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The Internet in the US

This guide was written by Francine Carrel, Assistant Editor of Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 25 October 2016. The law and practice in the US change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide looks at the availability of internet in the United States, its price, service providers, mobile internet and how the US stands in comparison to the rest of the world.

Introduction

The internet is a huge part of our daily lives. Slow or expensive connections can make home life irritating and work life much less productive.

Internet penetration in the US

According to Internet Live Stats, 88.5% of people in the US can access the internet at home, which puts it 15 of 207 countries for percentage of population using the internet. Iceland is top with 96.55%.

Internet speeds in the US

According to the latest State of the Internet Report (PDF link) from Akamai, the average download speed in the US is 15.4Mbps, around the same as the UK's speed. Topping the global rankings are South Korea (27Mbps) and Norway (20.1Mbps).

States with the fastest average internet speeds

Info from the 2016 Akamai State of the Internet Report.

 State Avg. Mbps (Q2 2016)
District Of Columbia 24.3
Rhode Island 19.6
Delaware 19.5
Massachusetts 19.0
Utah 18.9
Maryland 18.6
New Jersey 18.4
Virginia 18.0
New York 17.8
Washington 17.2

High-speed internet access

You can comfortably browse the internet with a 10Mbps download speed - but if you want to download a lot of items, or stream videos on multiple devices, you should be looking for something 25Mbps or higher. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is aiming to make those speeds accessible to all Americans.

If a fast internet connection is important to you or your business, check out the area's infrastructure before you commit. FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report highlighted a few issues with US connectivity:

Parts of the US, especially major cities, can now access very high speed internet. 100Mbps is fairly common, and a few areas can even access 1gbps download speed (notable providers are Google Fiber and CenturyLink).

Have a look at this interactive map from the FCC to find out what speeds you can access where.

this article from April 2016 lists some areas in which 1Gbps internet is currently available, and providers are expanding those services all the time. With current internet applications, gigabit internet in the home is overkill - and pretty expensive. But it could be worth considering for your business.

What kind of internet is used in the US?

Almost all internet users in the US now use broadband rather than dial-up connections (see below, from Pew Research Center). Remaining dial-up connections are almost exclusively in residential, rural premises.

Most internet consumers now use DSL or cable internet, but accessibility of the much faster fiber-optic internet is improving - BROADBANDNOW says 25% of the US can access fiber-optic internet. You're most likely to be able to access fiber-optic internet in Rhode Island (97.9% of the population covered), Oregon (76.7%) and New Jersey (62.2%).

The number of fiber-optic users in the United States lags behind much of the world (see below).

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Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US

There are a lot of ISPs in the United States. BROADBANDNOW has an extensive list.

The biggest internet service providers in the US are:

  1. Comcast

  2. AT&T

  3. Time Warner Cable

  4. Century Link

  5. Charter

  6. Verizon

Customer satisfaction with US ISPs

Customer satisfaction American internet service providers is notoriously bad. Of the 43 industries the American Customer Satisfaction Index looks at, ISPs are ranked the lowest. The ACSI says this is to do with bad customer service and high prices (see below).

Home internet costs in the US

Internet access in the US is pretty pricy. Numbeo's excellent cost of living tool shows the average monthly cost for internet (10 Mbps, unlimited data, Cable/ADSL) in various countries. I list a few below for comparison:

 Country Monthly cost (USD)
United States $51.71
Canada $44.13
France $29.30
Japan $38.67
Mexico $21.83
United Kingdom $24.87
Uruguay $29.16

Internet on mobile devices

Mobile devices such as mobile (cell) phones are now almost ubiquitous (see below, from Pew Research Center). The US had over 382million mobile telephone subscriptions in 2015, up from around 285million in 2010.

'Smart' mobile (cell) phones are being used for more and more everyday tasks.

Americans increasingly use smartphones for more than voice calls, texting

It's therefore important to a lot of people that they are able to get good 3G or 4G coverage where they live and work.

Happily, the US has good 3G and 4G LTE coverage throughout most of the country. The speed isn't great - 4G LTE download speed averages at 9.9Mbps, while some countries achieve 20Mbps or more. However, 10Mbps is enough to use most applications on a smart phone with ease.

Mobile data providers in the US

The four biggest mobile data providers in the United States are Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

This article shows which providers are most-used in each state.

Mobile data prices in the US

Mobile phone contracts in the United States are very expensive. Prices have been driven up by lack of competition and lack of regulation. You can easily expect to pay between $50-$100 per month for a cell phone plan.

While you can probably get a phone plan with 1GB of data for around $30, the average American uses more data than citizens of most other countries (Japan is the only exception). In 2015, according to Mobidia, the average US wireless customer used 1.8GB of data. That amount has almost certainly grown since.

Note that some packages which offer 'unlimited' data will grant you 4G LTE speeds for only the first couple of gigabytes used in a month, before demoting you to 3G.

Expats' Tips

What are your experiences with the internet in the United States? Have you got any tips for the best service providers, or complaints about the worst? Email office@guides.global.

Conclusion

Getting internet in the US is easy. Getting fast internet is doable. Getting fast, cheap internet is difficult.

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
US Country Guide
Useful facts and figures about the US
country guide for the US

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
State of the Internet Report
Thorough global report on speeds, trends and access from Akamai.
State of the Internet Report
State of Mobile Networks - USA
Interactive report from OpenSignal
State of Mobile Networks - USA
2G / 3G / 4G coverage map
Cellular data network map of the US, by carrier
us cell phone data coverage by carrier

Readers' Comments

 

Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel

25 October 2016


 

This guide was co-authored by John Howell (Email: John.Howell@Guides.Global or John@jhco.org. Web: www.jhco.org or www.Guides.Global)



 

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