Bad Reasoning: We Don't Need More High Speed Internet Because People Don't Use Fast Internet Now
from the the-point-is-way-over-yonder dept
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how far the US has fallen behind other countries when it comes to high speed broadband. And many are taking it for granted that high speed broadband is important to economic growth and viability. Yet Tim Worstall, over at Forbes, argues that “High Speed Broadband Doesn’t Matter A Darn” because a UK study showed that people don’t use super high speeds. He quotes a report (pdf) from Booz & Co.
But speed in itself is not enough to encourage usage. Ofcom (an independent regulatory authority for U.K. communications industries) has noted that in 2011 superfast coverage of the U.K. was at 60 percent, but only 6.6 percent of all connections were taking advantage of the top speeds. This suggests that focusing on availability is no guarantee of deriving full benefit from the investment.
Worstall then uses this to argue that speed isn’t an issue and we shouldn’t invest in faster broadband:
As should be obvious, it’s not the speed of the internet that produces the economic growth. It’s the people using the internet that does. And if only 6.6% of the traffic is using the speeds we already have then there really isn’t much of a case for throwing billions at making it all faster. So that, presumably, only 6.6% of the traffic will use that higher speed.
In fact, given the low numbers even bothering to use current speeds I’d say this is a very good argument for not spending a lot of money to roll out high speed broadband everywhere. The most important reason quite possibly being that I rather doubt that broadband is going to be the technology of choice for much longer.
This reasoning is faulty on many, many levels. First off, if you look at the full Booz report, almost every conclusion is exactly the opposite of what Worstall suggests. He seems to take that one paragraph out of context, and assume that because only a small percentage of people were taking advantage of “top speeds” it means that there’s no real demand for it and no economic benefit.
That’s making a big assumption. He’s right that “it’s not the speed of the internet that produces the economic growth,” and that it’s the people, but he ignores that part of what brings in those people are the services online — and new, better and more useful services are quite frequently enabled by higher speeds. It’s almost hard to imagine how much more can be done online as speeds pick up. A decade ago, the idea of so much video online was crazy. And yet, here we are.
Second, the fact that only a small percentage of people are using full broadband capabilities is meaningless. That’s a snapshot, not a look at the trend. What happens is that as more services offer up useful features that increase the number of things you can do with broadband, more people will use it. The last thing you want to do is get caught waiting — and then suddenly have all your users pissed off that the broadband can’t handle the latest and greatest applications and use cases.
Faster broadband doesn’t immediately get soaked up, but it does lead to greater investment in bandwidth-intensive services, and that will increase usage and expand the economy. Taking one quote out of context and then looking at a snapshot rather than a trend is not a particularly compelling reason to pull out on key infrastructure investment at a time when it’s needed most.