I'm listening to the first session in the VON pre-conference workshop on Competition Policy and getting increasingly depressed. Everyone on the panel is entrenched in traditional policy infrastructure — no thinking out of the box here. What's more, at least two of the five people on stage seem to think the US is doing well, among OECD countries, with our deployment of fixed line broadband access.
The problem is definitional. They are comparing broadband penetration rates. I am comparing the relative performance of readily available broadband services.
The FCC's defines "broadband" as at least 200 Kbps in at least one direction. The OECD uses 256 Kbps, while the ITU definition is “transmission capacity that is faster than primary rate Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) at 1.5 or 2.0 Megabits per second (Mbits).” Using the OECD's definition, the US comes in 15th for broadband penetration by country.
But that's not the point!
Speeds of available broadband services
In Stockholm, dark fiber reach to every city block and an enormous number of buildings. This dark fiber is available for lease by anyone. As a result, there are many ISPs offerring services in greater Stockholm (and elsewhere in Sweden). Just about anyone in Stockholm can get 100 Mbps symmetric Internet connectivity for 98 Kroners pe rmonth — that's $16 per month.
Similar service (100 Mbps) in Tokyo costs ~$26 per month and in Seoul it was closer to $30 the last time I checked with friends there.
In the Boston suburbs I have Verizon FiOS Internet access. Downstream capacity is 20 Mbps most of the time and upstream measures out at 2.7 Mbps. This costs $50/month. I'm extremely fortunately to be able to get service this fast.
So my friends in suburban Stockholm have 5 time the downstream capacity and 30 times the upstream capacity for 1/3rd the cost.
Why don't people talk about broadband performance?