The Cost of Connectivity 2013

A comparison of high-speed Internet prices in 24 cities around the world
October 28, 2013 |
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Download a PDF of the full report.

Data Summary

Last year, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute published The Cost of Connectivity, a first-of-its-kind study of the cost of consumer broadband services in 22 cities around the world.[1] The results showed that, in comparison to their international peers, Americans in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC are paying higher prices for slower Internet service. While the plans and prices have been updated in the intervening year, the 2013 data shows little progress, reflecting remarkably similar trends to what we observed in 2012.

The 2013 data release includes:

  • A comparison of “triple play” offerings that bundle Internet, phone, and television services;
  • A comparison of the fastest Internet package available in each city;
  • A survey of the best available home Internet plan for approximately $35 USD in each city;
  • A survey of the best available mobile Internet plan for approximately $40 USD in each city;
  • A comparison of the cost of 2 GB of mobile data in each city.

Chattanooga, Tennessee and Hong Kong continue to offer world-leading gigabit speeds, but Seoul and Lafayette, Louisiana also joined the speed leaders, along with Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, which were not included in the 2012 report. Meanwhile, in larger U.S. cities, we continue to observe higher prices for slower speeds by comparison. In the U.S., for example, the best deal for a 150 Mbps home broadband connection from cable and phone companies is $130/month, offered by Verizon FiOS. By contrast, the international cities we surveyed offer comparable speeds for less than $80/month, with most coming in at about $50/month. When it comes to mobile broadband, the cheapest price for around 2 GB of data in the U.S. ($30/month from T-Mobile) is twice as much as what users in London pay ($15/month from T-Mobile). It costs more to purchase 2 GB of data in a U.S. city than it does in any of the cities surveyed in Europe.

The new data underscores the extent to which U.S. cities lag behind cities around the world, further emphasizing the need for policy reform. Rather than allowing American cities to fall behind, policymakers should reassess current policy approaches and implement strategies to increase competition, in turn fostering faster speeds and more affordable access.

For detailed information on our data collection process and methodology, please see the methodology section. For additional information on individual plans listed, note that our full data set is embedded at the bottom of this page and available for download on the sidebar on the right of the page.

2013 Broadband Pricing Data

In this release, the Open Technology Institute examines how residential high-speed Internet services in U.S. cities compare to offerings in other cities around the world. We focus on the following cities:

  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Bristol, VA, United States
  • Bucharest, Romania
  • Chattanooga, TN, United States
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Kansas City, KS, United States
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • Lafayette, LA, United States
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • New York, NY, United States
  • Paris, France
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Riga, Latvia
  • San Francisco, CA, United States
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • Zurich, Switzerland

In addition to the cities we surveyed in 2012, we added Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO, this year in light of the availability of Google Fiber in those locations.[2]

Comparison of Trends from 2012 to 2013

In this section, we present the findings from our analysis of the 2013 data in comparison to the trends that we observed in 2012. Although there were few major shifts in the landscape, there were some noticeable changes in plans and pricing, as well as some mergers and new entrants.

Over the past year, more advances were made internationally than domestically both for mobile and wireline offerings. Although international service providers now generally offer higher speeds at much lower prices, prices and speeds have stayed about the same in the United States. It is worth noting that in places such as Hong Kong, where higher speeds (100- 1000 Mbps) were previously available, prices and speed offerings have remained relatively similar. However, cities where such high speeds were previously unavailable now offer cheaper plans and significantly higher speeds (100-300 Mbps). For example, in 2012, consumers in Paris could pay around $40/month for a maximum download speed of 100 Mbps. This year, speeds of 100, 200 and 300 Mbps are available in Paris for around $30/month. Prices and offerings have remained static in a few international cities, but in those cases, we found that there are fewer data caps in 2013 than there were in 2012.

The United States saw modest changes in broadband offerings from last year to this year. Some Comcast plans are slightly cheaper, and Comcast also increased speeds on broadband services in some domestic markets.[3] But for cities included in our study, broadband speeds listed as available online did not change significantly.

In July 2013 Verizon announced a new 500 Mbps service (with 100 Mbps upload speeds) available in selected areas of its FiOS service.[4] However, this new 500 Mbps service costs around $300 a month. In Amsterdam, a symmetrical 500 Mbps broadband plan (with 500 Mbps download and upload speeds) costs just over $86.

2013 also saw limited expansion in the availability of residential broadband services. Although some portions of Kansas City are now connected and receiving Google services, the majority of the Google Fiber deployments remain in the construction or planning phase. Verizon has also stated that is has no plans to expand its FiOS service to new markets.[5] Instead, it is focusing on completing local build out in municipalities where it has FiOS franchise agreements. Even in these cities, however, FiOS availability is limited to specific neighborhoods and sometimes specific buildings. In cities like New York, where Verizon’s franchise agreement promised to expand FiOS to every household in the city, connectivity remains an issue, and most residents have no options other than the incumbent cable company or Verizon’s DSL service.[6]

In cities with municipal broadband networks, pricing generally remained the same. The notable exception was Chattanooga, TN, where the local municipal provider EPB dramatically lowered the costs of a symmetrical 1 Gbps connection, from $349/month to $70/month.[7] By contrast, in American cities without local fiber competitors, the highest speed available for $70/month is around 50 Mbps. EPB also raised the speed of their their slowest broadband plan from 30 Mbps to 100 Mbps, while keeping the monthly price the same at $57.99.

As for mobile data plans and pricing, there are increased offerings, higher caps, and cheaper plans available in international cities compared to last year’s report. In Copenhagen, for example, the “best” plan available in 2012 was 10 GB of data at speeds up to 15 Mbps for around $35/month. In 2013, however, 15 GB of data at speeds up to 20 Mbps costs around $28/month. As with wireline offerings, there were few changes in cities where high speeds have long been the norm (such as Hong Kong). Domestically, prices and data remained relatively stable. Although T-Mobile and Verizon offered slightly cheaper plans, only Verizon increased its speed offerings and raised its data cap limits.

One critical difference between international and U.S. mobile providers remains in the way that data caps are implemented. Internationally, most providers throttle users when they hit their data caps, slowing connection speeds for the remainder of the monthly billing cycle. In general, they do not assess data overage fees. In the U.S., however, the opposite is true: more and more providers are monetizing data caps.[8] Last year, for example, Verizon switched from throttling to charging for data overages, leaving T-Mobile as the only U.S. provider which throttles rather than charging steep overage fees.

Charts and Rankings

Section 1. Triple Play Rankings by Price

The term “triple play” generally refers to a bundle of services that includes high-speed Internet, telephone and television for a single monthly rate. Although it varies by country, consumers usually get discounts on their total monthly cost by subscribing to bundled services rather than paying individually for all three. Comparing triple play is a useful metric for most consumers as a substantial number of individuals purchase their high-speed Internet in conjunction with television and phone packages. Triple play offerings are quite popular not only in the U.S., but also increasingly in other countries. In this section, we rank the pricing of all triple play packages across the cities we surveyed by price. When a provider offered multiple triple play packages, we selected the cheapest bundle available. As in last year’s report, this chart lists the top 15 triple play offers we found, and then indicates where U.S. carriers that offer triple play services fall in the list.

In comparison with the triple play rankings chart published last year, very little has changed. The top fifteen providers are still international, while U.S. carriers come in at the 32nd place on the list. In last year’s report, the U.S. came in 30th place.

Table 1: Triple Play Rankings by Price

RankCityISPPrice (USD/PPP)Download SpeedUpload SpeedNetwork TechnologyData Cap (GB)
1SeoulC&M$14.5210.CableN/A
2SeoulHelloVision$15.738.FiberN/A
3RigaBalti-Com$21.75205CableN/A
4ZurichVTX$29.9610.DSL.
5ZurichSunrise$32.3750.5DSL.
6BerlinTeleColumbus$33.52161CableN/A
7(t)ParisFree$34.87281ADSL.
7(t)ParisSFR$34.8725.ADSLN/A
9BucharestRomtelcom$34.934 to 61ADSLN/A
10SeoulLG Uplus$34.98100100FiberN/A
11SeoulSK broadband$36.31100100FiberN/A
12BerlinKabel Deutschland$36.46322CableN/A
13(t)ParisBouygues Telecom$37.092016ADSL.
13(t)ParisDarty$37.09201ADSL.
15LondonSky$38.26161.3DSLN/A
        
33Bristol, VABVU$54.7961FiberN/A
        
44Lafayette, LALUS$65.391515Fiber400
45Washington, DCRCN$68.30252CableN/A
        
47(t)Los Angeles, CAVerizon$69.99155FiberN/A
47(t)New York, NYVerizon$69.99155FiberN/A
        
51New York, NYTime Warner Cable$74.97151CableN/A
        
54Lafayette, LAAT&T$79.006.DSL250
55Los Angeles, CATime Warner Cable$79.96151CableN/A
56Washington, DCVerizon$79.99155FiberN/A
57Chattanooga, TNEPB$81.82100100FiberN/A
        
60New York, NYRCN$89.99252Fiber.
61San Francisco, CAComcast$99.0025.Cable.
62Bristol, VACharter$99.97304CableN/A
63Kansas City, KSTime Warner Cable$99.99151CableN/A
        
66Los Angeles, CAAT&T U-Verse$109.00181DSL250
67Kansas City, MOTime Warner Cable$112.49101CableN/A
68Washington, DCComcast$112.5020.Cable300
        
70Lafayette, LACox$121.2251Cable100
71Chattanooga, TNAT&T$133.0066DSL250
72San Francisco, CAAstound$134.00152Fiber300
73Chattanooga, TNComcast$150.85205Cable250

 

"." indicates that data could not be found.
This table ranks the top 15 triple play offers we found, and then indicates where the U.S. carriers that offer triple play services fall in the list.
NOTE: This table has been updated
A previous version of this chart listed Chattanooga EPB’s upload speed as 50 Mbps.

Section 2: Wired Speed Leaders

The speed of your Internet connection determines your ability to view web pages, download and upload content, and use applications and services like voice over IP and two-way videoconferencing. As network technology has improved over the years, the general trend has been an increase in broadband connection speeds. At the same time, however, the amount of bandwidth required by the average consumer increases as streaming video and sharing user-generated content becomes commonplace. Speed, therefore, remains an important metric for consumers when evaluating their broadband options and considering how they plan to use the Internet.

In this section, we compare “speed leaders” and rank offerings in each city based on the fastest advertised Internet speeds we found. This year’s results show a significant increase in the high speeds available in many cities. The lowest-ranking high speed available in a surveyed city jumped from 40 Mbps to 100 Mbps, and the majority of cities have speeds of 200 Mbps or higher. Eight cities now offer speeds of 1000 Mbps, in contrast with two cities offering those speeds last year. Two of the gigabit cities, Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, were not included in the 2012 report.

This year, we did not rank mobile speed leaders. Mobile data speeds vary greatly depending on interference, environmental factors, and local network congestion. Often, specific speeds are not explicitly advertised by U.S. providers. In addition, mobile plans usually are ranked and priced by data cap instead of speed. Thus, we decided to add two charts: one that shows the cost of 2 GB of data in each city, and another demonstrating the “Best Bang for your Buck,” to more accurately capture the pricing and availability of mobile Internet.

Table 2: Wired Speed Leaders

RankCityISPNetwork TechnologyDownload SpeedUpload SpeedPrice (USD/PPP)Data Cap (GB)
1(t)SeoulHelloVisionFiber10001000$31.47N/A
1(t)TokyoKDDIFiber10001000$33.69N/A
1(t)Hong KongHong Kong Broadband Network LimitedFiber10001000$48.82N/A
1(t)Chattanooga, TNEPBFiber10001000$69.99N/A
1(t)Kansas City, MOGoogle FiberFiber10001000$70.00N/A
1(t)Kansas City, KSGoogle FiberFiber10001000$70.00N/A
1(t)Lafayette, LALUSFiber10001000$999.9510000
8Bristol, VABVUFiber100050$319.95N/A
9(t)RigaBaltcomFiber500500$97.22N/A
9(t)AmsterdamKPN*Fiber500500$86.14.
11New York, NYVerizonFiber500100$299.99N/A
12ParisSFR*Fiber300.$26.73N/A
13(t)Washington, DCVerizonFiber30065$209.99N/A
13(t)Los Angeles, CAVerizonFiber30065$214.99N/A
15TorontoRogersFiber250250$183.73500
16Mexico CityTotalplay (lusacell)Fiber20066$254.11.
17BerlinDeutsche Telekom*Fiber200.$69.56Throttle
18CopenhagenStofa*Cable15015$77.992500
19ZurichUPCCable15010$77.27N/A
20BucharestUPCFiber1506$29.94.
21PragueUPCCable12010$45.62N/A
22San Francisco, CAComcastCable10520$114.95.
23LondonVirginFiber100.$47.35N/A
24DublinMagnet*Fiber100.$60.98N/A

"." indicates that data could not be found.
*Offers included additional bundled services.

A previous version of this chart contained the following errors: EPB was listed at 7(t) and listed their upload speed as 50 Mbps, Hong Kong Broadband Network Limited's price was listed as $64.42, Baltcom's price was listed as $9.22.

Section 3: The Best Bang for Your Buck

In last year’s report, we presented a ranking of the best wireline broadband plans that were available for approximately $35 in each city. This year, we present an updated ranking of those plans along with a new ranking of mobile broadband plans that are available for the equivalent of $40. Table 3 ranks home broadband offerings in terms of the highest speed available around the $35 price point. Table 4 ranks mobile data-only offerings delivered by a USB dongle in terms of the largest data cap available around the $40 price point. For more on the rationale behind these rankings, please see the Methodology section.

These charts offer an interesting comparison between wireline and wireless broadband plans. First, wireless speeds are definitely lower than wired speeds and caps on data are considerably more restrictive in the wireless market. Generally speaking, since even the best deals across our dataset were found near the $40 mark, subscribers to these plans pay much more for much less capability. Because of these distinctions, mobile broadband service is not a viable equivalent to wireline broadband services at this time.

Table 3: The Best Bang for Your Buck for $35 (Wired)

RankCityISPPrice (USD/PPP)Download SpeedUpload SpeedNetwork Technology
1SeoulHelloVision*$36.3110001000Fiber
2TokyoNTT East$30.47100100Fiber
3Hong KongHong Kong Broadband Network Limited$30.60100100Fiber
4San Francisco, CAWebpass$37.50100100Fiber
5ParisOrange*$39.4210050Fiber
6RigaBalti-Com$27.2510020Cable
7BucharestMadnet$32.0580.Fiber
8DublinVodafone Ireland$36.5970.Fiber
9PragueUPC$38.32606Cable
10New York, NYRCN$34.99506Fiber
11Washington, DCRCN$39.99506Cable
12AmsterdamTelfort$31.33505.
13CopenhagenYouSee$38.63505Cable
14BerlinO2*$37.9550.DSL
15TorontoAcanac$35.73353Cable
16(t)Bristol, VACharter$37.49304Cable
16(t)Los Angeles, CACharter Communications$37.49304Cable
18Chattanooga, TNComcast$39.99255Cable
19LondonPlusNet*$31.0517.DSL
20Lafayette, LALUS$34.951515Fiber
21Kansas City, KSTime Warner Cable$34.99151Cable
22ZürichVTX*$33.8112.DSL
23Kansas City, MOEarthlink$35.957.Cable
24Mexico CityTotalplay (Iusacell)$44.2051Fiber

"." indicates data could not be found.
*Offers included additional bundled services

NOTE: This table has been updated
A previous version of this chart ranked Hong Kong Broadband Network Limited as 4th and listed their price as $40.38

Table 4: The Best Bang for Your Buck for $40 (Mobile USB Dongles)

RankCityISPPrice (USD/PPP)Download SpeedUpload SpeedData Cap (GB)Data Cap Penalty
1Seoul*SK Telecom$24.21103N/AN/A
2TokyoJ:COM$33.974015.4N/AN/A
3ZürichSwisscom$35.25212N/AN/A
4RigaLMT$33.084.N/AN/A
5CopenhagenCBB$38.6335242003.75 for 1 GB; 8.91 for 5 GB; 16.67 for 10 GB
6DublinThree$42.67215.7660$5.08/MB
7Toronto*Mobilicity$16.2621620Throttle
8BucharestOrange$42.7343.25.7610Throttle
9PragueT-Mobile$36.42425.7610.
10Berlin1&1$37.9621.6.10Throttle
11AmsterdamT-Mobile$42.1714.4.10Throttle
12Paris*Bouygues Telecom$46.4042.10Throttle
13LondonEE$39.38100508.
14(t)Bristol, VAVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)Chattanooga, TNVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)Kansas City, KSVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)Kansas City, MOVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)Lafayette, LAVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)Los Angeles, CAVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)New York, NYVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)San Francisco, CAVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
14(t)Washington, DCVerizon$40.00..6$15/GB
23Hong KongSmarTone$40.07150505Throttle
24Mexico CityTelcel$38.9821.3Throttle

"." indicates that data could not be found.
*Other plans closer to $40 available; this is the best plan that is closest.
NOTE: This table has been updated.
A previous version of this chart included a plan from China Mobile Hong Kong with advertised speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

Section 4: What does 2 GB of Mobile Data Cost?

This year, in Table 5, we present the best deal that a consumer can get for a 2 GB mobile data subscription for a USB dongle in each city. T-Mobile offered the best deal among the U.S. providers, but it still placed 12th in our rankings behind all of the European cities surveyed. China, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea fell lower than the U.S. cities, although it must be noted that the Japanese provider offers an unlimited plan, while the lowest available data cap in Seoul is 5 GB. Moreover, the providers in Asian cities offered base packages with much faster speeds—100 Mbps download in Hong Kong and Seoul—than any of the other providers included in this ranking.

 

Table 5: What Does 2GB of Mobile Data Cost? (USB Dongles)

RankCityISPPrice (USD/PPP)Data Cap (GB)Data Cap PenaltyDownload SpeedUpload Speed
1CopenhagenCBB$4.302Throttle71
2BucharestRCS & RDS$8.985Throttle7.23.6
3RigaBite$12.502$0.08/MB21.6.
4ZürichOrange$13.671Throttle21.15.76
5LondonTMobile$15.152$4.55/day21.65.76
6DublinThree$15.842$6.20/MB215.76
7ParisSFR$17.433.42.
8TorontoWIND Mobile$20.333$0.01/MB216
9PragueT-Mobile$21.823.425.76
10Hong KongChina Mobile Hong Kong$23.682Throttle100.
11AmsterdamT-Mobile$25.302.5Throttle14.4.
12BerlinE-plus$25.322Throttle7.21.4
13(t)Bristol, VAT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)Chattanooga, TNT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)Kansas City, KST-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)Kansas City, MOT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)Lafayette, LAT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)Los Angeles, CAT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)New York, NYT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)San Francisco, CAT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
13(t)Washington, DCT-Mobile$30.002.5Throttle..
22TokyoJ:COM$33.97N/AN/A4015.4
23Mexico CityIusacell$38.982Throttle (or can upgrade)21.6.
24SeoulLG Uplus$39.945$0.04/MB10050

"." indicates that data could not be found.NOTE: This table has been updated.
A previous version of this chart ranked China Mobile Hong Kong as 21st and listed their price as $31.25.

 

Implications and Next Steps

Many American consumers take high prices and slow speeds to be a given, but our data demonstrates that it is possible to have faster, more affordable connectivity in cities of comparable density and size. To an extent, the data speaks for itself: whether consumers are interested in triple play packages or mobile broadband plans, they pay more money for lower speeds in the United States.

Our data also shows that the most affordable and fast connections are available in markets where consumers can choose between at least three competitive service providers. This trend is consistent with last year’s data, and also underscores the critical role that competition plays in determining broadband prices and speeds. According to the 2010 National Broadband Plan, only nine percent of Americans have access to three or more providers; the majority are limited to one or two incumbent telephone or cable companies.[9]

In our forthcoming full report, we will analyze the roots and impact of high costs and low speeds in the United States. We also offer policy recommendations for ensuring that the United States does not continue to fall behind global cities and remains competitive in an increasingly technological world.

Methodology

Cities Included

We chose cities in nations that usually rank highly in the quarterly Akamai reports [10] as well as other major international cities. We sought to select cities with relatively similar population sizes and densities. While certain cities like Hong Kong, Seoul and Paris are outliers for population density, the major U.S. cities included in the research have population densities that are similar or slightly less than many European counterparts.

We also chose to include three smaller U.S. cities which have municipal broadband networks: Bristol, VA, Chattanooga, TN, and Lafayette, LA. These cities currently offer some of the fastest broadband connections in the U.S. because the local communities have invested in and built their own fiber infrastructure.

We surveyed the same 2012 cities for the 2013 report. By using the same set of cities, we can create a longitudinal data set and compare local broadband access trends over time. For 2013 we added two additional cities: Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO. Both are separate municipalities in different states but comprise one metropolitan area. Jointly they are the site of the initial deployment of the Google Fiber project. We include both cities to account for Google Fiber and include its product offerings in our comparisons.

Data Collection

In each of the selected cities, we performed best effort research to identify broadband providers offering home broadband and mobile data services utilizing USB dongle modem. We then visited the primary websites of these providers and searched for plans listed publicly, as a consumer would. We recorded plans offered for new customers.

In certain cases, researchers used foreign language fluency to assist in the process of searching international websites for pricing information. Where none of our researchers had language proficiency, we relied on browser-based translation services for foreign websites. We recorded the plans we could find that fit within the parameters of our methodology (which are explained in greater detail below). In some cases, information about a specific plan or a provider's general terms of service is not complete because such information was not readily available on a service provider's website. In limited cases where non-promotional pricing information was not easily accessible on a provider's website, we contacted customer service representatives in an attempt to confirm some details and recorded those findings in our research.

Some provider websites required zip codes or local addresses to display available plans. In these cases we searched for and used local addresses as a means to establish availability. In all instances we relied upon the accuracy of Internet service provider websites and other public statements. [11]

We also acknowledge that some home broadband plans we list have limited availability within a city. High-speed plans may not be available in all locations in a city. Certain broadband providers only offer service in specific neighborhoods.

Home broadband plans

For home broadband services we focused our research primarily on broadband providers utilizing DSL, cable, or fiber-optic technology. Due to our focus on urban regions, we did not include satellite-based broadband services. Satellite-based services do not provide access comparable to wireline broadband infrastructure and, as such, are primarily regarded only as an option of last resort in rural or isolated areas.

We recorded service plans in three categories; broadband only plans, "double play" plans of broadband and television and broadband and telephone, and "triple play" bundles of broadband, telephone and video services.

Some service providers did not offer standalone broadband services, but required that customers purchase a service bundle that also included phone or video service. In these instances we recorded these plans as double play bundles of "Broadband + Telephone" or "Broadband + TV," where the costs of the additional service are reflected in the monthly price we list.

Given the rise of mobile phone subscriptions and the decline of landline phone service, we sought to record the most basic telephone plan advertised. We acknowledge that there is some variance in this process as some service providers offer plans with monthly minute limits while others offer only a single unlimited calling option.

We included triple play offerings in our research because they have been a common incentive for subscriptions offered by U.S providers. We also sought to record basic television service offerings. As with telephone service, there is variation between television product packages offered by service providers. Some providers offer larger bundles of video channels than others, particularly in the U.S. This complicates comparisons to a certain degree as not all bundles are alike.

Mobile broadband plans

For mobile broadband plans we focused our research specifically on data-only mobile plans that utilize a USB “dongle” modem (to connect a laptop to the Internet, for example). We did not include mobile data services that are part of a combined voice and data subscription plan for service on a smartphone.

The cost of data-only plans is much more straightforward than smartphone plans. Smartphone plans usually include voice and text messaging allotments in addition to the mobile data options. The type of smartphone purchased or used in coordination with a plan also impacts the total cost to the consumer. In data-only USB dongle plans, the monthly fee depends primarily on the size of the data cap imposed by the carrier, although it can also be affected by the network speed offered and on any purchase or rental fees associated with the USB dongle.

Qualifying plans and data points

In 2010 the Federal Communications Commission defined broadband Internet service as that which has a minimum speed of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. We used the download metric as a threshold for our research and did not record any home or mobile broadband plans where advertised download speeds were slower than 4 Mbps.

For each plan, we collected data on the following metrics:

  • Network technology
  • Download and upload speeds
  • Monthly costs
  • Data caps & penalties (overage fees or slowed speeds)
  • Activation and installation fees
  • Modem and equipment rental or purchase fees
  • Contract lengths
Network technology

If the network technology of the service provider could be easily determined, we recorded that information. For home broadband services, this is predominantly recorded as DSL, Cable or Fiber. For mobile broadband providers we recorded the terminology displayed on websites. We acknowledge that at times similar marketing terminology, like the term 4G, can actually refer to differing network technologies.

Download and upload speeds

All broadband speeds in the report are based on advertised speeds and listed in megabits per second (Mbps).

Monthly costs

Price data reflects our best effort to identify non-promotional prices for subscriptions. In instances where a multi-year contract included an increase in price from one year to the next, the price listed reflects an average of the yearly subscription costs for the contract. In our research we did not specifically capture whether the monthly subscription prices included sales taxes.

Data caps & penalties

References to data for data caps are recorded in gigabytes (GB).

Where the penalty for exceeding a data cap was an overage fee, we noted the monetary amount and the data increment in which it occurred (e.g. $10 per GB or 5 cents per MB). Where the penalty for exceeding a data cap was that a user’s connection speed is slowed until the next billing cycle, we noted this as "Throttle." If disclosed, we recorded the slower throttled speed in the "Notes" field.

NOTE: In the mobile data section we recorded plans that have limits of less than 1 GB as a decimal point fraction thereof. For example, a plan with a cap of 500 Megabytes (MB) is recorded as “0.5” in the data column. We acknowledge that technically 1 GB = 1024 MB, so 500 MB represents 0.488 of a 1 GB. However, we chose to present the data in the manner we do for the sake of simplicity.

Activation and installation fees

In this field, we recorded any fees or costs associated with creating an account for a new customer.

Modem and equipment rental or purchase fees

Here we recorded any fees or costs associated with renting a modem or other service equipment required for service. If providers allowed the option to either rent the equipment for a monthly price or to purchase it for a one-time fee, both options and prices were recorded in the entry. To be clear, new customers would only be responsible for either the one-time, up-front cost or the recurring monthly fee.

Contract lengths

Contract lengths are recorded in months. In instances where changes in the contract length notably impacted the monthly subscription costs, we sought to record the different length plans as separate entries.

Additional notes about the dataset

The term "Not Applicable" (N/A) was used to indicate when it could be confirmed that certain data fields did not apply to a researched service plan. For example, "N/A" was used in the data caps field to indicate when a plan did not have a data limit. "N/A" in the contract length field indicates a plan that is without a long term contract and only month to month.

The null void period (".") is used to indicate when no information for a data field could be found.

Additional details or information about a specific plan can be found in the "notes" column of the data set.

Research was conducted between July and September of 2013.

UPDATE This research methodology section has been updated and expanded for greater clarity. An version of the originally published methodology section is available in the original Data Release PDF.

Price Conversion

All foreign currencies have been adjusted to U.S. dollars using the World Bank's purchasing power parity (PPP) metric. Unlike direct exchange rates, which are often volatile and do not account for global income disparities, PPP conversion rates adjust for differences in costs of living, price levels, and other factors that affect a consumer’s purchasing power. This allows us to make more effective comparisons between the cities that we surveyed.[12]

Ranking & Comparison Table Methodology

Section 1: Triple Play Rankings By Price

Although there are a variety of premium channels and Voice over IP add-on services available, we have highlighted the conventional triple play packages for the purpose of direct comparisons. The plans listed in Table 1 will get a consumer a standard cable subscription with high-definition (HD) programming, basic phone service and the lowest tier Internet speed available. The table ranks triple play offerings available with the above criteria in each city.

Section 2: Wired Speed Leaders

In this section, we compare “speed leaders” and rank offerings in each city based on the fastest advertised Internet speeds found in our research. We chose basic Internet packages, without bundled services, unless the Internet service provider only offered bundled services. The offerings are ranked by download speeds, with higher upload speeds used to differentiate between plans that are tied. Advertised download speeds continue to be a major selling point for consumer Internet service and often are substantially higher than upload speeds. However, upload speeds are rising in importance as users create and share more content and data. Higher upload speeds allow for more effective use of online video conferencing and the transfer of files to cloud-based storage options. While more ISPs are offering symmetrical service, where the download and upload speeds are equal, most providers continue the standard practice of engineering their networks to maximize download speeds, a practice which is largely based on prior network designs.[12]

Section 3: The Best Bang for Your Buck

This section ranks wireline broadband offerings that are equivalent to about $35 USD and mobile broadband offerings equivalent to about $40 USD. Last year’s report featured a section that only compared wireline broadband offerings priced at $35 USD, but we have expanded this section for the sake of comparison between the services available to consumers.

For the wireline findings, we display standalone Internet packages unless providers only offer Internet bundled with other services. The results are ranked in descending order of speed.

In the wireless table, we found that a range between $35 and $50 (with a focus on plans available nearest to $40) was an appropriate filter through which to compare mobile broadband plans since it included at least one plan from each country and encompasses the largest number of plans with broadband speeds that met our minimum definition. For some countries, however, their prices were too low to be included in the range, so the best plan that was closest to $40 was chosen. In our ranking, we included any contract length since many providers require two year contracts for their services. It is also worth noting that while the advertised speeds listed here are certainly attainable, mobile broadband providers often list the maximum speed attainable by the device associated with the plan, rather than a speed promised to the consumer. Since mobile broadband speeds vary greatly depending on factors like USB dongle models and since most carriers offer plans based on data usage rather than speed, the plans are ranked in descending order based on the size of the data cap.

Section 4: What Does 2 GB of Mobile Data Cost?

This year, for each city we present the best deal that a consumer can get for a 2 GB mobile data subscription, regardless of contract length. Where a provider offered a 2 GB package that was the best deal in the city, we chose the standard plan with the lowest speed that meets our minimum speeds of 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. In some cases, however, the provider with the best deal did not offer a 2 GB plan. In these cases, we applied the following rules to determine the appropriate plan and price to use in the rankings:

  • If a provider offered a plan that was within 0.5 GB of 2 GB (e.g. 2.5 GB) we chose that plan.
  • If a provider offered a plan with a data cap that was less than 2 GB, we used overage fees to determine the monthly cost for 2 GB of data on that plan.
  • If a provider offered a 1 GB plan and throttled the connection speed after the user exceeded the data cap, we displayed the regular price and chose that plan if it was the best deal.
  • If a provider offered a 1 GB plan and charged overage fees for excess data, we calculated the cost of 2 GB of data by adding the base price for the plan and the overage fees. However, if this number was higher than the cost of the next data tier available from that provider (e.g. 3 GB), we chose the next data tier.
  • If a provider offered a 1 GB plan but did not provide information about throttling or overage fees, we could not determine the cost of 2 GB of data and therefore did not use that plan. Where appropriate, we used the next data tier available from that provider (e.g. 3 GB).
  • If the provider’s smallest data cap was higher than 2 GB, we chose the least expensive available plan (i.e. the plan with the smallest data cap).

References

[1]
Hibah Hussain, Danielle Kehl, Benjamin Lennett, Chiehyu Li, and Patrick Lucey, The Cost of Connectivity: A comparison of high-speed Internet prices in 22 cities worldwide, New America Foundation, July 19, 2012, http://oti.newamerica.net/publications/policy/the_cost_of_connectivity [accessed October 22, 2013].

[2]
John Eligon, “Google Unveils Superfast Internet in Kansas City, Mo.,” The New York Times, July 26, 2012, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/26/google-unveils-superfast-intern... [accessed October 22, 2013].

[3]
Karl Bode, “Insider Gives Us Comcast’s March Speed Upgrade Schedule,” Broadband DSL Reports, March 05, 2013, http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Insider-Gives-Us-Comcasts-March-Speed... [accessed October 23, 2013]. Also see Brian Santo, “Comcast ups Xfinity speeds in 3 more states,” CED Magazine, March 08, 2013, http://www.cedmagazine.com/news/2013/03/comcast-ups-xfinity-speeds-in-3-... [accessed October 23 2013].

[4]
Cyrus Farivar, “New FiOS top speed is half that of Google Fiber—and 4x the price,” ArsTechnica, July 23, 2013, http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/07/new-fios-top-speed-is-half-that-... [accessed October 23 2013].

[5]
Karl Bode, ”Verizon: No Plans for FiOS Expansion,” Broadband DSL Reports, September 25, 2013, http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/125985 [accessed October 23, 2013].

[6]
Adrianne Jeffries, “A few feet from failure: why Verizon FiOS in New York is a sad joke,” The Verge, October 10, 2013, http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/10/4819790/verizon-fios-contract-new-yor... [accessed October 23, 2013].

[7]
Electrical Power Board, “Chattanooga Celebrates Fourth Anniversary by Upgrading all Services,” EPB. Net, September 24, 2013, https://www.epb.net/news/news-archive/chattanooga-celebrates-fourth-anni... [accessed October 23, 2013].

[8]
Hibah Hussain, Danielle Kehl, Benjamin Lennett, and Patrick Lucey, Capping Our Nation’s Broadband Future: Dwindling competition is fueling the rise of increasingly costly and restrictive Internet usage caps, New America Foundation, December 17, 2012, http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/capping_the_nation_s_broad... [accessed October 23, 2013].

[9]
Federal Communications Commission, Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan, March 2010, http://www.broadband.gov/plan/ [accessed October 22, 2013].

References for the Methodology Section

[10]
Akamai's "The State of the Internet" report from 4th Quarter, 2011 was the document used in selecting some of the cities in the original 2012 "Cost of Connectivity" report.

[11]
The websites of home broadband service providers can be difficult to navigate. A recent public survey of American consumers found that "[c]ustomer satisfaction with ISP websites is well below average" among telecom industries. See American Customer Satisfaction Index, ACSI Telecommunications and Information Report 2013¸ May 21, 2013, http://www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/customer-satisfaction-reports/...

[12]
For the PPP conversion tables used in this report, see the 2012 data at “PPP conversion factor, GDP (LCU per international $),” World Bank, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/PA.NUS.PPP [accessed October 23, 2013].

All Broadband Data


NOTE: This data table has been updated.
A previous version of this table used 4.16 as a PPP conversion rate for Hong Kong.

All Mobile Data


NOTE: This data table has been updated.
A previous version of this table used 4.16 as a PPP conversion rate for Hong Kong.

Screen captures for plans are available here.

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