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US consumers need a faster web

News, 22 December 2014

WASHINGTON DC: A significant proportion of US consumers have limited choice when it comes to the high-speed broadband which is required to meet the optimal functionality of popular applications, an official report has found.

As commerce and information increasingly moves online, this situation also risks further widening the digital divide, the US Commerce Department warned following an investigation into internet service speeds in the country.

It found 88% of the population have the choice of at least two mobile ISPs plus two or more fixed ISPs at downloads speeds of 3 megabits per second (Mbps), but this level is not fast enough to meet demand for video and other streaming services.

Speeds of at least 10 Mbps, which MediaPost reported Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler as saying should be regarded as the new definition of broadband, are available from two fixed ISPs and three mobile ISPs.

However, when it comes to speeds above 10 Mbps, only 37% of Americans have a choice of two or more fixed-service providers at speeds of 25 Mbps or greater.

This is the speed at which a 6-gigabyte movie can be downloaded in 16 minutes and only 9% of the population have three or more choices of provider at that level.

"We know that competition typically drives down prices," said Sue Helper, chief economist at the US Commerce Department. "And we also know that increasingly higher internet speeds are required for optimal functionality of popular, high-bandwidth computing applications.

"As more and more commerce and information move online, we risk further widening the digital divide if access to affordable, higher speed internet doesn't keep pace."

Data sourced from Commerce Department, MediaPost; additional content by Warc staff