U.S. Number 15

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), basically the rich countries’ club, has released a report on broadband uptake.
The United States has the largest total number of broadband subscribers in the OECD at 58.1 million. US broadband subscribers now represent 29% of all broadband connections in the OECD.

OECD Broadband Statistics to December 2006 (all emphases are in the original)

That may sound like good news. But remember the U.S. is the third largest country in the world by population. So figuring broadband users per 100 persons, as the OECD does, the U.S. comes in number fifteen out of the thirty OECD countries.

Also note what “broadband” means:

Broadband connections included in OECD data must have download speeds equal to or faster than 256 kbit/s.
Compare that to certain other countries:
Japan leads the OECD in fibre connections directly to the home with  7.9 million fibre-to-the-home subscribers in December 2006. Fibre subscribers alone in Japan outnumber total broadband subscribers in 23 of the 30 OECD countries.
And that fiber runs up to at least 100 megabits per second, which is almost 400 times faster than that paltry 256Kbps qualifying speed, and about 33 times the 3Mbps I’ve been able to eke out of DSL by putting in a direct cable from the telco demarc to the router. Japan actually comes in only number 14 on the list, one place ahead of the U.S., but the broadband speeds available in Japan are typically more than 10 times faster than those in the U.S., plus in Japan you can get broadband just about everywhere.

Speaking of DSL:

The total number of ADSL subscriptions continues to fall in Korea and Japan as more users upgrade to fibre-based connections.
Meanwhile, cable Internet access is a minority technology in Japan (11.1 DSL subscribers per 100 inhabitants, 2.8 cable, 6.2 fiber) because shared fiber just can’t go as fast as non-shared fiber. Thus the two most popular “broadband” technologies in the U.S. are already falling by the wayside in Korea and Japan.

It’s not just Asia, either:

European countries have continued their advance with high broadband penetration rates. In December 2006, eight countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Korea, Switzerland,  Finland, Norway and Sweden) led the OECD in broadband penetration, each with at least 26 subscribers per 100 inhabitants.
The U.S. is a broadband backwater.

I’ve been pointing this out for quite a while now. Every time I do, somebody says “but the population is denser in Japan.” If that were the real reason, Manhattan would be a hotbed of fast fiber. And how do you explain this?

Canada continues to lead the G7 group of industrialized countries in broadband penetration.
Canada number one!

What should the U.S. do? Well, net neutrality rules would be a good start. Save the Internet suggests a national broadband plan. That’s more or less what Japan and Korea thought the U.S. had a decade ago, when those countries decided they needed to forge ahead just to keep up. Little did they know that the U.S. wasn’t serious. Or private industry could get a move on, as Softbank did in Japan, going out on a limb to offer fast DSL, and now profiting from it. From the looks of it, the existing telcos and cablecos won’t be doing that, since they’re too busy with antique techonologies and gaming the regulatorium. New competitors would be good.