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Capital Gains: DC Again Ranks Best For U.S. Internet Speed

North, south, east and west, Internet speed matters. From small-town America to the nation’s most populous places, commerce, education and entertainment rely on high-speed Internet. For the second consecutive year, the Internet Providers staff has examined data on Internet connectivity and security, and especially speed. How does last year’s fastest community rank this time around? How is the United States trending for global Internet speed? See where your state ranks, and read about initiatives to bring fast Internet to more people and more places.  

Cloud services provider Akamai tracks connection speeds nationwide, and Washington DC has now placed first for 2 years in a row. Treating DC as a state, the study discovered web subscribers there have an average speed of 22.47Mbps. That puts the nation’s capital atop the list for Internet speed for the second consecutive year. Akamai’s study covers Internet connectivity and security. DC registers 3Mbps faster than second-place Delaware (19.57). Massachusetts (19.39), Rhode Island (19.37), and Maryland (18.58) round out the top 5. Utah (18.45) dropped out of the top 5, to sixth. Rounding out the top 10: New Jersey (18.11), Virginia (17.87), New York (16.84) and Washington (16.84). The report also includes data on average and top speeds in 10 countries. It shows the U.S. (15.22) second to Japan (in Internet speeds, 17.2). The United Kingdom (14.63), Canada (13.41) and Russia (11.77) rank 3-5. Of the 10 nations studied, India still lags behind with 3.73Mbps.

Other tidbits from the findings:

    • Washington DC’s average speed is twice that of 45th-ranked West Virginia (11.16Mbps.)
  • Once again, the South didn’t register until the middle third, at No. 20. Tennessee (15Mbps) leads the way again south of the Mason-Dixon line, followed by No. 21 Florida (14.91), and No. 25 Georgia (14.59). That reads like college football rankings.

States with the most growth

Ohio (82.18%) jumped the highest compared to last year, more than 50% higher than the second-fastest moving state (Alaska, 29.70%). New Mexico (28.38%), Oklahoma (25.91%), and Montana (23.97%) also had considerable increases. None of those states, though, averages more than 14Mbps. Rhode Island led the way with 75.55% of residents who have access to at least 10Mbps speeds. All but two states in the top 10 in this category were also ranked among the 10 fastest for average speed. Connecticut (60.99%, ninth) and New Hampshire (60.48%, 10th) were the only outliers. Two notable initiatives: COLORADO | In November 2016, 26 communities approved ballot measures that allow them to offer broadband Internet service. That vote allows towns, now up to 95 in the state, to invest tax dollars in broadband networks. Longmont in 2011 first offered residents gigabit Internet as part of the initiative. RURAL AMERICA | America’s Electric Cooperatives, along with 71 Congress members, called on President Donald Trump to help deliver broadband Internet to rural areas. The push is not just for education in those regions, but also to integrate web-based programs in the agricultural space.

What else can we learn?

That Internet speeds continue to rise globally isn’t the story. It’s what’s happening as a result. Cities such as Chattanooga have developed municipal fiber networks. Chattanooga leases the infrastructure it built with a federal grant to Internet carriers. Businesses in the network area pay about $300 monthly for incredible 10-gigabit Internet. Santa Monica, Calif., leaders built a network with similar roots as Chattanooga’s, in 2000. Business and residential customers can buy service on the network. Santa Monica upgraded the infrastructure in 2016 to support 100-gig speeds. The network is the first nationwide to reach those speeds. Remember when Google chose Kansas City as its first fiber city, in 2012? Six others have since joined: Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah; Atlanta; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Salt Lake City; and San Antonio. Effect of increasing speed and bandwidth EDUCATION | Initiatives to bring faster Internet to rural communities have parallels in metro areas. High-speed Internet costs have dropped, but remain prohibitive in some places. A competitive market benefits potential customers who haven’t had options. STEM ACCESS | An uptick in faster Internet access also helps kids, especially girls. Kids can gain exposure to science, technology, engineering and math. Global competition for university admission and in the job market make it crucial that kids in the U.S. keep up. BUSINESS GROWTH | Especially for a startup, greater broadband means gains in less conspicuous areas. This includes cloud storage and the need for large-file upload. As download times become faster, so too do symmetric, upstream speeds. They're used for sending data to the web, rather than extracting.

How fast is fast?

How much speed do you need? We took a look at popular speed tiers common Internet service providers offer. Here's what they’re capable of. True speed isn’t easy to gauge. Several factors can affect how much speed you get at a given time. Some of the more common include: COMPUTER COMPONENTS | Fiber Internet can’t reach its potential on outdated devices. Low memory, slow processor speeds and computer configurations can bog a network down. WI-FI STRAIN | Even fast broadband isn’t infinite. The more devices you connect to a network, the less speed there is to go around. Also, those connecting in rooms far from your router won’t get the full effect of network speed. Wireless repeaters can strengthen your signal in more rooms. BROWSERS | Which browser’s best? Depends on who you ask. Many devices default to Internet Explorer. That platform has improved in recent years. Plenty of users, though, choose alternatives, such as Google Chrome, Opera, and Mozilla. Some browsers are also better for customization and privacy.

What can I do with my speed?

5MBPS | Usually a base offering from providers, this speed will usher you easily from site to site, email to email. Conducting significant downloads or letting many users on the network won’t be so easy. 12MBPS | It’s likely not strong enough to support a family of browsers. A single user who doesn’t game and stream all the time should find browsing, social media and video clips a smooth operation. 24MBPS | Song and videos will download in half the time they would at 12Mbps. At this speed, you should notice an upgrade in sound and video quality, too. 50MBPS | Stream, game, and connect everyone’s device to the network. You could even begin that startup in your basement at this speed. Cloud computing is also within your realm. 75MBPS | This’ll support a startup or family with several users. Symmetrical speed at this tier would be excellent for sending video and audio files. 100MBPS | Video chats, streaming TV, gaming, and other bandwidth-dependent activity becomes virtually buffer-free. It doesn't matter if you're using several devices. As a home network, 100Mbps can handle about anything.

Internet speed tests

Your Internet service provider likely has one. So does Google, as well as other independent sources, if you’re skeptical. A typical Internet speed test will measure data speed through a connection. It will account for download and upload speed, download first, usually. It also takes into account latency, that pause between a request and answer from a server. Turn off access to all other devices when you conduct a speed test, to ensure the most accurate results.



Nation’s Capital Leads Way for U.S. Internet Speed

There isn’t much about Washington DC traffic that’s fast. Internet speed in DC, though? That’s apparently wide open, compared to what you can expect on the Capital Beltway. A recent study of Internet speed in the U.S. reveals the capital as the nation’s fastest, for the second straight quarter. For this study, cloud services provider Akamai treats DC as a state. The District of Columbia has now displaced Ohio as the fastest state, as reported for Q1 2016.

Akamai measures Internet connectivity and security over the course of the study. Data collected includes states with the most widespread access to speeds of at least 10Mbps. The study also examines max and average speeds in 10 countries. In Q1 2016, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Utah round out the top five for Internet speed. States with the slowest Internet include Mississippi, Alaska, Idaho, Kentucky and Ohio. The difference can be significant; Delaware’s average speed clocks in at three times as fast as Ohio’s. Fortunately, Internet speeds in America have been on the rise since Q4 in 2014, so Ohio and company could get a speed upgrade in the near future. Other tidbits from the findings:
  • Eastern seaboard states (and DC) comprise eight of the top ten states for speed. They include Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, New York, and Virginia. Utah (#5) and Washington (#10) were the only western states in the top ten.
  • Southern states didn’t appear on the list until #25 Tennessee.

States with the most growth

By far, the District of Columbia saw the biggest bump in average speed from Q1 in 2015 to 2016, with a 48% increase. DC residents get an average of 24Mbps, nearly 3Mbps higher than second-place Delaware. Virginia, the ninth-fastest state, saw a negligible drop of 1.8% to 18Mbps in the same period. Speed increased year-over-year for all states and DC. That should surprise no one; Fiber and other gigabit Internet offerings are springing up all over the nation, from metro areas to small towns. Two notable initiatives:
  • NYC | In Q4 2015, New York City converted payphone stands to Wi-Fi hotspots in a private-public arrangement. The hotspots reached speeds of 300Mbps during beta testing.
  • Holland, Michigan | The town built its first fiber network twenty years ago. Today, it delivers free gigabit Internet in phase one of a pilot program to serve the whole town.

What else can we learn?

Internet speed is on the rise, domestically and globally. It’s not an increase in the fastest speeds available; it’s also the percentage of Internet customers who have the fastest available speeds. Internet penetration creates an environment in which the standard rises for acceptable Internet speed. Also, with speed spikes approaching gigabyte Internet, more homes and businesses operate in a reality in which broadband strength can support many devices – and many data-heavy activities – at once. Effect of increasing speeds and bandwidth
  • SMART HOMES/24-7 CONNECTED HOMES | Smart homes come equipped with agents of the Internet of Things, from app-controlled thermostats to smart TVs and smart appliances. A higher average broadband speed will lend itself to more forms of connectivity.
  • STREAMING SERVICES/ON DEMAND MOVIES | As average broadband speed increases, streaming service companies can offer more robust entertainment options, such as Netflix’s foray into Ultra-HD streaming.
  • ADVERTISING | Online advertisers can include more data-rich content in online ads when viewers have the speed and bandwidth to support it. Advertisers could introduce more video-driven ad content – without causing page loads to stall – if speed thresholds continue to rise. Advertisers can make ads more interactive, personalized and engaging – but only if doing so doesn’t make the page load take ages. When pages take a long time to load, people bail on them. Advertisers don’t get impressions or click-throughs.

How fast is fast?

Internet service providers measure speed in Mbps – megabits per second. One megabit equals one billion bits of data. Speed’s determined by the number of megabits your connection can transmit in one second. More Internet speed doesn’t always equate to faster page loads, though. Much depends on the remote server’s connection. Your home network speed won’t be able to speed up what the remote server is capable of; it’s on another host. Higher speed tiers don’t necessarily guarantee smoother streaming. However, more speed can deliver higher quality settings and enhanced streaming. How much speed do you need for common media-rich activities? STREAMING MUSIC: 1.5Mbps | It’s the lowest for music streaming services, such as Pandora or Spotify. You’ll need more for tunes with video … STREAMING MUSIC WITH VIDEO: 3Mbps | Why just listen to The Romantics’ Talking in Your Sleep when you can watch the video, too? This speed will support standard quality videos. Now, if you like your videos in HD … STREAMING MUSIC WITH HD VIDEO: 4-5Mbps | Going HD with Gary Numan’s Cars or anything by Adele? You’ll need greater broadband strength to avoid buffering delays. STREAMING A MOVIE: 5Mbps| Catch Bewitched (the movie or TV series) with only a modest speed upgrade. (Note: streaming is more efficient than downloading an entire movie.) GAMING ONLINE: 5-8Mbps | Ping rate is just as crucial as speed for gamers. Ping refers to the reaction time of your connection. It’s a critical factor in determining whether your mad skills are enough to win. Check ping rate on a connection through any of several online tests, such as this one. Why the need for speed, when media-rich activity doesn’t appear to need much of it? Homes with more than one user on multiple devices need more broadband strength to support it all. For a single user, there’s minimal strain on the connection. What if one user streams a movie while two more conduct a fantasy football draft in real time? And what if another person hops on Facebook? You need to find a high-speed Internet provider and the right speed tier to keep up.

How can I test my Internet speed?

As with sites to test ping rate, plenty of places exist to check in on Internet speed. (Google has one.) A test measures how much data can travel through your connection in a finite timeframe. It tests for both download and upload speed. It also measures latency, or time it takes to receive a response from the server. Latency's measured in milliseconds. Low latency is best for gaming, videoconferencing and other high-data activity. No matter which state you live in, Internet speed matters. How much you’ll need depends on how you use it.