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Washington gets less bang for its buck on broadband, survey says

By John Dunbar
Washingtonians get less bang for their broadband buck than every state in the nation except Alaska, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Washington subscribers pay $43.72 a month for broadband, the fifth-highest amount among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. And when you factor in connection speeds, the deal seems even worse.

The median monthly cost for broadband in the District was $11.93 per megabit per second (Mbs), according to Ookla, the Seattle-based technology company that conducted the survey. That’s nearly double the national median cost of $6.13 Mbps.

Megabits per second is a measure of how fast data travels through transmission lines. The greater the “throughput,” the better the service is for customers. Depending on a variety of factors, a speed of one or two Mbps is sufficient to deliver good quality video.

Compared with the rest of the world, the United States ranked 20th in the Ookla survey when it comes to lowest cost per megabit. The top five nations with the lowest cost were: Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania.

But when considering personal wealth, the countries with the best broadband value were Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. By that measure (mean broadband subscription cost divided by the gross domestic product per capita), the United States ranked 12th.

The surveys were completed by people who used the company’s popular connection speed test, which gets about a million hits per day, globally. They were asked to report the price they pay for broadband, as well as their advertised speed. For the District, 627 surveys were completed. The survey was conducted from June 8 to Oct. 4.

Broadband in the District is dominated by Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., with RCN Communications Inc. also providing service in some areas.

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said the average cost for Comcast’s most popular speed tier is $3.75/Mbps – "well under the study’s reported D.C. median.” Douglas said Comcast has invested in its infrastructure, which has increased speeds.

Verizon spokesman David Fish said Verizon customers in the District receive broadband service for as low as $19.95 per month and the company’s FiOS service delivers speeds up to 50 Mbps downstream.

Comcast and Verizon are both customers of Ookla, as is the Federal Communications Commission.

To check your connection speed, go to

Message from Cecilia Kang: The guest post comes from John Dunbar of American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop. John and I are working together on a project for the next several months looking at disparities of broadband access in Washington. The Obama administration has promised to expand high-speed Internet connections to all American homes. We look here, in the back yard of the nation’s capital, at the quality, speed and price of connections for residents.

You’ll be seeing more from us here on Post Tech and in The Washington Post. Please reach out to us at and/or for your thoughts, questions and suggestions.

photo credit:

By John Dunbar  | October 6, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband, Comcast, Consumers, Digital Divide, FCC  
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This "survey" is less than worthless. It does not look to either a random or representative sample. It is the results of a voluntary questionnaire of people using one company's broadband speed test site. Those people are unlikely to be representative of broadband users; they are Internet enthusiasts who are motivated to go to that site. Ask your friends, relatives, and coworkers whether they have been to, and you will find that maybe the geekiest have been there, and no others.

Using results from Ookla's survey doesn't tell you anything about various countries' broadband infrastructure, because the only people who participate are those who already have broadband, who may be relatively few in number. The fact that a handful of Moldovans used the site and reported high speeds tells us nothing about Moldova's broadband availability or cost in general, much less in comparison with other countries.

Moreover, voluntary online surveys such as this are susceptible to manipulation. Self-selected groups of people can easily skew the results. And there are many organizations and online groups that may have the motivation to portray the U.S. as inferior to other nations in its broadband infrastructure or pricing, hoping to generate clueless articles like this and influence government actions.

Posted by: MichaelDSullivan | October 6, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"Verizon spokesman David Fish said Verizon customers in the District receive broadband service for as low as $19.95 per month and the company’s FiOS service delivers speeds up to 50 Mbps downstream"


Umm...except last time I checked, FiOS wasn't available here in DC....LOL.

Posted by: Eleiana | October 6, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I’m sure some readers will consider me biased because I work for the US Telecom Association, but like Mr. Sullivan before me, this survey and Mr. Dunbar’s purported analysis strike me as utterly absurd. Taking off my occupational hat for a moment and drawing on my experience as a member of the Board of Directors of the DC Water and Sewer Authority, and on my prior experience as a Commissioner and Chair of the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission, has Mr. Dunbar given any thought to what it costs to dig up a street in DC as compared to other cities or other countries? Does his analysis consider that while the citizens of Luxembourg or Sweden may be paying for all that infrastructure work through their general (and outrageously high) taxes, DC applies more of a “cost to the cost-causer” philosophy to its rights-of-way, so that the ISP ultimately has to recover those costs solely from its own users, rather than being able to impose those costs on everyone else? Does the analysis take into account that our nation’s telecommunications industry pays its workers a decent living wage or better – something I’m confident the ditch-diggers and pole-climbers in Bulgaria and Romania aren’t enjoying? I don’t know exactly what Mr. Dunbar’s or Ookla’s agenda is in putting this sort of silliness out there for readers to chew on, but it’s hard to avoid the impression that mainly they’re just trying to get people riled up without giving them all the relevant facts to consider.

Posted by: aroth55 | October 6, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Generally I agree that voluntary/self-selected surveys can be highly misleading. In this case, I don't think that applies.

The cost and throughput of broadband service are objective facts, and don't change whether or not they're reported or sampled from enthusiasts or not. The data is even more representative when there are so few ISPs involved- no set of data from a small but exceptionally fast/slow/cheap/expensive ISP is especially skewing the median, which might be the case for a single Moldovan who happens to operate his own ISP and then reports how well he is provisioned. Statisticians?

My roadspeed and highway mileage are what they are, and don't change whether or not I get mad and choose to read my gauges. Whether I hate my ISP or not, I pay what I pay and I get what I get.

Posted by: qtrfoil85 | October 7, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

A better question would be whether or not I actually get the throughput I was advertised. That's not what was measured here, though I would think would have been exactly what Speedtest was capable of reporting, and where more truth lies. John Dunbar, are we even getting what we're paying for?

Posted by: qtrfoil85 | October 7, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

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