Web users in the U.S. connected at an average speed of 3.9 Mpbs in the third quarter of last year -- slower than in 17 other countries. One year prior, the U.S. only lagged behind 16 other nations.
The country with the fastest average Web connection was South Korea, with an average of 14.6 Mpbs. Other countries with faster connections than the U.S. include Japan (7.9 Mbps), Romania (6.2 Mpbs) and Denmark (4.8 Mpbs).
While the overall picture was bleak, the news in the U.S. wasn't all bad. One bright spot: Many U.S. residents have shed very slow narrowband lines. Akamai reported that 43 states and the District of Columbia had lower percentages of connections at speeds below 256 Kbps than in 2008.
Akamai isn't the only company to report that U.S. broadband speeds are lagging. A recent report by SpeedMatters, a project of the Communications Workers of America, found that average download speed nationwide was 5.1 Mpbs while average upload speeds was just 1.1 Mpbs -- nowhere near what's needed for bandwidth-intensive endeavors like telemedicine.
Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that the average advertised download speed in the U.S. in September of 2008 was 9.6 Mbps. While different researchers often arrive at different numerical conclusions, the disparity in the reports at least raises questions about how far apart advertised speeds are from actual speeds.
One reason for the difference could be that Internet service providers often advertise speeds on an "up to" basis. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association maintains that this type of advertising "is useful to consumers because it enables rough comparisons among providers."
The organization says that this type of ad "does not, and is not intended to, capture the actual performance a consumer can expect at any given time."
That might be, but the current Federal Communications Commission doesn't necessarily endorse such practices. In fact, FCC chair Julius Genachowski just issued a statement emphasizing the importance of transparency in all matters relating to the Web.
"I strongly believe consumers benefit from free and competitive markets, and that access to information is essential to properly functioning markets," he stated in a written version of remarks prepared for an FCC workshop this afternoon. "I also believe that policies around information disclosure -- like the nutrition and calorie labels on food, and gas mileage estimates on automobiles -- can be enormously helpful in ensuring that markets are working."