Web users in Virginia enjoy the fastest average Internet connection speeds in the U.S., according to a map released by Broadview Networks. Surfers in Alaska, on the other hand, must contend with the country's slowest average speeds, although the state has seen considerable improvement in the past year.

Broadview, a New York-based network communications provider for businesses, developed the map of average Internet speeds across the U.S. using data from cloud service provider Akamai's latest "State of the Internet" report.

According to the Broadview map, Internet speeds in Virginia averaged 13.7 megabits per second in the first quarter of 2014, a 30 percent improvement over performance in the first quarter of 2013. (At the same time, however, Virginia was also the only state in the top 10 that saw average connection speeds drop since the end of 2013.) By comparison, Alaska had the slowest average connection speeds -- 7 Mbps, almost half of Virginia's rate -- even though that represented a 33 percent improvement over 2013.

A Matter of Policy

South Korea remains the global leader in Internet connectivity, with an average speed of 23.6 Mbps (a 145 percent increase over speeds in 2013), according to the 2014 Akamai report. The global average is 3.9 Mbps, which represents an improvement of 24 percent over 2013.

In a blog post accompanying the map of Internet speeds across the U.S., Russ Fordyce, Broadview's managing director of marketing, wrote: "Internet speed has been a hot topic in the news as of late, with major providers intentionally throttling speeds and the heated debate surrounding net neutrality. It isn't surprising that so many people are interested in the topic. After all, the Internet occupies much of an American's daily life. From work to pleasure, it's seemingly everywhere. But we all know that simply having Internet access doesn't cut it -- the speed (has) to be fast and consistent."

While average U.S. Internet speeds lag far behind those of world-leading South Korea, connectivity in the U.S. itself varies considerably from state to state, as the map from Broadview illustrates. That variation is driven not only by investment but by the policies and incentives for such investment, the Akamai report points out. For example, it notes that future growth in Kansas -- which "saw the largest yearly increase in average peak connection speeds" -- could "potentially be limited" by state legislation blocking cities from building their own regional broadband systems. Legislators in Utah are exploring similar restrictions.

Expect Gradual Improvement

We reached out to David Belson, Akamai's senior director of industry and data intelligence and author of the latest "State of the Internet" report, to ask about the U.S. approach to Internet connectivity. He told us the efforts to restrict network development, such as those in Kansas and Utah, "are generally driven by some of the larger incumbents who presumably want to limit the competition."

He added that, compared with a country like South Korea -- where there is "much stronger government support for high-speed broadband" -- U.S. network development is typically driven by less-ambitious goals and a more market-based approach.

The Federal Communications Commission released a National Broadband Plan in March 2010 that created a roadmap for improving Internet connectivity across the country. The agency is seeking comments for its 10th progress report on the plan, expected to be released later this year. That update could include proposed increases to the network speeds considered for Internet services to be considered "broadband."

Belson said he expected it was likely the U.S. would continue to be "stuck in that rut" of gradual network upgrades rather than pursue a more aggressive Internet upgrade strategy. However, he added, "things continue to improve -- we shouldn't lose sight of that -- both at the full country level and state level."