Matthew Bandyk

What do South Koreans, Romanians, and the Swiss all have in common? On average, they enjoy faster Internet connection speeds than Americans, according to the quarterly "State of the Internet Report" issued by Akamai, a technology company in Cambridge, Mass., that sells fast data delivery to businesses and other enterprises that put content online. The company looked through its data for an average connection speed throughout the United States and found it to be 3.9 megabits per second, the 18th highest among all countries -- meaning that it is well behind first place South Korea, with 14.6 megabits per second. Not only does South Korea have a high average connection speed, it also has a high number of very fast connections: Seventy-four percent of the country's connections are more than 5 megabits per second, a speed that Akamai calls "high broadband." Only 24 percent of U.S. connections qualify as high broadband.

Many of the countries that rank higher than the United States have invested significant government funds in building up broadband infrastructure. The United States, on the other hand, has pursued a more "free-market approach," which, according to David Belson, director of market intelligence at Akamai, works to both its advantage and detriment in terms of speed of connections. The advantages are that many heavily populated places in the country have multiple providers and that competition works to bring down prices and improve service.

The drawback? If you're outside those areas of high population density, private service providers might not find it worth their time to sell you a fast connection. In more rural areas, "they don't have as much incentive to invest. Many places are hard to reach with fiber," says Belson.

Based on that logic, one might think that the largest, densest cities in the United States are the places with the fastest connections. But that's not the case, according to Akamai. The most recent report is the first "State of the Internet Report" to have city-level data on the speed of connections. Here are the top 10 American cities Akamai lists as "high broadband" and the percentage of connections over 5 megabits per second in those cities:

1. Iowa City, Iowa 92 percent

2. Storrs Mansfield, Conn. 89 percent

3. Kingston, R.I. 88 percent

4. Norman, Okla. 87 percent

5. Clemson, S.C. 87 percent

6. Hanover, N.H. 86 percent

7. Logan, Utah 85 percent

8. Chapel Hill, N.C. 84 percent

9. Newark, Del. 83 percent

10. Henderson, Nev. 81 percent

It's no coincidence that most of these cities are strongly associated with a college or university, such as the University of Rhode Island for Kingston or the University of North Carolina for Chapel Hill. Academic networks tend to be very fast and also are heavily used by the students who get free access, explains Belson. Larger college towns, like Ann Arbor, Mich., or Columbus, Ohio, don't show up on the list because they have a larger number of people not using the college network.

While a strong university presence clearly has a large effect, it is not the only factor that makes some cities have faster connections than others. Here is the list of U.S. cities with the highest average connection speeds:

1. Sandy, Utah

2. Iowa City, Iowa

3. Norman, Okla.

4. Logan, Utah

5. Clemson, S.C.

6. Charlottesville, Va.

7. Spanish Fork, Utah

8. Storrs Mansfield, Conn.

9. Gorham, Maine

10. Kingston, R.I.

While many of the college towns from the previous list show up here, there is also Spanish Fork, Utah, which is not a college town. The city government of Spanish Fork owns and operates its own cable and Internet provider, the Spanish Fork Community Network. Belson says such municipal broadband networks, "in some cases, can certainly lead to higher speeds," particularly if the presence of such a network encourages competition with private providers.

The state of Utah in general has been an innovator in terms of municipal broadband, with 16 cities having banded together in a consortium called UTOPIA (Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency) that offers a telecommunications fiber network to citizens.

While proximity to a university and municipal innovation might help a city boost its connection speed, population density is still an important factor. Akamai also has data at the state level. The states with the highest average connection speeds are:

1. Delaware

2. New Hampshire

3. Massachusetts

4. Vermont

5. Rhode Island

6. New York

7. Connecticut

8. District of Columbia

9. Maine

10. Utah

Northeast states dominate the list, and Belson says that might be because these states generally fit more people into less space. The Northeast also has more metro areas than other parts of the country. "The closer you are to a large city increases the chances you'll have one or more selections," Belson says. So if you're not a college student, the denser and more urban parts of the country are generally where you're likely to have the fastest time surfing the Web.