OECD Releases Fresh Scare Stats On US Broadband Penetration

from the cut-off dept

A new report is out that once again rings the alarm bells about the relative lack of broadband penetration in the US. According to the OECD, in the past year, the US dropped from 12th to 15th in the world in terms of broadband access per 100 people. Luxembourg, France and Japan all surpassed the US in the last year. Naturally, telecom activist groups are using the news to push for more federal leadership on the issue, in hopes that this will catapult the country back up to the top of the list. But while broadband access is important to the economy, it's important to put these numbers in perspective. Simply looking at the number of subscribers doesn't necessarily translate to a good measure of broadband availability. Also, the US has a more difficult time getting broadband out to everyone, since it's much less dense, population-wise, than many of the leading countries in Europe or Asia. There's no easy answer to the problem of rural broadband deployment, as it's very expensive, while any federally mandated program would almost certainly lead to a USF-like boondoggle. This isn't to say that the US broadband picture is ideal; it's not by any means. It continues to be less competitive than it could be, which has a negative impact on price and quality. But it's important to realize that despite all of the warnings that without a comprehensive broadband strategy, the US would fall behind the world, the country is no slouch in the innovation department, particularly when it comes to the Internet. We'll gladly take our ranking of 15 and Google over France's superior ranking and Quaero.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Marco, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 9:28am

    Level the playing field

    We certainly don't want a "USF-like boondoggle" but government regulation could still open up the field. For example, Japan has created policies that foster real competition between ISPs. And, this competition has greatly increased broadband penetration and greatly lowered the cost.

    For reference, http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/040407-government-policies-add-to-japans.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Paul, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 9:55am

    Wouldn't bigger families also skew the numbers?

    I have a large family. We have one broadband connection. Am I lowering the per capita average or helping it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:12am

    Denmark now leads the OECD with a broadband penetration rate of 29.3 subscribers per 100 inhabitants.

    The report lists america's rate at 19.2

    The average family size in denmark in 2002 is 2.2 persons.

    The average family size in USA is 3.14 http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/SAFFFacts

    Supposing the numbers are cooked the way you propose, 100% actual broadband penetration in denmark would be one subscriber per family or 45%. This puts them at 29.3/45 = 0.65% of theoretical maximum

    In america one subscriber per family would be 32%, which puts us at 19.2/32 = 60% of theoretical maximum.

    Supposing the numbers are cooked like you propose. Any opinions on that? it seems plausible

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Zed, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:17am

    Please don't perpetuate the myth that population density is the reason for the backwardness of the US. The Nordic countries in Europe have half the population density of the States and they still all kick ass.

    - Zed

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:21am


    zed, if you put a million-person city in the middle of a desert, it has the same population density as america. but it is a lot easier to get broadband to everyone.

    i dont know if thats what you are referring to as population density, but I suspect it is, and its technically true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:23am

    Also I shouldnt need to point out the ridiculousness of your reasoning but here I go: take america and sprinkle even more people across the rural wastelands and ask yourself two questions:

    1. have you increased the population density (yes)
    2. are any of those new inhabitants easy to get broadband to? (no)

    therefore, more "population density" does not mean it should be easier to get broadband deployed. more people evenly dispersed across the land means that is harder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    comboman, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:36am

    federally mandated boondoggle

    We certainly don't want a federally mandated boondoggle like the interstate highway system. Imagine how much more efficient and competitive our transportation system would be if we left it to private companies competition to build our roads.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Pro, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:39am


    Why do we feel the need to promote broadband penetration? Is this a god given right? Doesn't the law os supply and demand take effect here?

    How come these same principles don't apply to ugly people? Hey, ugly people have a lack of penetration penetration - should we subsidise this? Somehow promote ugly people getting laid more often?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:49am

    Re: federally mandated boondoggle

    The obvious flaw in your analogy being that the current system has produced

    1. decent broadband coverage via private-sanctionedmonopoly interaction
    2. roads trickled throughout the nether reaches of rural territory were built by counties and states and collective local willpower, not federal mandates

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Chris Maresca, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 11:07am


    Hhmm, you've apparently never flown across the US. The issue is not really population density (which is calculated on a uniform basis across the country) so much as distance between population centers in rural areas.

    It's perfectly possible, in the US, to drive 2-3 hours without ever seeing any sign of civilization. The scale of the place, esp. out West, is very hard to understand if you have never seen it. Flying across the country gives some impression of scale as the last four or so hours of an East->West flight are over basically empty space. In contrast, most Nordic countries have populations heavily concentrated in towns and cities, which makes it a lot easier deploy services.

    Also, when comparing European countries to the US, you really need to compare said countries to states. For example, Norway is about the size of New Mexico. Norway has a population of 4.6 million, while New Mexico has a population of 1.9 million, less than half. Dense places like New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island skew the national density numbers and are not really reflective of what it's like in the mid-West and West of the US.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Ben(damnit), Apr 24th, 2007 @ 11:07am


    Not to defend the telcos (which i generally hate with a passion), but Luxembourg is so small they could probably serve the entire country off of 5 - 10 wifi access points. Also France is small, and japan already has infrastructure stretched from north to south.

    I think it would be more fair/relevant to see broadband numbers relative to land mass. Otherwise we're comparing apples to oranges.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    The Real Stanislav G, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 11:09am

    Great examples

    Wow, those are some great examples. Luxembourg, eh? Yep, I'll bet it would hard to get all of them on broadband. Ah, Japan, too? Sure, I'll bet it's difficult to get them connected with, what?, 100K population per square millimeter? Seriously, though, they have 10x the density of the US. And France has 3x the density. Agree with the title: "scare stats". Looking at the facts correctly, it's those nations that should be ashamed it's taken them so long to surpass the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Andrew, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 11:28am

    I just want a pipe

    Broadband companys in the US need to start offering just a "pipe" to the internet, instead of overcharging for worthless crap content or "extra features" that I'll never look at.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Wouldn't bigger families also skew the numbers

    Wait...have you checked your Terms of Service? Your telco/cableco might be after you if you haven't paid for a connection for each person in your house....

    It is sad that I fear the day my statement will be true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re: federally mandated boondoggle

    Highways were stated, not rural routes

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: federally mandated boondoggle

    But then his analogy was _entirely_ inappropriate as on the face of it the interstate highway system maps to backbone connections which are handled nicely by the private sector. Its the last mile at question with broadband, and so I assumed he meant the last miles of roads.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Aussie Guy, Apr 24th, 2007 @ 10:07pm

    Australians laugh at your lack on broadband

    Woo hoo! Australia (that place with kangroos, not Schwartzneggers) comes in at 17th

    "It's perfectly possible, in the US, to drive 2-3 hours without ever seeing any sign of civilization. "

    Try days, mate. :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Florian, Apr 25th, 2007 @ 6:08am

    You should rather look into the broadband policies in these countries rather than what there density is.

    In France the government acts desesperatly on many subjects, but for the broadband market regulation it was not the case. Thanks to the official regulation agency (ARCEP.fr), competition was allowed to grow despite France Telecom rude behaviour.

    Reading this blog often, it really seems that in the US the true problem is big telcos rather than density.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Craig, May 10th, 2007 @ 7:53pm


    Well, Brazil has some pretty remote places too, and according to Intel: (http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/releases/20060920corp.htm)
    it looks like WiMax can cover remote areas at reasonable costs. Microwave or fiber backhaul are required, but what feeds cell towers? With a much better range than cellular and colocation on existing sites, we could cover a lot of very remote areas, at least close to the highways. And guess where most people live? There's also way good potential for satellite broadband if the fed would consent to lobbing a few more sats into the Clark belt. Not cheap, but who has the best launch platform on the planet right now? India?
    Admittedly, wireless is best deployed in fairly flat areas- but google "stratellite" for yet another possible approach. From overhead, mountains are no barrier. The means already exist- if we could get something better than mumbled lip service from our not so exalted leadership, we could kick ass in this venue almost overnight. Speaking of India: they'll be giving broadband to most residents by 2009- at two mb/s- everywhere. So, other than idiocy, what's the holdup here? It isn't the technology- it's the telco and cable multiopolies dragging their heels because that much broadband means a total loss of control over all those carefully cornered, hardwired customers. Triple play my- well, you get the idea.
    Hardwired has its place- can't beat it for security- but for everyday stuff, who cares? Messengers are secure too, with a large armed escort, but you don't see too many messenger convoys tooling down the road these days. Let's get with the program and quit whining. The technology isn't cheap, but it will keep us competitive- and we might as well just bring on the welfare state if we can't keep up with a world we basically built over the last century.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Deke Rivers, Jul 19th, 2007 @ 4:20pm

    Re: Re:

    This logic doesn't work because Canada is bigger than the US with 1/10th the population spread out more over a greater area and yet is ranked 9th.

    It has more to do with a shrinking middle class in the US that can afford internet access. As the gap increases between have and have nots its harder for this number to increase. The have's already have broadband. The increasing number of poorer people can't afford it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2007 @ 5:03pm

    ... Or it just has to do with the basic thing like cost...
    Look at the cost of Broadband in the international economic model... How many Big Macs does broadband cost/month.
    The US... Broadband $20/month, Big Mac $4... so the cost is 5 Big Macs a months.
    Sweden... Broadband $15/month, Big Mac $7.50... the cost is 2 Big Macs a month.

    As long as Broadband is so highly regulated (you can "choose" between the local telco or cable) the prices will stay high and the spread low.
    In the "Socialist regulated" Sweden there are more than 5 companies compeating on all the markets.

    Population densety has nothing to do with Broadband adoption in comparison with price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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