Published January 25 2012
Average Internet speeds in Fargo slow compared to rest of regionFARGO - For as long as it’s been open, slow Internet has dogged the Section 9 Cyber Café in Fargo.
Designed to be an online gaming lounge, Section 9 relies on fast Internet, and co-owner Sean Sanford said it has had three different Internet providers in the past two years, trying with little luck to find a package both fast and cost-effective.
“Things could be a lot better,” he said. “It’s really slow.”
It’s not their imagination.
Average Internet speeds in Fargo are pretty slow, at least compared to the rest of the state, according to data from Ookla, an independent broadband-testing company. The city, Ookla statistics show, has slower upload and download speeds than its neighbors.
Moorhead, St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as other North Dakota cities like Grand Forks, Bismarck and Williston, all tested for higher speeds than Fargo, according to Ookla.
The data shows the average speed of a city’s Internet connections, not the fastest rates available, said Travis Durick, broadband technology manager for the state of North Dakota.
Slower packages are typically what customers buy, said Brian Crommett, sales and service manager for 702 Communications, an area Internet provider. That consumer demand plays a big role in what services are available, he said.
“If the consumers are willing to pay for more, then you’d see more people providing (higher speeds),” he said. “That’s not what we’re seeing in the Fargo-Moorhead market.”
Fargo also ranks lowly, compared to the rest of the state, in another Ookla measurement: the average monthly cost of megabits per second. Fargo customers pay nearly $5 more per month per Mbps than in Grand Forks or Bismarck, according to Ookla’s tests.
Infrastructure and technology interact with the demand in a market, as well. If there were a demand for higher speeds, providers might be forced to invest to deliver it, said Carrie Amann, spokeswoman for CenturyLink, which serves the F-M area, Bismarck and Grand Forks.
Without comparing market demand data of similar cities, Amann said it’s difficult to determine exactly what effect it has on average consumer speed.
The providers available might affect the speeds in any given market the most, said Richard Walker, professor of computer Science and information systems at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Internet speeds that each provider offers to subscribers is going to vary from company to company, Walker said, which could help to explain the difference in speed results.
Though only speculating, Jim Walter, president of 702 Communications, said the absence of Midcontinent Communications in Fargo is one possible explanation for the difference in speeds.
Midcontinent, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., and serving Bismarck, Grand Forks, Moorhead and West Fargo, did not return calls seeking comment for this article.
Over the summer, the company upgraded its broadband capacity, according to its website, and offers faster speeds for less cost than what CableOne in Fargo offers.
Melany Stroupe, a CableOne spokeswoman, said the company doesn’t compare itself with markets that it doesn’t serve, like Bismarck or Grand Forks.
Stroupe said she was pleased with CableOne’s average download speed as measured by the test, because it reflected a speed higher than the national average, she said.
But competition doesn’t tell the whole story, either, said Jun Liu, an associate professor of computer science at the University of North Dakota.
Liu said it’s hard to conclude what impact providers would have on overall average speed without knowing about the technology being used to route Internet traffic through a city. And, like market demand, that information is not readily available.
There may not be a clear answer why Fargo’s Internet is slower (and apparently more expensive) than the rest of the state, but there is a silver lining in the Ookla data, Durick said.
“North Dakota nationally ranks very high on their broadband speeds,” he said. “While Fargo may be lacking in the state, it’s doing well nationally.”
And there are at least different options available, which can be viewed on a new interactive map put together by Durick and the State of North Dakota’s IT Department. Located at broadband.nd.gov, the map displays the Internet providers and plans available throughout the state.
“We don’t want to interfere with private industry,” he said, “but we do like to make people aware of what’s available and give them a comparison point.”
The availability of fast and reliable Internet, especially for businesses, is more important than ever, said Craig Whitney, president of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.
Whether for small businesses like Section 9 or large ones like Microsoft, high-speed Internet has become necessary in order to succeed, he said.
“Obviously now, with the Internet, customers can be anywhere in the country, or anywhere in the world,” Whitney said. “The Internet has become an essential way of conducting business.”
Regional cities’ speeds
Fargo’s average download speeds compared to other notable results.
Fargo: 12.50 Mbps
United States: 12.49 Mbps
North Dakota: 15.05 Mbps
Minnesota: 13.62 Mbps
Moorhead: 20.59 Mbps
Minneapolis: 13.06 Mbps
St. Paul: 15.26 Mbps
Sioux Falls, S.D.: 19.84 Mbps
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 10.04 Mbps
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535