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Surprise: America is No. 1 in Broadband
2/24/2009

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/surprise-america-is-no-1-in-broadband/

By Saul Hansell

There is a constant refrain that the United States is falling behind in broadband, as if the speed of Internet service in Seoul represents a new Sputnik that is a challenge to national security.

Itís certainly true that in some countries, like South Korea, far more homes have broadband connections than in the United States. And the speeds in some countries are far higher than is typical here.

But there are many ways to measure the bandwidth wealth of nations. At the Columbia/Georgetown seminar on the broadband stimulus yesterday, I heard Leonard Waverman, the dean of the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, describe a measure he developed called the ďConnectivity Scorecard.Ē Itís meant to compare countries on the extent that consumers, businesses and government put communication technology to economically productive use.

Even after deducting the untold unproductive hours spent on Facebook and YouTube, the United States comes out on top in Mr. Wavermanís ranking of 25 developed countries. The biggest reason is that business in the United States has made extensive use of computers and the Internet and it has a technically skilled work force.

ďKorea has great broadband to the house, but businesses in Korea donít use the best networks and donít have the skills and computing assets they need to take advantage of them,Ē Mr. Waverman said.

Also, as dusty as your local motor vehicle office may seem, government use of communications technology is as good in the United States as anywhere in the world, according to Mr. Wavermanís rankings.

After the United States, the ranking found that Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway rounded out the five most productive users of connectivity. Japan ranked 10, and Korea, 18.

And while wired and wireless broadband networks used by consumers lagged other countries, the United States ranked No. 1 in the world for technology use and skills by consumers. (This was measured by comparing countries on five measures: The penetration of Internet use, penetration of Internet banking, wired and wireless voice minutes per capita, SMS messages per capita, and consumer software spending.)

To see the full methodology, look at page 38 in this report.

A separate paper based on the survey research of the Pew Internet and American Life project also undercut the idea that Americans are starving for broadband.

First of all, Pew found that 57 percent of people in the country now have access to broadband, compared to only 9 percent who have dial-up Internet access. Another 9 percent of people use the Internet at work or at a library but not at home.

That leaves 25 percent of the population that doesnít use the Internet at all. When Pew looked at the reasons why people didnít use broadband (combining dial-up users with those that donít have Internet access at all), it found that by far the most common reason was that people said that going online was not relevant to their lives. Some 51 percent of people surveyed in these groups said things like they werenít interested in the Internet or they were too busy.

The second-most common reason was money: 18 percent of the people said that the cost of broadband was too high or that they donít have a computer. Next came usability, with 17 percent citing reasons like the Internet was too difficult to use or wasted too much time.

Rather significantly, for the debate about broadband in rural areas, only 14 percent of the people who donít have broadband now say the reason is that they canít get it. That represents 4.5 percent of the population. Those figures match up with statistics from the cable industry, which says it now offers broadband service to 95 percent of the homes in America.

Cycle all this back to the findings by Mr. Waverman. Since his research found that, on average, Americans have more technology skills and involvement than people in any other country, maybe the biggest reason that 39 percent of the population doesnít have broadband is that they know what theyíd get ó and they donít want it.