Redefining Broadband

The FCC for years has been considering any connection greater than 200kbps to be broadband. For the past several years that’s been pretty misleading. In addition, they only collect downstream, not upstream. They also consider an entire zip code to have broadband if only 1 home can get it. That’s not very accurate. This makes the broadband situation in the US look better than it really is.

The definition of broadband in the US is now being redefined as 768kbps. They will now collect upstream data, and use census-track data. This is a major win since it will more accurately show how many people really do have broadband, and more importantly how many do not.

I personally disagree on the number and think it should be at least 2Mbps, but it’s a win regardless.

The pacific rim annihilates the United States when it comes to broadband. According to Akamai’s State Of The Internet for Q1 2008 high broadband (greater than 5Mbps) is where we really start to show our deficiencies. Here’s a look at broadband which they define as simply greater than 2Mbps:

Rank Country % >2Mbps Q4 07 Change
Global 55% -2.0%
1 South Korea 93% -1.5%
2 Belgium 90% +1.5%
3 Switzerland 89% +0.5%
4 Hong Kong 87% -1.5%
5 Japan 87% +1.0%
6 Norway 83% -2.3%
7 Tunisia 82% +29%
8 Slovakia 81% +0.5%
9 Netherlands 78% -2.6%
10 Bahamas 74% -3.0%
24 United States 62% -2.8%

Pretty pathetic considering our last Vice President invented the Internet 😉 . We are the largest in terms of sq miles, but when you consider the US population density, the bulk of our land is very sparsely populated. 80.8% of the US population lives in an urban setting [Warning: PDF].

US Population Density

Japan by comparison has 66.0% of it’s population in an urban setting. Belgium has a surprising 91.5% which may account for it’s #2 position. Switzerland has 44.4% yet makes 3rd place threatening Belgium’s position.

I’m far from the first one to complain about the poor state of broadband. BusinessWeek and CNet both have relatively good discussions about the topic.

The future of media is clearly moving online as people demand to consume it on their schedule as they desire. Take a look at some of the statistics and it’s clearly a large industry. I suspect the lack of broadband infrastructure will be a real problem in the next several years as the rest of the world becomes very easy to distribute media to, and the US still faces challenges.

Solution? Highly debatable, but if so many other countries can do something about it, I suspect it’s achievable here in the US as well. I suspect that the taxes made from companies that do business on the internet from ecommerce to advertising would make this a decent investment for the US government to at least partially back. The more places companies make money, the more places the government does. That may be necessary as not all markets are profitable enough for telco’s to bother with. There have been various attempts to jumpstart this effort, but none to date have been successful.

It’s not only about just having access, it’s also the cost. As BusinessWeek points out in the article above, broadband in the US is not cheap.

Perhaps wireless will finally allow for competition and lower prices, at least that’s what everyone is hoping for. The question is if it will happen, if the technology will be there (wireless is generally high latency), and if it will be affordable for the common man.

I suspect in the next 4 years this will become and even bigger topic of discussion as some of the top ranking countries start to reach the point of saturation.

6 thoughts on “Redefining Broadband

  1. Just one point, at first sight some of your numbers above seemed really strange, yes switzerland probably has more people in the countryside than belgium but a ratio of twice more people in cities in belgium ?? I’ve been in both countries and this *cannot* be right. And Japan as having only 66% of it’s population in an urban setting ?! No way that’s correct !

    So I did a little research and first some of your numbers not what I find myself, the official number for Japan is 78%, second you’d better be wary even of those official numbers ! Every country has a very different way of counting.
    Japan cheats to lower it’s percentage by saying that if your town has less than 30 000 residents, then you’re not living in an urban environemment.
    But Denmarks cheats the very opposite way by saying that if your village has 200 inhabitants, hey, hey it’s definitively urban you know !
    See the reference to this here :

    But we’re still left with the Belgian case which sets the minimum at a quite honest 5000, but somehow gets an almost world record 97% urban population. I know the country and there’s *no* *way* it’s possible.
    Well I think I can guess how they get that non-sense number. It’s that the whole country is divided in only 589 municipalities.
    So very likely as soon as the village you live in has been administratively merged to a municipality of more than 5000 people, Belgian counts you as urban population !

    “Lies,damned lies and statistics”, that saying hasn’t aged a little !

  2. @jmdesp:

    You can’t really go by people per [city/town/village]. If anything you need to do people per sq mile. It’s a relative term.

    Urban” is defined by Wikipedia as : An urban area is an area with an increased density of human-created structures in comparison to the areas surrounding it.

    A town with 30,000 people likely isn’t considered urban. Maybe if it’s in a small enough area. Many office complexes hold more than 30,000 workers. Most sports stadiums hold in excess of 40k. 30,000 people is not much. If it’s in a few city blocks, then yes it’s urban. If it’s spread over vast farmland, then no, it’s not urban.

    Otherwise why not say Wyoming is urban with it’s 522,830 (2007) population. Wyoming is a geographically and politically a specific location with a population. No different than a municipality, or providence in another country.

    It’s about density.

    The other problem you run into is where does the urban area around a city end. Is NJ a suburb of New York City or Philadelphia? Where do you draw the line. Where does the population fall? In the map I included it’s one solid urban block. In reality some parts are very rural, but the map’s resolution doesn’t show that.

    One can also say if NYC is urban, you can’t possibly consider places like Cleveland, Houston, and Jacksonville to be “urban” or even true cities because by comparison they are just too small, sparsely populated and spread out.

    The UN collection of census data is really about as good as you’ll get. That’s why it’s cited pretty much everywhere.

    For the purpose of the discussion, what really matters is how the country views it’s population density, and how it addresses the deployment of broadband.

    It’s obviously relative.

  3. Is the reason for selecting 200kbps a broadband speed to make our country look like we have a large population of people using the Internet at broadband speeds? I mean as it is, we are pathetic compared to Europe.

  4. @Dave M: Back when they decided on 200kbps, it was broadband. The reason for keeping is partially that, and partially that changing things causes political conflicts (telco’s have lobbying powers). The data above is using 2Mbps. Presumably at 200kbps it would still be pretty bad since in the US is generally all (cable, DSL, FiOS) or nothing (56k). Your either way over or under.

  5. Sorry, I misread the story. I thought you were saying that the FCC was changing the definition of broadband “TO” 200kbps. This revelation makes me feel a little better about the FCC. I really thought that they were trying to extend the stats on broadband.

    My parents have a 768kbps connection to the internet and I consider that broadband. However, I would prefer a minimum of 1mbps.

    Sorry, I really need to reread stories that surprise me to make sure I’m surprised for the proper reasons. 😉

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