Blog Post

Broadband: Damned Lies Edition

Today, Saul Hansell of the New York Times used two surveys — the Nokia Siemens Connectivity Report and a Pew survey — to write a post titled  “Surprise: America is No. 1 in Broadband,” which not only argues that we’re No. 1, but also tries to refute the fact that “Americans are starving for broadband.”

I have several issues with this. The first is that the results of the Nokia Siemens survey shouldn’t come as a surprise, because in last year’s version of the same survey, America was No. 1, and the second is that the Nokia Siemens survey says that, even at No. 1, the U.S. (along with other countries) has little room for complacency when it comes to improving the use of broadband in our country. It specifically calls for laying more fiber, in part to drive faster speeds. According to the report, incumbent telecom operators offer broadband speeds of more than 50Mbps in only 8 of 25 “innovation driven economies” as of December 2007.

The Nokia Siemens Connectivity report measures what people do with broadband rather than costs and speeds, and determines how that contributes to the overall economy. It gives good information about how people use today’s networks, but doesn’t help anyone look ahead on broadband use. Most of the population may not be starving today, but if speeds and networks stay the same as new online services are introduced, we will be hungry tomorrow.

So, when the federal government is spending $7.2 billion for broadband deployments, or Verizon (s VZ) is investing $23 billion in next generation networks, it’s more valuable to look ahead at what people need to be able to do with broadband networks — items such as telepresence, streaming media or ubiquitous access to high speed connections when on the go — than to issue a triumphant call to inaction on the broadband front.

Unfortunately, that’s just what Hansell does.

16 Responses to “Broadband: Damned Lies Edition”

  1. Interesting at the debate this has stirred. In fact, if you look at the individual scorecard components for the US: you can see it significantly lags the best performing country in consumer infrastructure. This is the weakest component for the US overall – and this is, of course, the experience of broadband that most people in the US have.

    It is only when combined with the other components, namely: government usage and skills; government infrastructure; business usage and skills; business infrastructure; and consumer usage and skills, that the US emerges as the “No. 1.”

    Another more focused broadband study is out soon and the US is compared to 14 European countries in that, looking at the economic impact broadband has. I’ll be blogging about this at

  2. Stacey-

    Glad you read Bits. It’s a fair comment, I suppose, that the study i quote was conducted last year too, and for that mater was released in January. But it was news to me, and it didn’t get that much press, so it seemed interesting to blog. It certainly presented an alternative view to the one quotes all the time.

    I just reread my post, and I don’t see anything even close to a “triumphant call to inaction on the broadband front.”


  3. well, since you proved me completely wrong, i’m gonna change my argument on you. i don’t think the government can help with broadband. i think we just have to wait for the telcos and cablecos, or some new alternative, to do it, because the government has proved itself pretty futile with this type of thing. the Universal Service Fund, for example, is a joke

  4. here is a comment from the article that is constructive criticism. it’s a call to action instead of a call to gripe.

    “When we should be enjoying multiple Gigabit upload and download speeds, a free, unfettered neutral internet where speed upgrades happen every single day, instead of every 5 years under phone and cable monopolies, and where there’s a new IPO every day for yet another exciting new internet technology, I say that if somehow we are #1 at all, then we are still woefully inadequate.

    We shouldn’t sit on our laurels. We need to seriously upgrade if we are going to get to a point where any person could make a video and without the help of any youtubes or anything like that, broadcast it to the entire world. It needs to be possible for everybody and anybody to be able to not only see, but share at super high speeds. we aren’t there yet. not even close.

    We have some dangers ahead that we must face down. for one thing there are those who believe ISPs should be cops. we can’t be China, here, where thought police flourish. Make sure we have a free, open, fast, constantly improving, uncensored internet. Our freedom depends on it.”
    — Dave Kliman

  5. to me, the times’ article actually is a call to action, while yours encourages complacency. the NYT article makes me proud of america’s usage of broadband and makes me feel like building on that strength. people like you make the US sound so hopeless that people give up on trying to get anything done. it’s not just gigaom, but every tech news outlet. while you are correct about the US needing more broadband, your tone is so overwhelmingly negative that the real message is: “the US sucks,” not “What can we do about this?” I am a long time RSS subscriber, and have read almost all of your guys’ broadband articles in the last year, so I know what your position is.

  6. Stacey,
    if you read all the sarcastic comments from all over the Europe under the article, you will see that not only we’re N1 first world country who doesn’t give a damn about cutting-edge modern technology, we’re also N1 country who does everything possible to impede progress in technology areas.

    Such a sad state of affairs will inevitably lead to youngest and brightest getting education in only two surefire fields of study – law and medicine. Everything else seems to be not stable enough.