The Internet in the United States

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

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). Check your current internet speed here.

States with the fastest average internet speeds

Info from the 2016 Akamai State of the Internet Report.

StateAvg. Mbps (Q2 2016)
District Of Columbia24.3
Rhode Island19.6
New Jersey18.4
New York17.8

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:

  • 10% of all Americans (34 million people) lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps service
  • 39% of rural Americans (23 million people) lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps (in comparison to 4% of Americans in rural areas)

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 infographic (PDF) from 2017 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 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).

A chart showing that the US is behind many countries in adopting fiber optic technology. It has an 11% penetration rate compared with (e.g.) 73.3% in Japan

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:

CountryMonthly cost (USD)
United States$51.71
United Kingdom$24.87

Internet on mobile devices

Mobile devices such as mobile (cell) phones are now almost ubiquitous (see Pew Research Center) again. 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.

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.


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