U.S. No. 1 in Broadband Connectivity

Published July 1, 2009

A leading technology researcher addressing European policymakers reported the United States has the highest broadband connectivity rate in the world, a conclusion that runs counter to recent reports about America lagging in the technology.

Leonard Waverman, dean of Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, expounded in May on the findings in his report, “Connectivity Scorecard 2009,” to members of the European Commission, the body that executes the laws and regulations passed by the European Union.

The report, published in January and financed by Finland-based Nokia Siemens Networks, measured not only the penetration of broadband infrastructure but also qualitative aspects of usage, such as software use, e-commerce skills, and training.

America Leads

The indices provide a weighted average of broadband in consumer, business, and government sectors. The results, Waverman said, show the United States has the highest level of broadband connectivity, followed by Sweden and Denmark. Japan ranks 10th and South Korea 18th.

Waverman’s findings contradict a highly touted 2008 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showing the United States ranked 15th in the world in “broadband penetration.”

Waverman’s study also disagreed with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s latest “Information Economy Report,” released in March, which said the United States (ranked 17th) had been passed by Japan (12), Germany (13), and New Zealand (16) in the agency’s “ICT Development Index.” ICT stands for information and communication technologies.

Myth Busters

Bob Atkinson, director of policy research at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information in New York City, notes a country’s ranking on a technology list is entirely dependent on what criteria are used. He and other analysts say America’s low standing in broadband technology is a myth.

“When measured by penetration per person instead of per household, the United States ranks high,” Atkinson said. “American households have more members compared to Europe. Broadband passes through 92 percent of households in the United States, and 60 percent actually use it.

“European households also use [the Internet] more for entertainment purposes, compared to the United States, where cable [television] is more widely available,” Atkinson added.

OECD Rankings Doubted

OECD’s measure of broadband penetration is the number of subscribers for every hundred residents. On that basis, Denmark has the highest ranking.

Scott Wallsten, director of communications policy studies for the Washington, DC-based Progress & Freedom Foundation, said the OECD’s technology studies—often taken as gospel—may be failing to count American universities and businesses, which would be a serious flaw.

“The sources of numbers are not revealed, and it is hard to establish whether there is any bias,” Wallsten said. “[But we know] OECD numbers don’t include educational institutions, and higher numbers of students are more likely to live on campus in America. Business also uses special access lines which are hard to account for in statistics.”

Waverman agrees, noting “statistics for data carrying capacity of fiber optic cables used by business are simply not available.”

Crunching the Numbers

A 2008 report by Robert D. Atkinson, president and founder of the Washington, DC-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, measured household penetration, average broadband speed, and prices. South Korea was ranked highest, followed by Japan and Finland, with Sweden sixth and the U.S. 15th.

Yet Atkinson’s report, “Explaining International Broadband Leadership,” showed 75 percent of the country-to-country differences can be explained by non-policy factors such as population density and the price of broadband.

Atkinson noted retail broadband prices are lower in high-density countries such as Japan because the costs of laying broadband lines are lower when a larger number of customers can be served from one line. Younger population centers, too, tend to want and use more broadband, he noted.

Kishore Jethanandani ([email protected]) writes from San Francisco.

For more information …

“Connectivity Scorecard 2009,” Leonard Waverman, Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary; Kalyan Dasgupta, managing consultant at LECG; Nicholas Brooks, LECG Corp.: http://www.connectivityscorecard.org/images/uploads/media/TheConnectivityReport2009.pdf

OECD Broadband Portal: http://www.oecd.org/document/54/0,3343,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html

“Explaining International Broadband Leadership,” Robert D. Atkinson, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: http://www.itif.org/files/ExplainingBBLeadership.pdf