About Those OECD Numbers

The latest broadband statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has touched off its usual round of hand-wringing about the state of U.S. broadband. The OECD now places the U.S. as 15th in the world in terms of broadband penetration. Of course that’s not counting all the Internet connections U.S. businesses have, nor the WiFi networks at schools and universities. Turns out that OECD data is based purely on what member governments collect and provide. And unlike some European countries, The U.S. does not include Internet connections used by businesses in the equation, according to Len Kruger of the Congressional Research Service, who spoke at last week’s National Conference of State Legislators’ meeting. Want more flaws in the OECD methodology? See Randolph May’s blog at the Free State Foundation site.

“Today’s Communications Daily [subscription required] refers to a letter David Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, sent to the OCED pointing out the flaws in the OECD’s broadband statistics. Gross explained that the OECD reports rely too heavily on counting mere subscriptions as a measure of broadband use (this ignores, for example, the fact that most colleges today have campus-wide WiFi access where thousands of students have high-speed access but no “subscriptions,” that millions of others use thousands of WiFi hot spots throughout the country, and that many businesses obtain broadband through high-capacity special access facilities that are not even counted as “subscriptions” in the OECD reports). OECD also ignores important factors such as geographic diversity and population density differences that impact broadband penetration. The plain fact of the matter is that the U.S. has more broadband subscribers–64 million as of June 2006–than any country in the world. And the most recent FCC report, encouragingly, showed that the largest increase in the number of broadband subscribers occurred in the wireless segment. From June 2005 to June 2006, the number of broadband wireless subscriptions increased exponentially from 380,000 to 11 million. Rather than celebrating this good news, which is at least partly attributable to the FCC’s deregulatory broadband policies under the leadership of FCC Chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, the “talking broadband down” crowd continues to relish trotting out the flawed OECD statistics to advance a pro-regulatory agenda.”