The essence of contrarian thinking is to take a commonly held assumption, take the time to examine it in detail, figure out it is false, and act accordingly. I would have liked to have figured out Qwest’s “Internet traffic doubling every 9 months” statement wasn’t true. For me, it would have made the collapse of the telecom bubble a little more predictable and a lot more enjoyable.
One statement that has bothered me for some time is the fact (statement?) that the “US lags the rest of the world in broadband penetration and availability”. This statement is the foundation and explanation for a number of strong political opinions.
I’ve seen the data, and you probably have too. The ITU data is cited most often.
First we had the “Bomber Gap” then the “Missle Gap” and now we have the “Broadband Gap”. Smells political to me.
The funny thing is, when I look at “Broadband Gap” from a bottoms up perspective, it just doesn’t match. When I travel in France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain I have a hard time finding Internet access in hotels, particularly in small towns. Zero problems in the USA. Two weeks of cycling in Switzerland and another two weeks cycling in France yielded exactly zero internet conections. Folks in these areas are very, very friendly but were at a loss when I asked where I could find an internet connection.
Walk through Paris, London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen – just about any European city – and you’ll see many internet cafes. My non-scientific observation would indicate they are much more popular in Europe than the US. If broadband penetration is so high, why is it that there are so many more public places to get access outside the home? Maybe it is just the tourist effect… maybe not.
I suspect many people in the USA use their broadband at work or at a neighbors home. It doesn’t show up in the ITU numbers because they don’t subscribe at home.
I’ve tried massaging the ITU data by adjusting for household size, but nothing changes substantially. I can understand Korea, Japan, Taiwan – but Israel? Canada?
Rather than approaching the statistic from a ‘Digital Elite’s‘ perspective that ‘everyone should have broadband because I think it is neccesary’, it should be viewed from a pragmatic perspective. The metric that should be measured is the number of people who want broadband but cannot get it. Otherwise, you are measuring citizens propensity to want broadband rather than their abilty to subscribe to it. Each ‘problem’ has a very different solution.
Recent data indicates what this metric might look like. Just about anyone who wants dial-up internet access can get it, for virtually no cost. There are no barriers to acquiring basic connectivity. Yet 58% of all American dial up users could have broadband if they wanted it. I like this explanation from Broadband Issues:
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the lack of uptake of broadband by dial-up users wasn’t because of lack of availability, but because they just didn’t want it? It seems that most of these broadband penetration numbers and predictions are predicated on the belief that all dial-up or rural users with a broadband option would switch.
The new low-cost DSL pricing plans from AOL, Verizon, and AT&T should eliminate cost as a barrier, though cable continues to demand $45 a month. If 1/2 of the dial up customers converted over tomorow, the “Broadband Gap” would go away. Why don’t they? It may just be that surfing the net outside the home is all the connectivity they need.