U.S. Has Some Catching Up to Do

By Alex Goldman

April 20, 2009

The U.S. ranks just 24th in the world for per capita broadband penetration, although it leads the world in cable broadband.

The latest report from broadband research firm Point Topic shows Asia leading in fiber optics, which delivers the fattest pipes, and the U.S. ranked 24th globally in per capita broadband penetration, a sad spot for the nation that invented the Internet. The report defines "broadband" as connections with speeds of at least 256 kbps in both directions.

Asia leads the world with the fastest speeds because the world economy gave Asian governments the cash to spend on fiber, said Oliver Johnson, CEO of Point Topic.

"Big infrastructure projects were popular and growing economies/exports meant they were able to spend heavily to install fiber infrastructure ahead of the rest of the world," he said.

Combined, Asia-Pacific and the South Asia and East Asian regions contain over 82 percent of the world's deployed fiber. North America has only 7.29 percent.

The report noted that although Europe and North America lag behind Asia, their fiber deployments are growing relatively rapidly. The report singled out Verizon's fiber deployment in North America, noting that the company added 130,000 fiber subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2008 for a total of 1.18 million subscribers with a growth rate of 11.8 percent in the quarter.

In China, Johnson noted, the government is building massive infrastructure projects along which it can run fiber, lowering the cost of fiber trenches.

Size matters

One reason the U.S. ranks 24th in broadband adoption is in part due to its size. The smallest nations see the highest rates of adoption. The top five nations are, in order: Monaco, Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Iceland. Of those, Iceland is the largest geographically, but it's still "slightly smaller than Kentucky," according to the CIA World Fact Book.

But, Johnson said, the U.S. government must take some of the blame. Although geography is one cause, he cited backhaul regulation (as opposed to opening the local loop) as important and "a historically non-interventionist government" as another cause. He said the result has been local monopolies and duopolies.

Deployment has stayed in the cities and the wealthy suburbs and failed to reach poor and urban areas. "Large conurbations and richer communities will get access to broadband technologies before other sections of the population."

The news comes as the U.S. government is preparing to spend more money on broadband for the poor and for those in rural areas than it has ever spent before. Furthermore, the agencies responsible for spending the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus have promised to make sure the money is available quickly.

In absolute numbers, the U.S. does well, with 79.07 million subscribers, making it second only to China's 83.37 million, but China's subscriber base is growing faster.

Oddly enough, while the U.S. lags in DSL and fiber technologies, it leads the world in cable broadband. Johnson attributed this to history, saying that the U.S. was the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the 1940s and 1950s, when the cable infrastructure was built.

Article courtesy of InternetNews.com.



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