The U.S. ranks 25th in the world in average Internet connection speeds, and nearly half of all U.S. residents' Internet connections fall below the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's minimum definition of broadband, at 4 megabits per second download, according to a new report.
The median download speed in the U.S. in 2010 is 3 mbps, a slight increase from 2009, according to the report, released Wednesday by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and sister organization Speedmatters.org.
South Korea's average download speed is 34.1 mbps, Sweden's is 22.2 mbps, Romania's is 20.3 mbps, and Japan's is 18 mbps, according to the report.
"Too many Americans are locked into slow Internet, foreclosing access to many online applications and services," the report said.
About 1 percent of Internet connections in the U.S. meets the FCC national broadband plan's goal of 50 mbps for download speeds by 2015, the report said. The FCC released the broadband plan earlier this year.
Economic growth in the U.S. depends on high-speed broadband, the report added. "It determines whether we will have the 21st century networks we need to create the jobs of the future, develop our economy, and support innovations in telemedicine, education, public safety, energy conservation, and provision of public services to improve our lives and communities," the report said. "Most U.S. Internet connections are not fast enough in both directions to permit interactive home-based medical monitoring, multi-media distance learning, or to send and receive data to run a home-based business."
The report, with numbers based on speed tests that Internet users voluntarily take, compares average Internet speeds in U.S. states. Among the states with the fastest download speeds are small eastern states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Large western states, including Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, have the slowest speeds.
A small percentage of people taking the speed test may be dial-up users, a CWA spokeswoman said.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski repeated his call to redirect funds subsidizing traditional telephone service, in the Universal Service Fund, to broadband deployment, during a speech accompanying the release of the report. He also echoed CWA support for new net neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.
"Broadband enables businesses to start and grow, and jobs to be created, anywhere in America, from the biggest urban city to the smallest rural town," Genachowski said. "Broadband opens new markets, allowing businesses -- small and large -- to reach customers in the next neighborhood, the next city, the next state, and even overseas. And broadband allows the smallest business to have cutting-edge products and services that increase productivity and efficiency, reduce costs, and boost revenue."
The speed results are disappointing, said Art Brodsky, communications director for digital rights group Public Knowledge. "The state of the [broadband] industry is much less developed than the companies would have us believe," he said.
A spokesman for AT&T wasn't immediately available for comment.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.