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U.S. Broadband Performance Less-Than-The-Best, Berkman Center Reports to FCC

in Broadband Data/Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, October 14, 2009 - In a draft 232-page report that the Berkman Center of Harvard University conducted for the Federal Communications Commission – and was released by the agency on Wednesday – the United States was rated less-than-the-best in broadband performance.

The draft report found the U.S. lacking in fixed broadband, mobile penetration and in average prices at medium and very high speeds.

Titled “Next Generation Connectivity: A review of broadband internet transitions and policy from around the world,” the report distinguishes between countries with successful broadband outcomes from those whose outcomes might be seen as less than desirable.

The U.S. is a good performer in both advertised and actual speeds, said the report. It has lower-than-average broadband prices, and provides the lowest rates for slow internet connections. The same is not true for higher-speed broadband connections, where U.S. prices are higher.

The U.S. began the 21st century in the top quintile of nations in low prices and high broadband penetration. But it has been overtaken by other countries over the past decade.

The Berkman report favorably commented on “open access” policies, including unbundling, wholesaling, functional or structural separation and co-location requirements. Such policies had fallen out of favor during the Clinton administration and particularly the Bush administration.

The report said, however, such open access policies have played a core role in the first-generation transition to broadband in most high performing countries. Such policies have been used in other countries to increase levels of competition, lowering entry barriers and regulating telecommunications inputs.

The lowest prices were mostly found in countries where there were multiple competitors in the market, included those who entered the market and made use of such open access facilities to build their presence.

In the stimulus and recovery funds, the current level of U.S. investment to support the rollout of high-capacity networks is generally higher, on a per-capita basis, than the investments made in other countries.

The report said that the leading countries in fiber deployment are also the leaders in large, long-term capital investments through tax breaks, government expenditures and low-cost loans.

Additionally, many countries invested in supporting broadband demand by including programs such as extensive trainings for adults in the workplace, as well as teacher training and curriculum development programs in schools. Generally, such programs have subsidized computer hardware and connection costs for low income users.

Bringing better broadband to the U.S. must include the general goal of bringing fiber deeper in the neighborhoods, and bring cable as close to the home as possible, said the report.

Fiber capacity has been seen as “futureproof” and will likely scale over longer periods to accommodate the increasing capacities and growth rate of communications needs capacities and innovations, said the report.

An intern at the National Journalism Center, Mercy was a Reporter-Researcher for until November 2009. She was a business reporter on leave from the Daily Nation of Nairobi, Kenya. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Education from Daystar University in Nairobi.

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