Broadband speeds across the US have been rapidly increasing over the past decade as service providers have continued to invest in their networks. Leveraging data from Ookla Speedtests, we found that the median US download speed has increased from 6.6 Mbps in 2008 to 31.3 Mbps at the beginning of this year, representing a 25% average annual increase over the period. However, these gains were not consistent throughout the country. While some areas have benefited from new high-speed fiber and next generation cable networks, others saw less investment and only moderate bandwidth improvements.

 

Broadband speeds across the US have been rapidly increasing over the past decade as service providers have continued to invest in their networks. Leveraging data from Ookla Speedtests, we found that the median US download speed has increased from 6.6 Mbps in 2008 to 31.3 Mbps at the beginning of this year, representing a 25% average annual increase over the period. However, these gains were not consistent throughout the country. While some areas have benefited from new high-speed fiber and next generation cable networks, others saw less investment and only moderate bandwidth improvements.

To help visualize these speed improvements throughout the US, we developed the below interactive graphic which plots typical download speeds in 2008 against typical download speeds at the start of this year for all cities where Speedtest data were available. Each point represents a city, is sized by its population, and is colored by the change in speed over the period. Dark red cities experienced gains of less than 10 mbps, while dark green cities saw gains in excess of 40 mbps.

> Click to interact on mobile: US Broadband Speeds by City: 2008 vs 2015

When comparing the geographic speed mix between the two points in time, there are a number of interesting trends that help explain of how the US broadband market has evolved in recent years.

1. Nearly every city with available data saw an improvement in speed.

Although there were a couple small town exceptions, (i.e., Morrison, IL and Mattawan, MI), it’s clear that service providers in every part of the country have made the investments necessary to improve network bandwidth. These investments have benefited consumers and businesses across the US by enabling new high-bandwidth use cases and business models. While some areas saw greater improvements than others, it’s encouraging to see that no major markets regressed to pre-2008 bandwidth levels.

2. The outliers with the most substantial speed gains are all areas that now have Google Fiber.

Google’s gigabit experiment in Greater Kansas City (i.e., Kansas City, Grandview, and Belton), Greater Austin (i.e., Austin, Cedar Park, Round Rock, Leander, and Pflugerville), and Provo has substantially increased bandwidth availability in these markets to the point where they now lead the country. In 2008 these areas were a fairly representative sample of US internet speeds, with a typical download speed of 6.6 mbps, the same as the country overall. Over the subsequent seven years, however, these three metropolitan areas experienced average speed increases exceeding 96 mbps, while on average the US saw speed increases of 25 mbps. It’s clear that Google’s entry into these markets has been quite disruptive, with a portion of the speed increases occurring as a direct result of Google adding new subscribers onto their gigabit network, and another portion likely due to the competitive response from other service providers.

3. The speed gains are correlated with household income levels.

Areas with lower average household income started out in 2008 with slower speeds (5.7 mbps) than those with higher average household income (9.7 mbps). Over the subsequent period, these lower income areas also saw smaller annual increases in bandwidth, having typical speeds of just 24.9 mbps earlier this year while higher income areas saw speeds rise to 38.7 mbps. It’s possible that these markets offer a lower return on investment for service providers, as there may be less of a demand for higher-margin, more premium broadband products. However, these lower income areas are also disproportionately rural, where the cost of network investment is substantially greater per household. This also makes the business case for investment less favorable, resulting in more gradual bandwidth improvements.

As we look forward, we expect to see even more investment in broadband networks across the country. Service providers will likely continue to upgrade their networks to provide the increased bandwidth needed to support the growth of streaming media, cloud-based storage, and internet connected devices. As fiber-to-the-home investment continues to rise, both from Google and other service providers, new markets will likely experience rapid rises in speeds similar to the gains seen in greater Kansas City, Austin, and Provo. Finally, later this year the FCC is expected to begin providing new Federal subsidies that support the development of faster networks as part of the next phase of the Connect America Fund. This program will be directed at under-served areas where existing connectivity is poor and network investment is very expensive, bringing bandwidth improvements to the areas that need them most. All of these trends should continue to drive greater broadband speeds across the US over the coming years.