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Fixed Networks Featured Article

U.S. 'Still' 23rd Globally in Broadband, Study Finds

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

The United States still trails much of the world in broadband development, ranking 23rd on the list of the top 57 countries, according to rankings released this week by Strategy Analytics (News - Alert). What that means is open to interpretation, though. 

South Korea holds on to the title of the world’s most advanced broadband market. Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Lithuania, and Japan round out the top five slots, using a five-item method of calculating an index. Strategy Analytics says the measures are household penetration, speed, affordability, value for money, and "urbanicity."

That the top five countries are relatively small, in terms of geographic area, is not surprising. Virtually all cross-nation indexes of broadband penetration have shown small, highly-urban countries (geographic size, and typically population) in the lead, for perhaps obvious reasons. 

It takes less time and capital to build a broadband network to cover a small area, than to cover a large area. Density allows lower per-dwelling cost, and also higher bandwidth, at less cost, since bandwidth and distance, and bandwidth and population density, are inversely related. 

But note that highly-urban and compact Singapore scores just 0.22 above France, a country that typically shows up on cross-national indexes as in the same position as the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. 

The Strategy Analytics analysis confirms the pattern, showing a difference of 0.49 between France and the United States. As you would expect, Germany and the United Kingdom are in the same area, as far as scores, with just 0.07 points separating France and Germany; and 0.48 points separating France and the United Kingdom. 

Another way of looking at matters is to note that Singapore, typically a leader in broadband deployment, separated by 0.71 points on the scale. So the broadband composite index, as Strategy Analytics has developed it, essentially confirms what other indexes using fewer metrics have shown. 


Country         BCI

1 South Korea 9.14

2 Hong Kong 7.58




4 Lithuania         7.52

5 Japan         7.42

9 Singapore         6.67

12 France         6.45

15 Germany         6.38

22 United Kingdom 5.97

23 United States 5.96

The Federal Communications Commission, for its part, has dramatically revised the way it defines broadband, switching from a "200 kbps" threshold to a "4 Mbps" threshold for determining what a "broadband" connection is. 

As you might guess, the FCC (News - Alert) has "suddenly" discovered that there are far more users and households in the United States that do not have access to "broadband" anymore.  That is not to say some reasonable adjustments are needed, from time to time, in the way data is collected. 

The other statistical impact is that 3G mobile broadband is no longer "broadband," and neither are most of the connections smaller businesses use (they tend to use one or two T1 lines, representing 1.5 Mbps or 2 Mbps, respectively). 

The FCC recently changed the way it collects data on consumer voice lines, for example, adding reporting requirements to firms that previously did not have to report. As you might expect, the number of landlines in service in the United States has taken an unexpected upward move, against a generally declining trend since about 2000 or 2001. 

But that is a statistical variation caused solely by a change in reporting methodology, not any "change" in real-world usage. Measurement is an issue in the area of "typical speeds" as well. 

A new MIT (News - Alert) study says that previous estimates of U.S. broadband speed may have underestimated just how fast our national networks really are. In March, the FCC said that the broadband network was only half as fast as advertised.

However, the MIT study found that those measurements didn’t fully measure the speed of the “access network,” which Internet service providers (ISPs) control. For example, using the best method, Ookla (News - Alert)/Speedtest, current typical speeds are 7.7 Mbps, not 3.8 Mbps.

According to the study, a simple figure for broadband speed isn’t sufficient to understand the quality of the nation’s digital infrastructure, and it’s just as affected by a user’s computer and the location of servers being accessed as it is by the ISP.

It is actually unlikely that the United States will "improve" or "decline" in any broadband availability or broadband penetration index over time, at least not when compared to nations such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, with which the United States generally falls in any cross-national index of broadband penetration. 

The United States never ranks in the top-10 on any global measure of telephone penetration, either, and nobody seems to think voice penetration is much of a problem. The other issue is that any measures of "fixed line" broadband, at any particular threshold, will not show the actual, real-world situation when most users also take advantage of mobile broadband, and use multiple connections.

The Strategy Analytics, FCC and MIT results are a simple reminder that statistical reporting can obscure as much as it illuminates. 

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi