US sinks to 15th place worldwide in broadband, says OECD

In broadband access, the United States has now slipped from twelfth to fifteen place versus other countries, according to new research released this week by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The OECD study points to factors ranging from pricing to download speeds as possible reasons why the US may be losing ground, at least compared against other countries. Unlike some other broadband studies, which compare access rates across wider numbers of countries, the OECD research looks only at penetration rates among its own 30 member nations.

The US actually placed first in terms of total numbers of broadband subscribers. But the OECD's penetration rates are based on numbers of broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants.

By these statistics, the US has continued a comparative slide for the past six years, ranking in fourth place in 2001, twelfth place in 2006, and now, according to the OECD's latest figures, fifteenth place by the end of 2007.

In an independent analysis of the OECD research, the media advocacy group Free Press has found that almost half of the other OECD countries offered higher maximum download speeds than those in the US.

The picture in the US was brighter for cable service -- since only ten other countries had faster advertised cable modem download speeds -- than for DSL, where the US landed in 26th place, only slightly above Turkey, Poland, and Mexico.


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According to the OECD's data, the highest advertised download speed in the US amounted to 50 Mbps, as opposed to 100 Mbps for Finland, France, South Korea and Sweden and 1,000 Mbps for Japan.

In an interview with BetaNews today, Derek Turner, research director for Free Press, said that the top speed of 50 Mbps for the US referred to the highest tier of service now available for Verizon Wireless' FiOS, a new broadband offering now available in some parts of the US.

Also in the US, Comcast now offers a 50 Mbps cable service. "But Comcast's [50 Mbps] service wasn't available until 2008," he told BetaNews.

The OECD's data also shows that consumers in the US pay more on average for broadband service than consumers in only seven other countries: Mexico, Poland, Hungary, Norway, Czech Republic, Iceland, and Slovak Republic.

As Free Press sees it, according to Turner, prices tend to be higher in the US and other countries where there is "a lack of meaningful competition" for broadband access.

The advocacy group is supporting initiatives such as a proposal now before the FCC to provide open access for wireless broadband services in the so-called "white space" of the spectrum -- the gaps between where services are already transmitting.

Although other research groups have come up with conflicting findings around broadband access, Turner said that the OECD obtains information on broadband penetration directly from reports produced by government regulatory agencies such as the FCC in the US.

The FCC, he noted, is now revising its policies around information collection to include "granular data" from broadband providers about connection speeds.

The OECD statistics are not adjusted for by factors such as geography, education, or income. But even in other studies -- which have taken other such factors into account -- the US still ranks below some other countries in terms of broadband access, according to Turner, who mentioned earlier research by the Phoenix Center and other think tanks.

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