Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eight European countries beat U.S. in broadband penetration

Isn’t it time the United States developed a national broadband policy?

Eight European countries are now ahead of the United States in broadband penetration, according to figures released today [Wednesday]. "We have four countries that are world leaders -- Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland," said Viviane Reding, the European Union's (EU) telecommunications commissioner. "We have eight countries that have higher penetration rates than the U.S. and Japan. We are not doing badly at all."

Badly! Europe is kicking America's butt!

If my tech-savvy American readers still aren't depressed enough, the EU press release has more gory details:

Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden are world leaders in broadband deployment with penetration rates over 30% at the end of 2007, says the European Commission’s 13th Progress Report on the Single Telecoms Market issued on 19 March. These EU countries, together with the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, all had broadband penetration rates higher than the US (22.1%) in July 2007. 19 million broadband lines were added in the EU in 2007, the equivalent of more than 50,000 households every day. The broadband sector generated estimated revenues of € 62 billion and Europe’s overall penetration reached 20%. However, there is considerable scope for further consumer benefits from a reinforced single market, strengthened competition and reduced regulatory burden for market players.

The U.S. has been against national planning because we do not want to take on the appearance of a centralized economy. We think it's undemocratic and un-American. The common response to calls for central planning or even national strategies is “let the markets decide.”

The problem is that the markets are not addressing the broadband problem fast enough, and as a result the U.S. is losing its competitive edge. I testified in front of the Senate on this issue (read the blog post here).

Yes, I know there are some other very serious problems that need national attention: the economy, the environment, human rights (check out Tibet) and so on. But we can't let IT slip off the radar screen either.

I hope that America's anemic broadband network begins to become an issue in the presidential campaign. In the past, IT issues did not seep into the national political discussion, probably because they were perceived as too techie. But if ever there was a bona fide “pocketbook” issue this year, making sure we have the infrastructure in place to keep millions of IT jobs in America must surely be it.

The good news is that there are changes are afoot. Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch identified Barack Obama and John McCain as the two candidates with the most progressive, thoughtful and “right” positions on IT. So no matter what happens on the Democratic side between now and the party convention, we're guaranteed to have at least one IT-aware candidate on the ballot in November.

Let's just hope the politicians do something about the broadband problem -- and soon. Otherwise our economy could soon be facing a giant blue screen of death.

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