If You Live In America, You Pay More For Worse Internet


The news: America’s internet sucks.

You may already know that — or suspect that — while you try to download those torrents and stream Netflix at glacial speeds, but now it is official. The United States has higher prices for slower broadband internet connections.

The World Economic Forum has ranked the U.S. 35th out of 148 countries worldwide in terms of broadband internet bandwidth capacity. There are 34 countries in the world — including the likes of Serbia, Mongolia, and Romania — that have better bandwidth capacity than the U.S. I mean, come on. We invented the freaking internet, and we’re ranked 35th. That’s absolutely pathetic

Source: The World Economic Forum

How bad is it? Well, the New York Times makes a fun comparison to demonstrate just how far behind the U.S. is falling. The Times takes a look at internet speeds in San Antonio, Texas — the seventh largest city in the U.S. with a population of 1.4 million — and measures it against internet speeds in Riga, Latvia — a city with 700,000 people. And what did they find? Riga’s average internet speed is “at least two-and-a-half times that of San Antonio’s” while “the cost of Riga’s service is about one-fourth that of San Antonio.” So people in San Antonio pay four times as much for internet at least half as fast.

And it’s not just connection speeds that find the U.S. internet service is lagging behind. The WEF ranks the U.S. low in percentage of population using the internet (20th):

Source: The World Economic Forum

... and number of broadband connections per 100 people (17th): 

Source: The World Economic Forum

In the U.S., 81% of individuals use the internet. That may sound pretty good, but countries like Iceland, Denmark, and Finland are pulling numbers in the 90s.

Should we care about this? It depends on just how important you think the internet is. There are some that view the internet as a basic luxury, like television, and there are others that view internet access as a basic utility, like water or electricity.

President Barack Obama, in particular, sees improving U.S. internet service as a key component of boosting the U.S. economy. He highlighted it specifically in his State of the Union address in 2013, stressing the importance of “connecting every part of America to the digital age.” And in a report released by the White House, the Obama administration calls broadband access “an essential part of our economy” and said that “affordable and reliable broadband service to all corners of the United States must be a national imperative.” The internet, they argue, is the key to investment and growth in the 21st century. Just to show how serious they are about the internet, they even included a picture of Obama actually using the internet:

Look at him, so cute pretending to know how to use Twitter.

So what can we do about this? Well, while Obama and the rest of the federal government are trying to help the state of internet access in the U.S., Google is seriously putting in some work. Have you ever heard of this little thing called Google Fiber? It’s Google’s stab at providing internet service and cable, and Google promises connection speeds “100 times faster than today’s average broadband speeds.” That scares a lot of other internet providers in the U.S. — so much so that some are even getting in on the campaign contribution game — who want to keep prices high for a crappier product. But Fiber is only in a handful of cities (stupid lucky Kansas City, for starters), and it’ll likely be a long time before the U.S. at large sees connection speeds like the ones Google promises.

So for now, it seems that America is going to continue to pay more for sucky internet. Sure, we can envy Hong Kong and Singapore for their blazing internet speeds, but what good would that do? It’s best to just distract yourself and forget about America’s low standing in worldwide broadband capacity. Is your Netflix done buffering?