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U.S. lags other nations in Internet speed

Average download speed in U.S. is slower than that in 27 other countries, says report from the Communications Workers of America. South Korea lands top spot with fastest Internet speeds.

The average Internet download speed in the U.S. is slower than that in 27 other countries, according to a new report by the Communications Workers of America.

Web surfing in the U.S. averages around 5.1 megabits per second (mbps), lagging far behind top-ranked South Korea, where speeds average more than 20 mbps. In 2007, the U.S. download speed was 3.5 mbps, inching up only 1.6 mbps since then. At that rate, notes the report, it will take the U.S. 15 years to catch up with South Korea.

Communications Workers of America

The CWA's 2009 Report on Internet Speeds also compared Internet performance throughout all 50 U.S. states.

The report discovered that Internet users who live in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic regions enjoy faster speeds than those in the South or West. The five fastest states included Delaware (9.9 mbps), Rhode Island (9.8 mbps), New Jersey (8.9 mbps), Massachusetts (8.6 mbps), and New York (8.4 mbps).

States on the slow end were Mississippi (3.7 mbps), South Carolina (3.6 mbps), Arkansas (3.1 mbps), Idaho (2.6 mbps), and Alaska (2.3 mbps).

"Every American should have affordable access to high-speed Internet, no matter where they live. This is essential to economic growth and will help maintain our global competitiveness," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. "Unfortunately, fragmented government programs and uneven private sector responses to build out Internet access have left a digital divide across the country."

The U.S. is the only country without a national policy to promote high-speed Internet access, noted the report. But that may be about to change.

Signed earlier this year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes a provision for a national broadband plan by spring of next year and grants of $7.2 billion to bring high-speed Internet to rural and remote locations across the country.

That's a step in the right direction, said the CWA. But the organization would like to see more specific improvements.

In the report, the CWA called for such measures as an Internet infrastructure with enough capacity for 10 mbps downstream and 1 mbps upstream by 2010, tax incentives for businesses to provide faster speeds, and grants to provide computers and broadband equipment to low-income households.

The 2009 report was compiled using data from the CWA's latest Speed Matters test, which measures the time it takes to communicate with the nearest server on the Net. Gathered from May 2008 to May 2009, the test tracked the speed of more than 413,000 Internet users.