The OECD yesterday released a tranche of statistics on broadband penetration in member countries as of the end of 2009
The OECD yesterday released a tranche of statistics on broadband penetration in member countries as of the end of 2009 with data collated including the number of broadband subscribers per country, broadband subscriptions by technology and the percentage of fibre connections in total broadband use.
While such data is a useful metric by which to judge British progress in this vital and internationally competitive area of infrastructure it also provides a useful context in which to situate the digital ambitions of the new coalition government and the pledge by the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to ensure that by the end of the current parliament Britain has ‘the best superfast broadband’ on the continent.
The report finds that Britain, while not world leading, is certainly above average performance with regard to Broadband penetration, with it coming 12th overall out of the 31 OECD member countries, (average OECD broadband penetration is 23.3 compared to the UK’s 29.5).The UK does come behind both France and Germany on broadband penetration, although to its credit it has substantially more cable penetration and is less reliant on DSL than those other two European countries of approximate size, geographical diversity and wealth per head.
On a positive note British broadband penetration does outperform several other G7 economies such as the USA, Italy and Japan while also exceeding similarly wealthy but more demographically dense countries (who would find it inherently easier to deal with issues of digital exclusion) such as Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, Finland and Belgium.
Of the European nations Holland, Denmark and Norway have the best broadband penetration according to the report while South Korea is in a league of its own when it comes to ultra-high-speed fibre connections (although it should be remarked that Sweden’s LAN network is by far and away the best in Europe).
While it can be contended that British broadband penetration will never be as good as that of the Nordic countries and the Netherlands due to issues of geographical distances between population centres and greater geographical diversity it should be noted that Canada, a country that faces these exact same problems on a far greater scale than the United Kingdom, achieves a higher rate of Broadband penetration with considerably less reliance on DSL and almost three times more digital users utilizing a quicker cable connection.
Jeremy Hunt recently pledged £300 million to ensure that Britain’s broadband would be ‘second to none’ in Europe. In light of the OECD’s data such a claim when compared to the infrastructural ecology of both France and Germany seems unlikely and when compared to Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, simply absurd.
Not only do all of these countries have better rates of broadband penetration but perhaps of greater importance is that the Nordics, Switzerland and the Netherlands all have a qualitatively superior network with less reliance on comparatively slow DSL connections. Adopting a witty footballing metaphor Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC claimed that Mr Hunt’s hyperbolic claim was akin to the manager of West Ham, who only narrowly avoided relegation last season, promising to win the Premier League within five years without a big budget for new players.
Extending the sporting metaphor further still, given that South Korea hopes to offer a universal service of 1 Gbps by 2012 (currently Koreans enjoy speeds up to 100 Mbps) the current government’s ambitions of guaranteeing a British minimum of 2Mbps by 2012 is essentially an admission of not being capable to play in the same league as leading nations in this crucial area of infrastructure. South Korea’s lofty ambitions are founded upon a budgeted 34.1 trillion won (USD $24.6 billion) to be spent over the course of the next five years, some 56 times more than the £300,000,000 that the coalition government has made available to make Jeremy Hunt’s conjectural digital vision a substantive reality.
Given the context of the OECD report and the increasing scale of Britain’s ‘broadband deficit’ [especially when compared to the rest of Northern Europe], the opined and heady ambitions of the culture secretary seem not so much lacking in ambition but rather lacking in apprehension at the scale of the problem and the entirely inadequate resources this government is willing to provide as part of the solution.
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