Vermont is again ranked as the state with the highest average Internet speed according to the latest Akamai Quarterly State of the Internet Report.
In the past officials have cited the report as proof that Vermont is doing well in its broadband efforts, but there’s no shortage of people who are skeptical of the report’s findings based on their own broadband speeds.
Their comments are familiar to the report’s author, David Belson, who takes pains to explain his methodology and the meaning of the results.
Belson says the averages listed in the report are not based on theoretical figures or the speeds that the providers advertise.
The speed — 12.7 megabits per second — is the actual average of speeds businesses and individuals in Vermont are experiencing.
But Belson says it’s important to understand what the average means. Akamai, which is an Internet content provider, is not counting Internet users, it’s counting hits.
In other words, the people who use the Web the most are generating more of the data that goes into the report. If those people have very fast Internet speeds, that’s going help to raise the average.
To illustrate this point, consider this analogy: When Bill Gates walks into a bar, the average income of the patrons in that bar skyrockets.
That same principle accounts for Vermont’s first-in-the-nation standing for average broadband speeds.
“That’s the risk of using an average, unfortunately,” says Belson.
In the case of Vermont there are three Bill Gates types.
Two are colleges. The University of Vermont and Middlebury College together account for 15 percent of the Vermont Internet traffic measured by Akamai, and they have Internet speeds well above the average.
The third “Bill Gates” is a Vermont Internet service provider, which Belson isn’t permitted to name. It has higher than average speeds and its customers account for 50 percent of the state’s online traffic monitored by Akamai.
“The Bill Gates effect is, in essence, partially at play here where the two colleges and the provider are dragging the average speed up,” says Belson.
He says the number of IP addresses, or Internet connections, in Vermont is small — only North Dakota has fewer — which means it’s easier for a user like the University of Vermont with high-speed service and thousands of students, faculty and staff using it, to influence the average.
“If you’re talking about a state like California or Texas or New York, it is much harder for a given institution or network provider to overwhelmingly influence the calculations,” he says.
Belson says other states are close to Vermont in average broadband speeds, but he points to the continued growth of high-speed Internet access in the state over time, which may allow it to maintain its standing.
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