Graph of the Day: Broadband around the world

Last week, I wrote about the challenges that the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband faces in meeting its goal of universal broadband access by 2015. In short, we likely won't meet the goal. Only 62% of Minnesotan households have access at the prescribed speeds.

It isn’t just Minnesota’s fault that it won’t be able to meet that goal. Broadband infrastructure is expensive and nationwide. Minnesota is one part of a larger American broadband system – a system which lags behind many developed countries. Nationwide, only 68% of households have broadband. Korea, Iceland, and Norway lead the way with 97.5%, 87%, and 82.6%, respectively.

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

It’s true that the United States is much larger and populous than Korea and Iceland, and the infrastructure needed to cover the nation with broadband costs more here. But, the United States falls behind Canada (which is larger in area than the US) and Japan (the next most populous developed country).

My intuition says that cost is the primary driver of low broadband adoption in the United States. Most Americans have the ability to purchase broadband, since most Americans live in cities and suburbs where broadband wires are already in the ground, but can’t afford it. Compared to its peers in the OECD, broadband is expensive in the U.S.

Source: OECD

At least broadband in the US is cheaper than Mexico, Greece, Poland, Chile, and Turkey! But compared to countries that have similar standards of living and technology, American broadband costs and arm and a leg . Even in expensive countries like Sweden and Denmark, where a cup of coffee costs 5 dollars, the price of broadband per mb/s is less than half what it is in the U.S.

Telecommunications regulation is not easy, but the slow adoption and high price of broadband here in the U.S. points to something not working. Knowledge is half the battle though, and knowing where the U.S. ranks is useful – even if it is discouraging. Now, policymakers and the public as a whole will have to come to terms with the fact that a large investment in the nation’s communications infrastructure will be necessary to keep up - let alone be a leader.

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Alex Christensen's picture
Alex Christensen

Alex Christensen is a policy associate for Minnesota 2020.