Only Arkansas has slower internet than Alaska

By September 1, 2014Science & Tech
Alaska's internet is the second slowest in the country. (Photo by Sarah Yu/KTOO)

Alaska’s internet is the second slowest in the country. (Photo by Sarah Yu/KTOO)

Alaska’s internet speeds are up 33 percent from last year, but we’re only up one spot ahead of Arkansas for the slowest internet in the country, according to a pending study.

For the first quarter of 2014, Alaska had the slowest internet in the U.S. That’s according to a report by Akamai Technologies, an internet content delivery company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alaska’s internet is about half as fast as the top three states: Virginia, Delaware and Massachusetts. Akamai’s studies and rankings are based off of actual content, such as websites and videos, delivered to users from their servers.

What’s does “Mbps” mean?

Alaska averaged 7 Mbps in the first quarter of 2014, according to Akamai Technologies.

Mbps stands for megabits per second. Internet content such as websites and photos are measured in megabits and megabytes and Mbps is used to measure how quickly content will download. At 7 Mbps, users should be able stream video in HD. Average speeds will drop when multiple people use the same connection.

David Belson wrote the study. He’s senior director of industry and data intelligence at Akamai.

“The speeds that we do see, even in the slower states, are still pretty good,” says Belson.

The United States ranked 12th globally in internet speeds, with an average of 10 Mbps. Libya has the slowest internet speed worldwide, with an average of 0.5 Mbps.

Economy, population density and geography play a large part in how fast local internet is.

“If you can bring high speed connectivity to a city and you can hit a large percentage of the population there, that’s a good thing. But if you have to be running it along, you know, roads and over hills and across rivers, that all gets really expensive,” he says.

GCI and Alaska Communications are Alaska’s largest internet providers. They had to run fiber optic cable underwater more than 1,000 miles from Anchorage to the lower 48.

“We’re more similar to an international carrier that’s connecting continents, rather than a lower 48 provider that is connecting on land,” says ACS spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship.

She says Alaska’s large landmass and low population contributes to slower speeds. Communities off the road get internet via satellite, which is slower than cables and fiber.

David Morris, a GCI vice president, says sometimes large organizations such as the State of Alaska, hospitals or schools will pay to build infrastructure for faster internet to offer vital community services.

For example, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. used USDA Rural Development grant funding to upgrade 65 rural communities in southwest Alaska from satellite internet to GCI’s land-based network. That meant paying for a combination of line-of-sight microwave dish relays and fiber optic cables.

The health care provider needed faster internet to keep up with changes in a federal health insurance privacy law that limited certain health care communications, but allowed for specific types of live video conferencing.

“You’ve got the village health clinic that is connected to a regional hospital and then in turn those hospitals are connected in to Anchorage, as well as to lower 48 hospitals,” Morris says.

Once the infrastructure was there, the internet provider could offer faster internet to locals.

GCI itself has spent $150 million dollars to improve internet in rural communities, in addition to having a $44 million grant and $44 million loan in Federal Broadband Stimulus Funding.

ACS just announced it will offer 30 and 50 Mbps home internet for Anchorage residents. And GCI is in the process of making 1 Gbps internet connections available in Anchorage.

Akamai Technologies’ next Internet study is due out this month.

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