Is the U.S. really behind in broadband?

by on October 19, 2010 · 10 comments

I’d like to draw your attention to a recently released [GAO](https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20101012/GAO.Report.Broadband.2010.pdf) report analyzing the challenge of implementing the 200+ recommendations included in the FCC’s Broadband Plan and comparing the U.S. to broadband efforts in other countries. Turns out things are not as dire as the FCC and the Administration would have us believe. Some highlights:

- Broadband internet is available to 95 percent of American households. This is comparable to other developed nations despite the U.S.’s larger geographic size and population.

- “[T]he United States has more subscribers than any other OECD country—81 million, or more than twice as many as Japan, which has 31 million, the second highest number of subscribers.”

- The U.S. broadband adoption rate is 26.4 subscriber lines per 100 inhabitants, which is higher than the 23.3 average for developed countries.

So we have more subscribers than any other developed nation by more than double, and almost all households have access to broadband. I know it’s not fashionable to say, but it looks like we’re doing pretty damn well.

This might explain the results of a Pew Internet and American Life [survey](http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=1071) released last month that found that “A majority of Americans (53%) do not believe that increasing the availability of affordable high-speed internet connections should be a federal government priority.” Interestingly, Americans who do not use the Internet are the least interested in seeing government spending on broadband—presumably for them. “Fully 45% of non-users say the government should not attempt to make affordable broadband available to everyone, just 5% say access should be a top priority.”

  • http://twitter.com/proflafferty Patrick Lafferty

    Jerry, that is an absurd parsing of the data. Sure, we have 81 million subscribers, but the speeds we offer them are dramatically slower and the prices we charge them are dramatically higher than what is offered abroad. The fact that 53% of our population doesn't see broadband as a priority is a testament to the failures of our broadband infrastructure, not the prescience of this small majority. Failure to push for extremely fast, cheap and NEUTRAL networks will leave the United States behind and unable to innovate in many critical sectors.

  • http://twitter.com/carlgipson carl gipson

    Wait, so lack of demand is a failure of the available infrastructure? How do we know that once the infrastructure you want is in place that take-up rates will increase enough to cover the cost of expansion?

  • CJD

    As the nation behind ARPAnet, you'd think we want to maintain the global competitive edge that comes with having the leading ICT infrastructure. Given our consumer-driven economy, do we really want to have other countries realize and innovate the internet-driven services that the average American won't know they want until they have access to them? I'd rather our domestic services (and the high-paying jobs that create them) be created here in the US to meet/create a domestic need – as opposed to having the next-gen net services made and sold to us from overseas.

  • http://twitter.com/proflafferty Patrick Lafferty

    Expansion isn't really the issue, though I'm sure the 5% of the country that doesn't have access would appreciate it ASAP. We need faster networks and more competition in the broadband marketplace, which will lead to increased innovation and lower prices. The Pew survey results regarding why many don't want increased access indicate issues that can be summed up as “ignorance”.

    The survey respondents either feel they could not navigate the online content or feel there is nothing online for them. As a Professor at a Community College, I can tell you that I encounter this attitude often. Exposure to the wealth of information available through broadband connections is the best cure for this affliction.

    Once prices come down, that 53% number will fall as late adopters discover the wealth of information and access afforded by broadband access. This isn't really a question of IF our information society is moving online, but WHEN. Do we want to be the laggards or the leaders? I vote for the latter.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    I am very appreciative that TLF is daring to consider the question of broad band implementation in the US versus the rest of the world. It is an issue that really needs to be discussed. But, this discussion must go much deeper.

    1. So how does “regulation” in these other countries compare the the US?
    2. Do consumers in the other countries have a better broadband experience then in the US?
    3. American attitudes towards internet expansion does not help me understand whether the US is ahead of behind.
    4. The claim that the US has more subscribers, is a numbers game that is potentially absurd. As a quick, unconfirmed search, Japan has a 2010 population of 127.43 million, the US has a population of over 308.4 million. So it would be patently obvious to the casual reader that the US, at nearly 3X times the population, would have more subscribers. So, if the US has nearly 3X the population but only 2X the number of subscribers we must clearly surmise that the US is behind.

    The New York Times had this article. Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global. While this article was not meant to compare who or who is not ahead, it is still a telling story. The Times introductory paragraph: “At first glance, Japanese cellphones are a gadget lover’s dream: ready for Internet and e-mail, they double as credit cards, boarding passes and even body-fat calculators.” So how does the US compare to the Japaneses gadget lovers dream? Please read the comment by “R” who has a very eloquent post concluding that the US is behind. “R” concluded: “Japan has amazing innovations, but I don't expect to see them over here anytime soon.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Seems that my comments, that were previously visible, have been placed on hold pending “moderation”! Given the time-span, how can TLF be contacted when comments are not released?
    ——————————————————————————————————–
    I am very appreciative that TLF is daring to consider the question of broad band implementation in the US versus the rest of the world. It is an issue that really needs to be discussed. But, this discussion must go much deeper.

    1. So how does “regulation” in these other countries compare the the US?
    2. Do consumers in the other countries have a better broadband experience then in the US?
    3. American attitudes towards internet expansion does not help me understand whether the US is ahead of behind.
    4. The claim that the US has more subscribers, is a numbers game that is potentially absurd. As a quick, unconfirmed search, Japan has a 2010 population of 127.43 million, the US has a population of over 308.4 million. So it would be patently obvious to the casual reader that the US, at nearly 3X times the population, would have more subscribers. So, if the US has nearly 3X the population but only 2X the number of subscribers we must clearly surmise that the US is behind.

    The New York Times had this article. Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global. While this article was not meant to compare who or who is not ahead, it is still a telling story. The Times introductory paragraph: “At first glance, Japanese cellphones are a gadget lover’s dream: ready for Internet and e-mail, they double as credit cards, boarding passes and even body-fat calculators.” So how does the US compare to the Japaneses gadget lovers dream? Please read the comment by “R” who has a very eloquent post concluding that the US is behind. “R” concluded: “Japan has amazing innovations, but I don't expect to see them over here anytime soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Zharkov/100000590970112 Jeremy Zharkov

    I'm guessing that 95% figure includes Satellite broadband, which is the only option I have where I live. Sure, technically it's broadband, but you can't actually use it as broadband because you have a very tiny bandwidth cap. It's also insanely expensive.

    And for those that say it's not a priority, how about you give up your broandband? See just how important it is in daily life. You wouldn't be so high and mighty about it…

  • georgeou

    No, 95% is the availability of Cable Broadband. DSL is in the vicinity of the high 80s percentage wise. If you included Satellite, availability would be near 100% excluding the few rural customers that might be obscured by large trees.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Just ran across this reader response by claudia_princess (November 13, 2010 12:55 PM) in the Washington Post. This post seems typical of what others familiar with the state of broadband in their respective countries have written. The TLF needs to do some serious reflective thinking concerning the real desire (versus cheap verbiage) of American corporations to actually implement technological progress.“I was born in Argentina and moved in 1998 to live in the US at age 35. When my brother and friends visit me (all college educated and most successful small business owners and professionals) are overwhelmed with the amount of useless things, the size of the residences and cars. Not even mentioning their surprise when they hear the amount of vacation time given by companies (really little) and the amount of work hours per week.Some other countries like Argentina, which is considered 3rd world in the US, have had for example fiber optics for telephone and television communications since the early 90′s, workers have vacation time in proportion to the years worked (after 10 years 3 or 4 weeks is the norm), women are paid when the have a baby, health is available to all, for free in publics hospitals for those who are in hard times and all companies must offer health insurance, vacations and retirement contributions. Higher education is free (private too). The best science and medicine colleges are public and free of charge. My point is, that all societies have problems and are in constant evolution. Once Argentina feed the world, but not now, once the US was the absolute example to follow, but not now.” (emphasis added)

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