If you’ve heard about the backward state of US internet infrastructure, you’ve probably read the anecdotes about Riga, the Latvian capital that has faster-than-fast internet speeds, or Estonia, where a post-Soviet technology obsession has helped the country become an internet leader.
Still, both countries lag behind the US on the World Economic Forum’s ranking (pdf) of internet bandwidth available per user. The US, which ranked 35th in 2012, offers the average citizen 62.3 kB per second, while the top performer, Luxembourg, offers its citizens connectivity at the thrilling speed of 4 MB per second. The top 10 providers of high average bandwidth have something in common: They are small, rich countries—Hong Kong, Malta, Singapore, and Iceland round out the top five. While the US has high-speed internet access in some cities that out-strips other countries, slow speeds in rural areas drag down the average.
But a similar phenomenon plays out when it comes to broadband penetration: The US is ranked 14th in the OECD, a group of wealthy economies, with only 28.8% of the population—90 million people—accessing a fixed broadband subscription, which is three times as many as Japan, the country with the second-most subscribers, and 30 times more than Switzerland, the country with the highest penetration.