for connections of 56 kbps and slower.
The decrease in narrowband is not having a direct correlation to increased numbers of what Akamai considers to be full broadband connectivity. The company only measures broadband connectivity at speeds of 2 megabits per second (Mbps) and faster.
"What we're seeing is less of a jump from dial-up to broadband," Belson said. "We are seeing people getting over the hump, moving from 56k to higher speeds. I suspect they are moving into the bandwidth between 256 [Kbps] and 2 Mbps, which is not in the report."
When looking at narrowband users in the United States, the jurisdiction with the highest percentage of narrowband connections is Washington, D.C. Still, the nation's capital also saw a precipitous drop for the third quarter, with Akamai finding that the city saw narrowband penetration of 12 percent, a decline of 25 percent from the previous quarter.
For broadband speeds of greater than 5 Mbps, ten states -- South Dakota, Maine, Hawaii, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Minnesota and South Carolina -- experienced increased penetration this quarter of 40 percent or more.
The double-digit increases are partially due to those states' relatively low initial penetration. In particular, Belson noted that South Dakota had a 116 percent increase this quarter, bringing that state's total percentage of users at 5 Mbps or above to only 17 percent.
Hawaii had a 95 percent increase this quarter, but the western-most U.S. state only has a 5.7 percent penetration rate overall for broadband -- so there is still a lot more room for high-speed broadband growth.
Overall, from Akamai's perspective, the majority of the U.S. is not using narrowband to connect to the internet.
"From the U.S. perspective, over 64 percent of connections are over 2 Mbps," Belson said. "So the majority of connections are at broadband-level speeds."
The overall percentage of broadband users in the U.S. is something that Belson thinks can continue to grow. Belson is hopeful that new public policies under Obama could help to further foster continued broadband growth in the U.S.
"If the Obama administration puts some effort and resources into it, we'll see more adoption of higher broadband and greater reduction in narrowband connection," Belson said.