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Idaho’s Internet speeds are slow.

Really slow.

A recent study clocked Gem State download speeds at almost a quarter of the national average. HighSpeedInternet.com, which helps consumers choose Internet service providers, revealed Idaho as the third-slowest state for Internet access. Only Alaska and — surprise — Mississippi came in slower.

HighSpeedInternet.com analyzed 1 million speed tests from across the country. It found the average download speed in the Gem State was 25.30 megabytes per second. The national average: 93.98.

For those of us who don’t speak nerd, a megabyte is a unit of information equal to one million bytes. A byte is a string of eight binary digits — ones and zeros — that are the underpinning of how computers talk to each other. Text uses very little memory. Sound uses more. Streaming video is the most data-intensive: Binging “Ozarks” on Netflix can easily eat up a gigabyte per hour. That’s 1,000 megabytes.

Why are speeds so slow?

Population density.

Idaho, according to the most recent Census, ranked 46 out of the 50 states for population density, which is measured by the number of people per square mile.

“It’s costly to build infrastructure to less densely populated areas. Bear in mind that because so much of Idaho is rural, that will decrease the overall rating even though many of Idaho’s larger cities, like Nampa, Idaho Falls, Meridian, Boise, and Pocatello offer speeds up to 1,000 Mbps,” HighSpeedInternet.com staff researcher Merinda said.

How fast a connection is really necessary? Five mbps is enough bandwidth for most users to browse the Internet and stream music. When speeds increase to 10 mbps, users can stream videos and play more basic online games. Internet at 20 mbps allows means the ability to access the highest-resolution video and to play more complex video games — think Halo or Grand Theft Auto — even if up to four users are online. When speeds reach 40 mbps and up, users pretty much can do whatever they want, unless it involves, like, actually talking to each other.

Most internet companies use different technologies but the most common ways people hook up to the Internet are fiber, DSL, cable and satellite receivers. Fiber is a technology that uses glass or plastic fibers to transmit data. DSL, which is shorthand for “digital subscriber line,” allows users to connect via a wall phone jack using the telephone network. Cable internet is accessed through a connection that transmits data through the robust cable TV pipeline. Satellite Internet connects using space-based transceivers.

Generally, the fastest is fiber. Satellite tends to be the most expensive.

Intermax communications director Marcee Hartzell said it was unfortunate but hardly surprising that a relatively rural area like Idaho had such slow speeds.

Intermax is a local Internet provider that offers fiber and microwave Internet. Microwave is a point-to-point connection that’s on par with fiber connections. The company arrived in Sandpoint in 2001 and now has its headquarters in Coeur d’Alene. It provides services to nearly 4,500 residents and businesses in Kootenai, Bonner, Benewah and Boundary counties as well as parts of the Spokane Valley.

Last August, Intermax was one of 103 internet service providers to win a $11.5 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission to expand high-speed broadband to rural areas. Hartzell said Intermax received the grant because of the state’s weak Internet connections. The grant will be used to provide services to rural areas in North Idaho.

“We are a local [Internet service provider], so all of our employees, tech team and management live here in the area,” Hartzell said. “It is important to provide service to our community because they are our neighbors.”

Kootenai County offers speeds up to 100 Mbps. The three largest providers are Frontier, Viasat and Spectrum. Frontier offers DSL and fiber Internet connections. Viasat is a satellite Internet connection; Spectrum is connected through cable.

The fastest speeds, by the way, can be found in Maryland and New Jersey, at 65.02 and 59.58 mbps, respectively.

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