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Netflix and Akamai Reports Show Sustained Broadband Speeds Falter in U.S.

in Broadband Mapping/International by

WASHINGTON, February 7, 2011 – Online content providers Netflix and Akamai released data recently indicating that U.S. internet service providers meet expectations for promised peak broadband speeds, but fall short when it comes to sustained speeds.

Netflix, which offers streaming video on-demand, released data and charts last month through its blog.  The company evaluated sustained downloads as part of its high definition streaming service specific to Internet Service Providers (ISP)s.

According to its data, no ISP in the U.S. sustains Netflix’ ideal speeds for sustained picture quality – but they come close.  The company requires streaming service user to have an internet connection that has a speed of 1.5 Mbps, with a faster 3 Mbps being more ideal.

The online movie provider’s top high-definition stream requires about 4.8 Mbps of bandwidth, although the actual bit rate for the stream would vary while viewing video from the service. For slower connections image quality is scaled back making sustained bandwidth an important measure when watching a video stream.

Netflix filtered data for the report to only contain titles that had high definition video streams and devices capable of playing back in these streams (wireless networks were excluded). The results show that most ISPs average well above the minimum requirement bandwidth,  Cable modem services appear to be better than most digital subscriber line (DSL) connections for supporting high-definition video streams as cable provider, Charter, led the way, followed by Comcast, Cox, and Time-Warner. Notably, no distinction was made in the report between Verizon’s Fiber optic network and its DSL offerings, they were presented as a single ISP.

None of the U.S. ISPs were close to their Canadian counterparts, where Netflix has recently begun offering it’s service. Rogers Communications, one of the largest ISPs in Canada, averaged sustained speeds of more than 3 Mbps and all other Canadian providers except Telus averaged well above a 2.5 Mbps average.

Akamai is a global company that provides faster content delivery by placing servers around the world mirroring client content. Akamai releases a quarterly State of the Internet report, based on user visits from around the world in the third quarter of 2010.

According to Akamai’s findings, about one-thirds of U.S. Internet connections are faster than 5 Mbps, putting the United States ninth in the world. Worldwide, nearly a quarter of Internet connections are 5 Mbps or greater, with most of those connections in Asia and Northern Europe. The United States ranked lower in providing connections greater than 2 Mbps. Although three quarters of U.S. connections reach this threshold, it was behind smaller countries such as Monaco, Tunisia and the Isle of Man, where 95 percent of users access the Web at speeds exceeding 2 Mbps speeds.

The Netflix report may suggest that ISPs do not live up to their claimed speeds, however this is difficult to assess as ISPs tend to advertise their speeds as “up to” and not as a sustained number. Ookla, the owner of Speedtest.net and Pingtest.net, provides statistics that  show that the promised peak speeds are avaible. Ookla rates US users peak speeds at 93 percent of advertised headline speeds based on over 1.5 billion tests compiled on their sites.

Nate Hakken is a native of Washington, DC. As the son of two itinerant academics, Nate spent much of his childhood living in England and Scandinavia. He has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, as well as a J.D. from Vermont Law School, where he studied Internet and technology law. Nate is a jack-of-all-trades, having worked as a sound engineer, teacher, camp director, outdoor adventure guide, and medical researcher. Outside of work, he is an avid cyclist who competes across the Mid-Atlantic and has been known to play the guitar when asked nicely.

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