Forget how far the nation is falling behind the rest of the industrialized world in the percentage of households with high-speed Internet access. A first-of-its-kind study released Monday shows that both California and the United States are taking a bigger thumping on what constitutes "high-speed."
The U.S. lags far behind many other countries in terms of how fast data move through the Internet for homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces, according to the study released by the Communications Workers of America.
The median Internet speed in the U.S. is 1.97 megabits per second. In California it's even slower, at 1.52 mbps. Both are dwarfed by No. 1 Japan, which offers users 61 mbps at the same price as U.S. service. At least four other countries have Internet connections that outpace the U.S.: South Korea, Finland, Sweden and Canada.
The union said its study was not comprehensive enough to conclude that the U.S. ranked sixth worldwide -- even more countries may have faster connections.
Whatever the ranking may be, the difference in speed means that downloading a movie in Japan takes about two minutes, compared with more than two hours in the U.S.
But the communications workers union, through its Speed Test project, doesn't care about how fast movies are downloaded. Its focus is on telemedicine, education and other areas in which a super-fast connection can save lives, teach citizens and make businesses more competitive.
"Speed defines what is possible on the Internet," union President Larry Cohen said. "Speed determines whether we will have the 21st century networks and communications necessary to grow our economy and jobs."
The group also is interested in making sure the country builds out the needed infrastructure, which it says would provide quality jobs as well as more potential union members.
The study, which surveyed 80,000 Internet users, dovetails into pending legislation proposed by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) to collect data on broadband deployment, redefine what "high-speed" means and help local officials study the reach of broadband.
"The first step toward good public policy is good data," Cohen said.
The union's report determined that among the fastest nations were South Korea at 45.6 mbps, Finland at 21.7 mbps and Sweden at 18.2 mbps. Canada clocked in at 7.6 mbps.
In the United States, Rhode Island had the fastest median speed at 5 mbps; Alaska had the slowest at 545 kilobits per second.
The communications workers union advocates six steps for providing affordable broadband to all U.S. residents. Those include setting a national policy goal, improving data collection, creating public-private partnerships for deploying broadband and preserving an open Internet to give users unfettered control of what they do online.
Results of the report are at www.speedmatters.org.