Digital Britain Vs. The United States: THE BROADBAND WARS. Part 1

13th February, 2012 by

Increasingly, the United States’ (US) ability to survive the economic downturn is becoming tied into its ability to improve high-speed transmission of data known as broadband, as part of its bid to enervate innovation and small business growth in the face of competition from China, Singapore, and the United Kingdom (UK).

This has political overtones, with the government stepping in via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to speed track broadband adoption in across the U.S. This has pumped over $7 billion into broadband network development in the US. Similarly, the UK is taking this issue seriously by establishing an interactive map of broadband connectivity to develop a clearer picture of infrastructure and its benefits for consumers.

Currently, the US ranks 16th in the world when it comes to speed and cost of broadband connections, according to a Harvard University report.

The UK government hopes to be the fastest zone in Europe by 2015, which will also make it more competitive with other broadband leaders in the Far East. The UK is now ranked number 11, well ahead of the United States — the country that invented the Internet.

“British households download about 17 gigabytes of data on average every month over their home broadband connections, said a BBC report.

In February, Ofcom reported that UK consumers were achieving 22% faster broadband speeds at home than they were 12 months ago, mainly due to new high-speed packages that were being adopted at higher rates.

“Starting around 2000, the government required BT to allow other broadband providers to use its lines to deliver service,” said Engadget.

This resulted in “local loop unbundling” meaning that other providers could lease the loops of copper that runs from the phone company office to homes and back and set up their own servers and routers in BT facilities.

Thus, the UK has used competition to drive down prices and energize consumers to sign up for broadband services.

Even American phone operators such as AT & T and Verizon are competing for market share in this growing broadband market, by leasing BT infrastructure. But, they are reluctant to promote the same process in the United States where they say consumers already have more cable choice and the terrestrial distances involved restrict a similar “unbundling”.

The result is that the current U.S. Broadband Plan reports that only 15% of Americans will have more than one option for truly high-speed broadband within the next few years.

Thus, it is quite clear that the UK is currently beating the United State’s hands down in stimulating broadband adoption for its users.  But, before UK citizens rejoice it’s worth noting that no UK cities, or US cities for that matter, feature in the top 20 fastest download speeds worldwide.

Here are the top ranked cities:

1. Busan

2. Seoul

3. Göteborg

4. Stockholm

5. Yokohama

6. Amsterdam

7. Paris

8. Tokyo

9. Aarhus

10. Helsinki

11. Rotterdam

12. Hamburg

13. Kosice

14. Bern

15. Berlin

16. Copenhagen

17. Espoo

18. Lyon

19. Lisbon

20. Oslo

Source: Ars Technica

By the way, New York narrowly missed the list coming in at 21!

Let’s examine the reasons why Ofcom and the U.S. government are so interested in stimulating broadband adoption by reviewing a 2010 report called “Next Generation Connectivity: A review of broadband Internet transitions and policy from around the world,” published by The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Inside, a 2009 World Bank report calculates that every 10 additional broadband subscribers out of every 100 inhabitants are correlated in high-income countries with GDP growth increases of 1.21%, while the correlation was even more pronounced for low- and middle-income countries, at 1.38%.

Thus, many will argue that if America is indeed in decline it may very well be due to the fact that it dropped from fourth place in 2000 to 16th place in 2011 in broadband rankings. To put this in perspective examine household broadband penetration in the chart below compiled by OECD

“The most widely noted critique of the OECD per 100 rankings is that they penalize the United States, which has larger households than other countries,” said the Harvard Report.

“These critiques, whether well founded or not in theory, make little difference for assessing U.S. performance in the medium term given the fact that the U.S. occupies the same position if measured in terms of household penetration.”

With research firm Gartner Inc. predicting that web access from a Smartphone phone will surpass both laptops and desktops by 2013 it’s also worth considering where the UK and the US stand in terms of mobile broadband.

In terms of 3G the United States ranks 19th with the UK well ahead in 10th place. Japan, South Korea and Australia hold the top three positions.

“South Korea is a leading performer across all measures: leading household penetration, second on 3G, in the top quintile for per 100 inhabitants, and 7th for Wi-Fi Hotspots. Japan leads in 3G and is a top quintile performer for household penetration, but has lower results on per 100 inhabitants, and very low results on hotspot,” said Harvard University.

The table below puts the above into perspective, taking into account Wi-Fi hotspots and 3G rankings.

Guest Blogger: Jason Stevens from / Freelance web developer, tech writer and follower of cloud computing trends. Follow him on Twitter @_jason_stevens_

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