It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

No, I'm not making this up. It's been tested. Carrier pigeons deliver data faster than rural Internet in the UK. It's not any better in the U.S.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Take 10 carrier pigeons, strap each one with a 30GB USB keys and then race them against a typical rural Internet connection starting from a Yorkshire farm in the United Kingdom. Who do you think will win? Well, I'll tell you. The pigeons reached their destination, 120 miles away, in an hour and fifteen minutes. The Internet? It hadn't even delivered a quarter of the 300GB video file.

This was done for fun, but it was also to make a serious point. Outside of major cities, Internet connectivity is still awful. I should know. When I first moved to the Blue Ridge mountains outside of Asheville, NC, I had to go back to a dial-up connection. Yes, there are still places where dial-up is all you can do. Let me tell you right now, 56Kbps sucks dead gophers through rusty tail-pipes.

I then tried satellite Internet. The download speed was much better... when they'd let me get it. My maximum download at "High-Speed 3Mbps" each month was for 10-hours. I went through that in a day. After that my satellite network connection gave me 100-200Kbps. On top of that, the latency was dreadful. When your Internet has to go 22,300 miles, at best, straight up for its first hop even the speed of light begins to feel slow.

Don't get me wrong, when you've got nothing better. Satellite Internet from such companies as WildBlue and HughesNet is still better than dial-up. And, I'm told that these days that their restrictions on how much high-speed connectivity are a lot better than it used to be.

But, that's still making the best of a bad situation. These days I have a 20Mbps connection to the Internet via a cable connection in Asheville. Some of my friends, a few miles away, are still stuck with bandwidth or DSL connections that top out at a pathetic 768Kbps. They're not alone. Lots of people in the country have no high-speed or lousy Internet choices.

The federal government's National Broadband Plan proposes that "At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second." I'm not holding my breath.

The government claims that 95% of the U.S. population has access "to terrestrial, fixed broadband infrastructure capable of supporting actual download speeds of at least 4 Mbps." The key phrase there is "capable of supporting." The truth is that most ISPs do a lousy job of delivering the speed they promise. The median advertised download speed is 7Mbps. The reality is just over 4Mbps.

If you live in the country, of course, you're not going to see that kind of speed. In fact, if you live anywhere in the U.S. you're not likely to see great Internet speeds. According to the latest, 4th quarter 2009, Akamai State of the Internet report, the U.S. comes out a dismal 22nd in the world when it comes to Internet speeds.

The bottom line is that we desperately need to improve our Internet speed both in the U.S. and the U.K. And, in particular, we must speed up our Internet connectivity outside the cities. Otherwise, we might as well just leave the Internet to the birds: the pigeons to be precise.

Editorial standards