Friday, July 08, 2005


Chairman Kevin's exceptional reasoning

When FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin became Chairman, he said the U.S. had, "the best communications system in the world." A few weeks later, he said, "broadband is critical . . . our Number 1 priority." The other day in the Wall Street Journal, Martin wrote (paid WSJ subscription required, unless you look here or here),
Although last December's report by the OECD ranks the U.S. 12th with respect to broadband subscribership per 100 inhabitants, there is more to the story: broadband growth in the U.S. is exceptional and leads the world.
Exceptional, that is, except for the facts.
In terms of broadband per capita within the 30 nations of the OECD, the U.S. has fallen from #3 in the OECD in 2000, to #4 in 2001, to #7 in 2002, to #10 in 2003, to #12 in 2004.

The U.S. has fallen to #12 among 30 nations. That's world leadership?

Look at the OECD data yourself. If you see anything that looks like world leadership, please let me know!

In similar 2004 ITU data (compare ITU 2002) the U.S. is falling through position #16 on its way towards broadband mediocrity. (Unlike the OECD data, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Israel are included; they're all kicking U.S. broadband butt.)

Martin marshals the best evidence he can, saying,
. . . the U.S. leads the world in the total number of broadband connections with 38 million subscribers. And we are signing up new subscribers at an incredible rate. In 2004, broadband subscribership increased by 34% . . .
China is #2 in raw count, adding 140 million broadband connections each year, a growth rate of 56%. It blows past the U.S. by straight-line extrapolation in 2007. If raw count is world leadership, the U.S. won't lead long.

The U.S. is #9 in growth on the ITU most-connected list (2002 and 2004). Again not a world leader. Eight of the 15 ITU nations listed had higher growth. The Netherlands grew the fastest, from 1 million connections in 2002 to 3.1 million in 2004, a CAGR of over 70%. Then there's Switzerland (2), Finland (3), Japan (4), Denmark (5), Singapore (6), Sweden (7) and Belgium (8). Then the "world leader."

But other countries are growing even faster. Greece is growing by over 300% a year. Hungary, Turkey and Poland are zooming. But this is largely due to the law of small numbers -- when you're way behind, adding a few hundred lines might push you from 0.1% to 0.4%. More interestingly, Switzerland and Netherlands (a) have higher per capita broadband than the U.S. and (b) much faster growth than the U.S.

Martin really stretches (for a Bush conservative) to make Massachusetts a positive example of broadband penetration. Martin writes,
Japan, which ranks 8th in the OECD report has a population density of 350 inhabitants per square kilometer and has 15 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. These numbers are very similar to Massachusetts which has a population density of 317 inhabitants per square kilometer and 18 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants.
OK, Mister Chairman, it may be a yellowcake story from pick-and-choose facts, but let's say I'm convinced. Let the U.S. follow Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to world broadband leadership.

USA, Number One? When Clear Skies means more pollution, Healthy Forests means rev up them chain saws, Mission Accomplished means many more years of escalating U.S. casualties, Last Throes could mean twelve years, and More Competition means fewer competitors that are better protected, why not declare the U.S. to lead the world in broadband?

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