Another Poor Showing for U.S. Broadband Rank

A new study by the country’s largest telecom union has found that the average U.S. Internet connection speed posted a modest increase over the past two years, but that the nation still lags well behind its foreign competitors.

According to the “Speed Matters” test conducted by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the average U.S. Internet user registered a download connection speed of 5.1 Mbps in 2009, a modest uptick from the 2007 mark of 3.5 Mbps.

But even with that gain, the union found that just 20 percent of Americans enjoy Internet speeds on par with the worldwide leaders in the category, South Korea, Japan and Sweden.

CWA’s research adds to the ongoing concern over the U.S. broadband situation, joining a multitude of recent surveys highlighting the nation’s shortcomings in deployment, adoption and speed.

The government has been tackling the issue on a number of fronts. The economic stimulus package included $7.2 billion in funding for broadband projects, the first wave of which is set to be distributed over the next several weeks. Concurrently, the Federal Communications Commission is crafting a national broadband strategy that aims to draw a forward-looking roadmap for the country’s digital infrastructure.

CWA is heartened by both of those initiatives.

“I applaud the Obama Administration and Congress for their commitment to develop a national plan that restores U.S. leadership in high-speed Internet policy,” Larry Cohen, the union’s president, said in a statement.

CWA’s study also highlighted the regional disparities in Internet speeds within the United States.

The five states that registered the fastest connection speeds were clustered in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions and tended to be smaller in size.

The fastest states were, in descending order: Delaware, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York.

At the other end of the scale were sparsely populated states, many clustered in the South. Ranked in descending order, they were: Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho and, bringing up the rear, Alaska, with an average download speed of 2.3 Mbps.

CWA invites users to register to test their Internet connection speed at its Speed Matters site. The most recent test compiled data from more than 413,000 users from May 2008 to May 2009.

For the union, studies like these match its agenda of advancing the labor market in the telecom sector. Many such efforts have used various economic models to link broadband deployment with job growth, and CWA’s is no exception. It estimates that every $5 billion investment in broadband will spawn 97,500 new jobs in the telecom, computing and IT sectors.

CWA, whose membership counts more than 700,000 employees of companies like AT&T and Verizon, also included a spate of policy recommendations in its study that it aims to press in its lobbying efforts.

The union expressed support of the FCC’s effort to develop the broadband strategy, and suggested it set a goal of building infrastructure with 10 Mbps downstream capacity by 2010, with more ambitious benchmarks down the road.

It also stressed the importance of government partnerships with private groups, and appealed for the FCC to modify the federal subsidy for universal telephone service to include broadband.

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