FORTUNE -- Broadband adoption in the U.S. continues to rise, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Among adults 18 and older, 70% have broadband access at home -- up from 66% a year ago.
As Pew notes, that's a significant increase. But a deeper look at the numbers shows that broadband deployment in the U.S. remains sub-par, especially when you consider that the Internet was invented here, and we're supposed to be the global leader in innovation.
The survey considers "broadband" to be anything that delivers download speeds of 4 Mbps, which is about what the most anemic DSL services provide. That's actually accurate enough (the FCC uses the same standard) -- and that's the problem. Akamai reported in April that the average broadband speed in the U.S. had actually grown by 28% in the previous year -- to a pathetic 7.4 Mbps. The U.S. came in eighth in Akamai's ranking -- just after the Czech Republic, which boasts an average broadband speed of 8.1 Mbps. South Korea placed first, with 14 Mbps. Japan's average was 10.8.
Parts of Pew's survey report assume that smartphones provide "broadband access." That might help make the digital divide seem a bit narrower, as long as you don't think about it too much. Yes, you can watch movies on your phone, but even if the movies run smoothly, watching them can quickly eat up data caps and cost money.
Otherwise, Pew reports that while 90% of college graduates have broadband in their homes, only 37% of non-high school graduates and 54% of those making less than $30,000 a year do. There are racial differences, too, but according to Pew, ownership of smartphones among blacks and Hispanics nearly bridges that gap.
In some ways, that makes sense. If you have neither in-home broadband nor a smartphone, you're way behind someone with one or both. But that shouldn't lead us to believe that owning a smartphone makes up for the lack of home broadband.
Law professor Susan Crawford, who analyzes the communications industry, writes at Wired that counting slow bandwidth at home, and counting smartphones as broadband, "allows us to pretend there's a vibrant marketplace for high-speed Internet access, with satellite duking it out with cable modem access, mobile wireless supplanting the need for a wire at home, and no need for oversight or a change in industrial policy."
The presence of a national strategy to increase broadband penetration is the most effective factor driving deployment, according to a study by the International Telecommunications Union.
FORTUNE -- Despite the protestations of free-market purists (as if our communications networks operated in anything like a free market), it turns out that the countries with some kind of national broadband-deployment plan do better than those without. In fact, it's the main driver of MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Jul 12, 2013 1:52 PM ET
The company is building an Internet Valhalla in Kansas City. Most observers have scoffed at the effort. But they're wrong.
By Kevin Kelleher, contributor
FORTUNE -- Last month, Google announced its Google Fiber initiative promising 1 gigabit of Internet speed for $70 a month and throwing in dozens of high-definition television channels for another $50 a month. The announcement was greeted with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism.
The news elicited a lot of excitement MOREAug 23, 2012 7:01 AM ET
Can so-called Super Wi-Fi bring high speeds and low costs to rural Americans? xG Technologies thinks so.
NB: This is the second story in a two part series about rural broadband access in America. To read the first part, please click here.
FORTUNE -- Engineers have long dreamed of using cheap wireless networks to do an end-run around the companies that now provide Internet access and cell phone service. Those dreams have MOREOct 18, 2011 10:59 AM ET
So much data - so little space. A big fight is brewing over who gets the best parts.
By Tara Moore, reporter
We all know that our use of mobile data and video is exploding. But not everyone understands that the bandwidth needed to operate that technology is limited -- and at risk of overload. The radio spectrum is a fixed range of frequencies, controlled by the federal government (which owns 59%). MOREJul 27, 2011 5:00 AM ET
The company uses a mix of subscriber information, user ratings, rentals, and cool computer algorithms to predict what kinds of entertainment you might enjoy streaming.
Back to Reed Hastings: Leader of the packMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Nov 18, 2010 12:00 AM ET
Executives from Silicon Valley to Hollywood to Wall Street admires his savvy persistence - and his company's cool culture. The secret to the Netflix CEO's success? He never stops looking over his shoulder.
Reed Hastings isn't supposed to be here -- not on a list of the year's top businesspeople, and certainly not on the cover of Fortune. His DVD-by-mail company, Netflix, was supposed to have flamed out by now, a MOREMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Nov 18, 2010 12:00 AM ET
Network advances, next-generation devices, and regulatory pressures are putting pressure on broadcast.
By Daniel Hays, Director, PRTM
On-demand video is starting to out-compete broadcast, and it looks like that trend is going to keep going. The recent federal appeals court ruling against the FCC's net neutrality assertions will probably support the growth of on-demand video. Various forces are converging to open the floodgates for broadband service providers and content owners to deliver MOREApr 29, 2010 2:42 PM ET
That thump you heard in the middle of the night, was the 376-page National Broadband Plan finally being dropped (you can get your very own copy or just scan through the executive summary here).
Not pulling any political punches, broadband is compared to electricity in the conclusion to the report crafted by Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski and his team. It reads:
In 1938, President Roosevelt traveled to Gordon Military College in MOREMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Mar 16, 2010 3:11 PM ET
By Paul Smalera, contributor
Google's recent push to provide ultra-high-speed Internet is more about injecting competition in the dysfunctional Internet business than about creating a new revenue stream.
It's the 21st century equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush: Just days after Google announced it was seeking some trial areas in which to deploy its new ultra-high-speed fiber network, cities and towns began throwing themselves at the Internet giant. And why shouldn't they? MOREMar 1, 2010 9:51 AM ET
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