Why is American internet so slow?

The Week:

According to a recent study by Ookla Speedtest, the U.S. ranks a shocking 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds. It falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay.

How did the country that literally invented the internet fall behind so many others in download speeds?

It’s the same situation here in Canada – little competition means no incentive to get better/faster.



  • GFYantiapplezealots

    Seattle was about to get 1000Mbps up/down fiber internet until Comcast funded the election of the current Mayor who put a stop to those plans. Now we’re stuck with 50Mbps from Comcast.

  • rb763

    There is also the problem of large rural areas where there is no incentive to provide quality service.

  • Joseph Blake

    It’s easy to complain about competition, but no one has said what to do about it. Just about the only way to create competition is for the government to fund one.

    • rb763

      I know most people like a hands-off government but this is one area where I feel they should step in and create an equal playing field if only for the educational benefits. I also think they would have a fight on their hands from the internet provider lobbyists.

    • JohnDoey

      That is not true. Not only have people said what to do about it, but they actually do it in other countries. Same as with health care, this is already solved. But in the US, we are so stuck in yesterday’s dogma that we are stuck in yesterday, paying much more, and getting much less. In a global economy, that is why we can’t compete. People in Europe and even Canada have much, much easier lives. They dedicate more of their time to their work or play, and less of it to finding a cell signal or a doctor who will treat them, and they pay much less for cell service and for medical coverage.

      What you do to fix the network is the people build the network from coast to coast, same as the people built the roads coast to coast, and then private companies rent time on the network and compete with each other to offer the best prices and services to the individual users, same as private companies run trucks and taxis and buses on the roads, competing to offer lower shipping prices or lower fares.

      It’s very, very basic.

      They do that in Europe, where they have lots of carrier choices, great coverage everywhere, and it is common for people to switch carriers regularly to get a better price or better set of services for their needs.

      Bill Maher took a trip to Europe, and when he got back, he told a story about being on a farm in rural Europe and getting 5 bars on his phone, and then he came back the US and couldn’t get a signal in downtown LA.

      We already went through this when roads and railroads were being built in the US. The roads and railroads were built by private companies, who charged so much to use them that people couldn’t afford to travel. The term “highway robbery” comes from this. The fix was the people made “freeways” where everybody could use them because everybody owned them. This was great in many, many ways, including being great for business and the economy.

      Another similarity between US cell service and health care is we pretend that there isn’t a problem by saying we have more 4G LTE than anyone else and more medical machines than anyone else, but in practice, that doesn’t lead to better results. It doesn’t matter if you have LTE if you can’t actually get a signal, or when you get a signal, it is so bad that your LTE gives you 2G speeds. It is better to be on a 3G network that is broadly deployed and you get 5 bars all the time. And with medicine, it doesn’t matter how many MRI machines your local hospital has if you can’t get in to see a doctor. They get better health care outcomes in Costa Rica, which has much less technology, but way more doctors per person, and no impediment to seeing the doctor when you are sick.

      These are solved problems. But the US is decaying in the same way that the Soviet Union decayed, because it prioritized dogma over practical solutions. It wasn’t enough in the Soviet Union to solve a problem, you had to solve it according to Soviet dogma. And the US is doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter that public networks and public health care are better for business than private networks and health care, it only matters that private networks and health care fit the dogma.

  • Sigivald

    Estonia is a fifth the size of Oregon, and so is Slovakia.

    Boy, it sure is easy to provide fast internet to tiny little countries with relatively dense or non-numerous core urban areas, isn’t it?

    If I had a dollar for every time I heard a “Why US internet so slow?!?!” rant from someone who thought that Seoul could be transposed to the entire US or that Estonia’s 3G network (which is doing most of its internet access, since only 1/4 of Estonians have wired internet and there’s not that much 4G penetration yet) was just an awesome pattern to apply to the whole US, I’d have … enough money to buy lunch, at least.

    • JohnDoey

      That is just an excuse. Size has nothing to do with it.

      The US is huge, but still has coast to coast networks of roads, coast to coast networks of trains, and coast to coast networks of planes. It can easily also have coast to coast data networks.

      The US is also the richest country in the world, and has had the Internet for longer than any country in the world.

      The US has also had 150 years with no wars on domestic soil. Estonia and Slovakia had a war-torn 20th century, and were not even independent countries until recently.

      The US also has a simplified currency structure and language structure, because the US dollar and English are both old and internationally used. A lot of smaller countries have multiple unique languages and have to learn English to use the Internet effectively. A lot of smaller countries have changed currencies over the past century.

  • Keith

    The fact that telecoms operate as virtual monopolies is definitely a big part of it, but it’s not the entire story.

    The United States started out with an extensive copper infrastructure. It’s expensive to replace all of that with fiber, so telecoms are trying to stretch their use of the existing copper for as long as they can until it’s no longer good enough. This in turn forces companies such as Cisco to spend their efforts on tech to stretch our use of copper.

    Other countries didn’t have the decent copper infrastructure we had, so when they decided to get serious about the internet and had to provision new infrastructure, many of them laid down fiber instead. Their smaller landmasses helped in that regard. (Japan, Korea, etc.)

    • JohnDoey

      No, there is fiber all over the US, built before the turn of the century, but a lot of it is dark.

      What is holding us on the copper is not the lack of fiber, but rather that the people who own the copper want to maintain the status quo.

  • David

    More regulation means less competition.

    • JohnDoey

      No, that is absurd.

      The right amount of regulation is what makes a competitive market. You have to strike the right balance to get a healthy market. Too little regulation and a market immediately decays into monopoly, because the biggest player will do dirty tricks until they own everything.

      Example: compare the 1990′s computing market to the 2000′s computing market. There was less regulation in the 1990′s and Microsoft was monopolizing everything through dirty tricks. (They didn’t skate better than the other figure skaters, which is competition, they hit the other figure skaters in the knees with a pipe, which is anti-competition.) There is more regulation now and there is much, much more competition.

      Businesses like a level playing field, as much certainty about the future as possible, and to be able to put as much of their focus into their own product as possible, and they want peripheral things like Internet service to cost the same for them as for their competition, so that the focus of competition is who makes the better widget, not who can get the fastest Internet service. That all comes from regulation. They don’t want to go out of business because a competitor who makes a lesser widget was better at doing dirty tricks. They don’t want to spend a billion dollars on lawyers who are in court all day arguing things out because there was not adequate regulation to prevent those court cases from being necessary in the first place.