The State of Broadband in the US

Here are three recent studies about the state of broadband in the US and the world. The short takeaway is that the US is a second-tier country– at best– as far as information infrastructure. That is largely due to the fact that the market for broadband is not competitive in the US. If it is at all available to them, Americans typically obtain broadband service from the incumbent cable company and the incumbent phone company at speeds that are little better than they were 5 years ago.
Internet Innovation Alliance Broadband Factbook
OECD: OECD Communications Outlook 2007
FTC Staff Report: Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy
Susan Crawford, Moving Slowly in the Fast Lane: “The Federal Communications Commission, our national communications regulatory body, is asking the wrong questions and heading in the wrong direction. We need new leadership in this country that has the political muscle to implement radical change. A key national priority, on a par with funding Head Start programs and adequate national healthcare, must be to ensure that access to an unfettered internet is universal, speedy, and cheap.”
Newsweek: True or False: U.S.’s Broadband Penetration Is Lower Than Even Estonia’s: “Maybe our proud nation is going through some rough spots, but at least we have one shining and perpetual triumph: the Internet. People may refer to it as the World Wide Web, but its capital is Silicon Valley and the United States is the big dog tapping the global keyboard. At least that’s what we thought, until the news broke in April of a report by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that ranked the high-speed broadband adoption of 30 countries in the developed world. The United States was not first. Or second, or third. It ranked 15th.”
David Weinberger: Delaminate the Bastards!: “Once upon a time, when this nation’s telecommunications infrastructure was owned by a monopolistic industry, all the phones were black, long distance was incredibly expensive, and if you had a great idea for an innovative service using the telephone system, you were free to write a letter to the telephone company and suggest they look into it. About once a decade, the telephone company would introduce something new — touch tone phones, 800 numbers, and, yes, the pink Princess Phone for the ladies.”
David H. Deans: U.S. Broadband: Is it Half Empty, or Half Full?: “Is the U.S. broadband glass half-empty, or half-full? You decide. The 12 percent growth rate from 2006 to 2007 trails the 40 percent increase in the 2005 to 2006 timeframe, when many people in the middle-income and older age groups acquired home broadband connections.”
Save the Internet Blog: Painting over Broadband Failures with Pretty Pictures: “The near absolute control of phone and cable giants is being bolstered by a Washington establishment that’s loath to upset this imbalance of power. The results are now beginning to show in survey after survey that reveal nationwide broadband failures.”
Eric Bangeman, ars technica: New OECD report shows limitations of US broadband public policy: “The countries with the lowest cost per megabit per second are generally characterized by two things: a significant fiber infrastructure and a healthy amount of competition. In Japan and Korea, for instance, fiber is widespread, resulting in the fastest residential broadband speeds available anywhere. In Europe, the regulatory environment allows consumers in many countries to choose from any number of DSL and cable providers.”
John B. Horrigan, Pew Internet and American Life Project: Why it will Be Hard to Close the Broadband Divide: “ccording to the Pew Internet Project’s February 2007 survey, 47% of American adults have broadband at home, nearly double the 24% penetration level of three years earlier. With home broadband penetration poised to surpass 50% this year, it will have taken 9 years from the time the service became widely available for home high-speed to reach half the population. To put this in context, it took 10 years for the compact disc player to reach 50% of consumers, 15 years for cell phones, and 18 years for color TV”
But the piece de resistance is this article from Spiegel, which illustrates the difference between the US and France. France encouraged competition and required incumbent carriers to allow competitors access to lines. The result is that France has faster broadband available at lower cost and competitive carriers are not simply riding on the incumbent providers facilities, but actually investing in new competitive facilities. France’s Broadband Boom: Vive la High-Speed Internet!: “What a difference a few years make. In 2001, France had one of the weakest markets for broadband Internet access in the developed world, with less than a quarter of the penetration of the U.S. Today, it has sailed past the U.S. to become one of the world’s most wired nations, with more than one in five inhabitants enjoying high-speed Internet connections.”
How can the US catch up to the rest of the world? By encouraging competition in the broadband market. That is the goal that broadband policy should be striving to achieve– not the Bush Administration’s policy of protecting incumbents from competition, but promoting real competition.