Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Latest FCC Global Broadband Report Nuanced, Careful, Sure to Disappoint Some Observers

The latest Federal Communications Commission report on global broadband suggests the United States ranks about ninth for mobile broadband adoption among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries and 12th for fixed (DSL or cable) broadband on a per-household basis.

But assessing broadband availability is more complicated than it used to be, in large measure because of mobile broadband, an area where the United States is forecast to lead, at least in terms of fourth generation Long Term Evolution deployments.

Also, using only the OECD data, which FCC report authors say is the best overall, the United States ranks first out of 28 in cable modem coverage, sixth out of 16 for fiber-to-the-home coverage and eighth out of 29 in 3G mobile wireless coverage.

Some would argue that, for any number of reasons, including population density and continental size, the United States will not typically, if ever, rank at the very top of any global measure of tele-density.

Where did the United States currently rank on per-capita measures of broadband penetration in early 2010? 15th, as it turns out; precisely where it has long ranked in terms of fixed-line voice line penetration. If that seems unremarkable, consider that a 15th-place ranking is sufficient for observers to see few problems with voice service availability. In other words, the "problem of voice access" is solved even when the United States ranks only 15th globally on common measures of tele-density.

None of that is to suggest there are not real or potential issues in rural areas, issues with the price of the faster services or issues with adoption. But based on historical comparisons, the data is entirely consistent with the realities of service in a continent-sized nation with lower population density than many other nations, and regulatory policies in some areas that support government-lead or supported network investment more aggressively than is possible in the U.S. market.

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