The U.S. ranks a shocking 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds. The leaders in the world are Hong Kong at 72.49 Mbps and Singapore on 58.84 Mbps. And America? Averaging speeds of 20.77 Mbps, it falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay.
Our upload speeds are even worse. Globally, the U.S. ranks 42nd with an average upload speed of 6.31 Mbps, behind Lesotho, Belarus, Slovenia, and other countries you only hear mentioned on Jeopardy.
So how did America fall behind? How did the country that literally invented the internet — and the home to world-leading tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Facebook, Google, and Cisco — fall behind so many others in download speeds?
Korea is Wired. I have been in Seoul, Korea quite a bit these past several years working with Korea Telecom, LG and SK. Seoul has a metropolitan area population of more than 22 million people and is the second most populated metro area in the world and second to none in terms of modern technology.
Seoul is home to some of the biggest telecommunications and technology companies in the world, including SK Telecom, KT Corporation, Samsung and LG. If you’re looking for the latest and greatest cell phone or miniature Wi-Fi gadget, Seoul should be your first stop.
When it comes to broadband penetration, South Korea is the world leader with an 83 percent penetration rate. This is in part due to the full-blown broadband revolution that has been taking place in Seoul for the past eight years. Seoul is full of Internet cafés, wireless hotspots and gaming areas (called “pc baangs”) making it the ideal city to use the Internet on the go. In most areas, a pc baang can be found on every corner. How’s that for service?
Koreans have a fascination with PC gaming unlike any other country in the world. In South Korea, there are multiple television channels dedicated solely to broadcasting the day’s video game events. Talented video game players are treated like celebrities similar to famous basketball players in the United States. At the center of all of the gaming is Seoul, which has played an important part in expanding Internet usage throughout all of South Korea.
Internet access in Seoul is extremely cheap, averaging around $20 per month for a 10Mpbs connection — that’s more than four times as fast and half the price of the average broadband connection in the United States. Some areas of Seoul boast commercial Internet speeds of more than 100Mbps for merely $30 per month. With speeds that fast it would only take you five minutes to download a two-hour high definition movie.
Seoul’s current expansion plans include a $439 million project to add wireless Internet access to the subway trains. “The plan would be to create a Wi-Fi network, and then charge roughly $20 per month for access.” With such a huge broadband presence and a dedication to offering cheap, fast Internet solutions, Seoul is the definition of wired.
In 2011 the Obama administration was trying to remedy this by building new publicly-funded wireless networks to offer fast 4G internet across the U.S. Whether this public investment will really prove effective at bringing internet competition to monopolized markets and nudging the highly profitable private companies like Time Warner and Comcast into improving their services remains to be seen.
So far it hasn’t.