The Communications Workers of America, part of the AFL-CIO, seems to hate the phone companies, but that does not necessarily make their research bad. Saying that Americans don’t have high speed internet compared to the rest of the world may help them save their jobs, but it has the additional benefit of being true.
The CWA, as they call themselves, set up a webite called www.speedmatters.org. Over the period from September 2006 to May 2007, 80,000 people went to the site to check their connections speeds. That is not the scientific way to do a survey, but leaving that aside, it is a big sample.
The results are along the lines of what one might expect, but a bit sad nonetheless. People who live in rural areas tend to have lousy broadband. Living in West Virginia may have a number of drawbacks. Add to that list extremely slow internet connections. The area that runs from Washington, DC to Philadelphia to NYC to Boston is the place to live if you want to watch movies online or download all the files from the Library of Congress website.
Leaving aside the broadband poverty issue in some states, the survey does produce on unpleasant set of figures. The average download speed in the US is 1.9 megabits per second. In Japan, the number is 61 mps. The US is behind almost every developed country.
The union wants to make two points. One is that the Japanese pay about what we do, and get a much better deal. The other is that people who make over $100,000 are much more likely to have an internet connection than those who make under $30,000.
If the broadband infrastructure across the US is going to be significantly improved, more CWA workers will keep their jobs. But, it would be good to remember that, to a large extent, much of the nation’s access to electricity and phone service was based on actions taken by the federal government long, long ago.
Whether the US will be well-wired is a matter of national policy now, whether we like it or not.
Douglas A. McIntyre