86% of US states increased internet speeds during COVID-19 lockdown


WhistleOut: How Americans’ pandemic-reliance on the internet for work and e-learning put a heavy strain on bandwidth, yet internet speeds increased.

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Image: shironosov, Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Logic may have you believe that with the dramatic increase of use and reliance on the internet during the coronavirus crisis that internet speeds slowed. However, the average internet speed in the US increased from 84.9Mbps to 94.6Mbps. This may surprise some, given the surge in bandwidth demand from Zoom-use, streaming, gaming and more reliance on the internet speed. 

A new report from WhistleOut explains how the internet speeds changed during the pandemic and offered a map of the US and suggest the boost in speed “could be due to consumers upgrading their internet and testing their new connection, or because some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) increased overall internet speeds in response to the pandemic.

WhistleOut reviewed more than 717,000 internet speed tests and compared the average results per state from the period prior to the US COVID-19 outbreak (mid-January to mid-March 2020) to the period after the pandemic began (mid-March to early July 2020).

Big increases

States with biggest increase in internet speeds

  1. Wyoming (52% increase)
  2. Alaska (40% increase)
  3. Kentucky (37% increase)
  4. Kansas (36% increase)
  5. Missouri (31% increase)

The 10th largest US state, Wyoming, provided its internet users with higher broadband speeds during the months of the pandemic, and average download speeds increased by 52%. WhistleOut speculates the reason for such a dramatic increase in speed is the result of a statewide push by the Wyoming Broadband Council to bring better internet connectivity and speeds to “underserved rural populations.” 

Speed improvements elsewhere are credited with similar state-sponsored initiatives. Internet speeds in Alaska–which finished the only all on-land fiber internet network in June 2020–rose by 40%.

Still in the building stage, the KentuckyWired project will build out more than 3,000 miles of fiber internet cables to speed up rural areas. The project has been delayed and is fraught with political, financial, and environmental (squirrel) issues. 

Missouri has more than $50 million earmarked for increased broadband access, which is already being built. Missouri officials were likely motivated to lift the state above its status as in the lower-half of the US, and ranked regarding residents’ access to broadband. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Big decreases

States with biggest decrease in internet speeds since the pandemic:

  1. West Virginia (13% increase)
  2. Hawaii (8% decrease)
  3. Delaware (8% decrease)
  4. Connecticut (6% increase)
  5. Washington, D.C. (2% increase)

West Virginia wasn’t the only state with pandemic-exacerbated limited resources in largely rural areas, since similar issues were reported in Connecticut and Delaware. 

WhistleOut indicated it suspected the rise of internet speeds may lie in the fact that consumers have upgraded internet plans to faster ones, raising the overall average for home internet speeds. Cox and a few other internet providers increased overall internet speeds as a pandemic-response.

The need for speed

Your specific internet speed, WhistleOut previously reported, depends on several factors, including the number of people in your household using the same connection, how many devices within the household are using the internet, and how you use the internet. It cites speeds needed for these popular internet-reliant activities:

  • Web browsing (email, social media): 1Mbps
  • Video streaming (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime): 3-25Mbps
  • Audio streaming (Spotify, Pandora and podcasts): <1Mbps
  • Online gaming (PS4, Xbox): 3-6Mbps
  • Social media live streaming (Instagram or Reddit Live, YouTube Live): 3-6Mbps
  • Video calling (Skype, Facetime): 3-6Mbps

To accurately assess an entire household’s needs WhistleOut recommends considering the internet activities of each member of the household individually and add-up the required speeds needed. Here’s the example it provided:

  • Jane watches Netflix in HD: 5Mbps
  • Jane also browses the internet while watching Netflix: 1Mbps
  • Tom plays Call of Duty on his PS4: 3-6Mbps
  • Katie Facetimes her friends: 3-6Mbps
  • Internet speeds needed: 12-19Mbps

According to Statista, the average internet speed in the US in 2017 was 18.75Mbps, enough for streaming HD videos, regular browsing, and online gaming

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