New broadband data: The US is still behind

Japan's average broadband speed is more than 10 times that of the U.S., while its subscription prices are only about 50 percent higher, according to new data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

A new OECD Web site, its broadband portal, provides greater detail when comparing broadband service among its 30 members than the group has done in the past. The portal compares broadband speeds, prices, penetration and other measurements.

The OECD in June ranked the U.S. 15th in broadband penetration among the 30 members, providing ammunition for critics of U.S. President George Bush, who say he isn't doing enough to encourage broadband adoption.

But others have criticized the OECD stats, saying they weren't giving the whole picture. The OECD's old stats on broadband adoption mixed business connections in with residential ones, giving an incomplete view of business connections in the U.S., said Scott Wallsten, senior fellow and director of communications policy studies at The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF), a conservative think tank. OECD also based its broadband penetration stats on 2003 U.S. data, Wallsten wrote on the PFF blog.

"I'm sure that all sides of the debate about whether the U.S. is 'ahead or behind' on broadband will find something to bolster their case," Wallsten wrote. "But the key point is that the OECD is moving to show more information than simple one-variable country rankings. More information is always better, and I am grateful that the OECD has taken this step."

The U.S. had one of the lowest costs for broadband service in October, according to the OECD. The U.S. range for a monthly subscription was between US$14.99 for lower speeds and $199.99 for the top level of service. Only four of the 30 OECD countries had a lower low-end price.

The range in Switzerland was $5.80 to $52.15, and the range in the U.K. was $16.54 to $62.76.

In South Korea, the range was $30.56 to $50.93 for the highest speed of service and in Japan, the range was $21.22 to $131.57.

But Japan and South Korea had much higher speeds than in the U.S. The average advertised download speed in Japan was 93.7M bps (bits per second), while France and South Korea both had averages of more than 43M bps. The average download speed in the U.S. in October was 8.9M bps, while it was 10.6M bps in the U.K. and 12.1M bps in Australia.

The U.S. ranked 19th out of 30 in average broadband speeds. Turkey and Mexico were the lowest, both with an average of less than 2M bps.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a tech-focused think tank, also praised the OECD's new site. ITIF has called on the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration to more aggressively promote broadband through a number of programs, including tax incentives for the build-out of high-speed networks.

Atkinson said the new OECD portal can help drive the debate on broadband. "It will give people interested in broadband comparisons more fine grained data to better assess the relative condition of broadband deployment and take up in the United States," he said. "The new portal also reflects a change in the broadband policy issues, from a concern largely focused on adoption rates to one that now recognizes the importance of higher speeds."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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