Mar 10, 2017 - Politics & Policy

American Internet inequality

The internet plays a central role in Americans' daily lives, but connection speeds vary widely depending on location. Data from Akamai Technologies' "State of the Internet" report highlights the persistent divide between the two coasts, where population tends to be dense, and midwestern states that tend to be more rural.

Data: Akamai Technologies; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios
Data: Akamai Technologies; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why it matters: Despite the efforts of policymakers over the past decade to expand broadband access across the country, rural areas still face slower service and fewer choices of providers. As President Trump weighs a $1 trillion infrastructure package, telecom companies, regulators and lawmakers from rural states are pushing for broadband expansion to be part of the deal.

  • Coastal states enjoy better access to internet and faster connections, as measured in megabits per second.
  • Northeastern states in particular experienced the fastest internet speeds, with D.C. (26.6 Mpbs), Rhode Island, Delaware,Massachusetts and New York taking the top 5.
  • Middle America experienced the slowest internet connections, with Idaho (11.9 Mpbs), Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and New Mexico rounding out the bottom 5.

Speeds in all states are getting faster. In its latest Measuring Broadband America Report, the FCC found that median broadband speeds across the U.S. increased 22% over the last year. The FCC's Universal Service Fund, which draws from surcharges on consumers' bills, provides funding to help carriers build into hard-to-reach areas to deliver speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. Why the divide exists: It's easier for internet service providers like Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon to invest in broadband networks in urban areas, where denser populations ensure a higher return on investment. It's a tougher business case in rural areas, where it costs a lot to build networks over mountains and vast stretches of highways, and fewer people are around to buy the service. What to watch: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to find ways to ease deployment of networks in areas that have been bogged down with slow and spotty connections. Senate Democrats have put forth their own infrastructure bill that dedicates $20 billion to broadband network. New Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Republican lawmakers have supported including broadband in Trump's infrastructure package. But it's unclear how such a package would be structured — it could include tax credits to spur new networks or a public-private partnership. Lawmakers are also in the process of reauthorizing the Farm Bill, and rural providers are hoping it includes grants and loans to help finance network expansions.

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