OECD vs. SpeedTest

by on May 5, 2008 · 8 comments

Nate Anderson points to a new report on broadband around the world that I’m looking forward to reading. I have to say I’m skeptical of this sort of thing, though:

Critics of the current US approach to spurring broadband deployment and adoption point out that the country has been falling on most broadband metrics throughout the decade. One of the most reliable, that issued by the OECD, shows the US falling from 4th place in 2001 to 15th place in 2007. While this ranking in particular has come under criticism from staunchly pro-market groups, the ITIF’s analysis shows that these numbers are the most accurate we have. According to an ITIF analysis of various OECD surveys, the US is in 15th place worldwide and it lags numerous other countries in price, speed, and availability—a trifecta of lost opportunities.

With an average broadband speed of 4.9Mbps, the US is being Chariots of Fire-d by South Korea (49.5Mbps), Japan (63.6Mbps), Finland (21.7Mbps), Sweden (16.8Mbps), and France (17.6Mbps), among others. Not only that, but the price paid per megabyte in the US ($2.83) is substantially higher than those countries, all of which come in at less than $0.50 per megabyte.

Now, this site is a tool for measuring the speed of your broadband connection, and it purports to have data from around the world. I have no idea how reliable their methodology is generally, or how good their testing equipment is around the world, but I’ve used it in several different places in the US and it at least seems reliable around here. According to their measurements, the US has an average broadband speed of 5.3 mbps, roughly what the OECD study said. But the numbers for the other countries cited are wildly different: Japan is 13 mbps, Sweden is 8.7 mbps, South Korea is 6.1 mbps, and France is 5.5 mbps. If these numbers are right, te US is behind Sweden and Japan, and slightly behind South Korea and France, but we’re not nearly as far behind the curve as the OECD reports would suggest.

And then there’s this:

The ITIF warns against simply implementing the policies that have worked for other countries, however, and it notes that a good percentage of the difference can be chalked up to non-policy factors like density. For instance, more than half of all South Koreans lived in apartment buildings that are much easier to wire with fiber connections than are the sprawling American suburbs.

Now, I haven’t examined SpeedTest’s methodology, so they might have all sorts of problems that make their results suspect. But it’s at least one data point suggesting that the OECD data might be flawed. And I think the very fact that there seems to be only one widely cited ranking out there ought to make us somewhat suspicious of its findings. Scott Wallsten had bad things to say about the OECD numbers on our podcast. Is there other work out there analyzing the quality of the OECD rankings?

Previous post:

Next post: