Real Broadband Growth: There’s China, There’s the U.S. and Then There’s Everybody Else

While stimulus apologists insist the U.S. has fallen way behind in terms of broadband, actual numbers bear out the opposite. In terms of broadband connections, as of the end of the first quarter 2009, the U.S., with 84 million, is second only to China’s 88 million, according to Point Topic, a U.K.-based research firm that has been tracking broadband numbers for more than a decade. After China and the U.S., numbers dramatically drop off. Japan ranks third, but with 30.6 million. South Korea, often held up as the example of broadband progress, ranks seventh with 15.4 million connections (see graph below). The report measures worldwide DSL, cable modem and fiber connections, but does not count wireless broadband. Unlike broadband research of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which uses older data supplied by government agencies, Point Topic’s research is more up-to-date and independently done.

China and the U.S. also leads in broadband connections added in the first quarter. The Middle Kingdom’s added 4.72 million subscribers; the U.S. with 3.34 million new subscribers, according to the research firm. They were the only two countries to add more than 1 million customers in the first quarter, Germany, in third place, came close with 946,200. As a percentage over Q4 2008, connections in the U.S. grew by 4.14 percent. What’s more significant is that the U.S. leads economically developed nations in both connections and quarterly growth. Germany and France, with quarterly growth of 4.08 percent and 2.95 percent are closest. But then, as with connections, numbers fall off. Here again, South Korea and Japan, the bêtes noirs of U.S. broadband policy, are less than impressive, with 1.52 percent and 1.01 percent 1Q growth. This suggests while they lead the U.S. in penetration, broadband growth in these countries is reaching maturity.

Critics of market models often site OECD penetration statistics, which rank the U.S. between 15th and 20th. Point Topic numbers reflect this as the U.S. did not make the top ten. At the same time, the Point Topic numbers also reflected the correlation between high penetration, and both geographic size and dense populated, which is also seen in the OECD numbers. Hence, as of the first quarter, the highest broadband penetration rates were in Monaco, Luxembourg, Denmark and Iceland, Point Topic found.

While there are pockets of the U.S. that do not have broadband, these numbers shatter the myth that the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in terms of broadband. It certainly raises the question as to whether a $7.2 billion government stimulus is needed to spark a broadband rollout, when these metrics show that U.S. rollout and adoption are not only keeping pace, but going faster than comparable economies.

Download the full Point Topic report here (free, but registration is required).

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.