When Americans talk about the ‘digital divide’ they mean the separation of those with online access from those without it. In Hong Kong, the ‘digital divide’ could describe the difference between peak internet access speeds there and in the rest of the world. Hong Kong’s peak data rate (54.1 Mbps) clocks in nearly twice the average peak speed of the US (29.4 Mbps) and nearly four times the peak global average (15.9Mbps).
Each quarter, global content delivery network Akamai analyzes its own traffic and publishes comparative statistics for 180 countries and regions. In the latest report covering 3Q 2012, Hong Kong’s average peak data rate is followed by South Korea (48.8 Mbps), Japan (42.2 Mbps), Latvia (37.5 Mbps) and Rumania (37.4 Mbps).
Akamai’s statistics for average data rates show the same top three countries, although with different ranks. South Korea’s 14.7 Mbps compares to Japan’s 10.5 and Hong Kong’s 9.0. Latvia and Switzerland tie for fourth at 8.7 each. The US trails in ninth at 7.2Mbps.
Some disparity is attributable to the size differences between the countries. Vast stretches of rural America still lack broadband access, while over half the South Koreans live in and around metropolitan Seoul (not surprisingly, the US state with the fastest access is Delaware). Another factor is government policy. South Korea’s Information Infrastructure program committed the country to offering 1 Gbps access rates to 84% of the population by 2012. South Koreans pay significantly less for their Internet connections, as well. High speed broadband access, defined by Akamai as >10Mbps, is available to 52% of South Koreans compared to 18% of the US. High speed broadband costs South Koreans less than half the standard broadband access rates available on average in the US. There is little competition among US Internet service providers (ISPs), who lack an incentive to cut prices or invest in service upgrades because they don’t fear the customer churn found in more competitive markets. As long as this situation exists (and absent some intervention from the government), US customers will continue to face poorer service and higher prices than in some Asian and European countries.
The US performs equally poorly in mobile connectivity. The fastest mobile carriers in Q3 2012 for average peak data rates were in Russia (39.2 Mbps), Austria (27.2 Mbps), and Ukraine (19.0 Mbps). The fastest US carrier, by comparison, offered an average peak rate of 9.8 Mbps. The US picture is slightly better for average connectivity overall. Two US carriers placed in the top 25.
Jason Kane is an avid tech blogger and online gamer. Jason writes articles on fiber-optic equipment such as optical transceivers and GLT-C modules.