[Politech] Weekly column: Is there really a lack-of-broadband crisis in U.S.?

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Mon Jan 10 2005 - 20:58:29 PST


January 10, 2005, 4:00 AM PT
By Declan McCullagh

It's become fashionable to fret about the purported need for a "national 
broadband policy," a concern typically accompanied by laments that the 
United States lags other nations in adopting speedy Internet connections.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael Copps, a 
Democrat, recently complained that "the United States is ranked 11th in 
the world in broadband penetration!...When we find ourselves 11th in the 
world, something has gone dreadfully wrong. When Congress tells us to 
take immediate action to accelerate deployment, we have an obligation to 
do it."

One commentary piece published on CNET News.com last week worried that 
the United States is "falling behind" other countries in broadband 
connectivity. Another from last year offered "several recommendations 
that could help form a national broadband agenda" and touted South Korea 
as a "success" story.

But is the United States truly faring so poorly? A careful look at the 
numbers gives reason to be skeptical.

The now-traditional source of dismay about U.S. broadband adoption is a 
set of figures compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and 
Development, a kind of governmental think tank. The June 2004 figures 
say the United States has 11.2 broadband subscribers for every 100 
inhabitants, in 11th place and far behind South Korea's 
24.4-people-per-100 top ranking.

Those figures are misleading. South Korea is roughly 100,000 square 
kilometers, about the size of the state of Indiana, with a population 
clustered around large cities like Seoul. In those cities, Koreans tend 
to live in high-rise apartment buildings. Population density makes it 
relatively easy to provide high-speed connections--it's perfect for 
speedy VDSL lines--and boosts the nation in the OECD's rankings.

[...remainder snipped...]
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