If you feel like broadband has gotten faster in the last year, you didn’t imagine it. Especially not if you live in the United States.
According to the Fair Internet Report, which was recently issued, U.S. broadband speeds increased 91 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to a measure of “annual speed test medians.” This means broadband speeds in the U.S. have now overtaken those of Western Europe, including UK, France, and Germany, for the first time in five years.
The author of the study said in a separate interview that the increase in speed can largely be attributed to large numbers of Americans, working from home due to the pandemic during 2020, upgrading their Internet performance.
However, the U.S. does not offer the fastest internet speeds of those measured. Instead, Denmark is ranked first, followed by Switzerland, both of which are considerably ahead of the rest of the pack. Sweden, The Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and Norway are also all ahead of the United States.
However, of individual cities, Austin, Texas, was the fastest of those measured, followed by Amsterdam. Stockholm was third, followed by three American cities, Seattle, Dallas and New York.
“American internet users have had a very good 2020: according to research performed by FairInternetReport, median U.S. internet speeds in 2020 doubled to 33.16mbps, up from 17.34mbps in 2019,” the report said.
“Covering the five years of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, this is the largest speed increase seen in the US, with speeds staying essentially the same in 2016 and 2017 (8.91mbps and 9.08mbps respectively), and 2018 recording a median speed of 12.83mbps.”
Why did American broadband speeds get so much faster? There are differing theories, but it probably wasn’t because of the demise of net neutrality regulations.
Karl Bode of tech news site TechDirt interviewed the author of the study, after some interpreted the result as having to do with the Trump Administration’s reversal of Obama-era net neutrality rules.
“The findings are more likely to suggest increased consumer spending on high-speed plans for working from home than anything else...speed test data is fascinating and helpful,” the study’s author, Thomas Buck, said in that interview.
“But using it as proof that net neutrality was bad is a giant stretch by any means. When looking at broadband data, I think it’s more important to discuss the dark spots (subscriber data, full capacity testing at scale, same-year fiber build data) than what we have (hundreds of thousands of speed tests, most of them showing results a fraction of what ISPs advertise).”
Furthermore, the change in net neutrality rules came in 2017, making it unlikely this would cause a speed spike between 2019 and 2020.
Once the Biden Administration takes power, it’s expected that his FCC will take another look at net neutrality regulations, which were put in place by the Obama Administration in 2014, but reversed by the FCC, under departing chairman Ajit Pai, in 2017.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.