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A new Olympic sport? The OECD broadband rankings

Countries such as Ireland and New Zealand have more than tripled broadband penetration since 2004. Even more striking is the continued strong growth in many of the leaders.

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With the release on 23 April 2007 of the OECD’s latest table of broadband rankings for December 2006, governments worldwide are quick to put a positive spin on their countries’ uptake of broadband services, even if they didn’t quite achieve the coveted number one ranking. Countries not in the OECD are also using these rankings to assess the performance of their own broadband market.

Are we within the top five? Top ten? The largest market? The most improved? The fastest growing country?

This years’ honour goes to Denmark, with the 2005 winner Iceland coming third (Exhibit 1). There are no newcomers in the top ten, but there has been some slight reordering in the ranking. Japan – eighth in 2004 – continues its slide in the rankings, dropping down to 14th place.

Exhibit 1: Broadband services per 100 inhabitants, 2004 to 2006 [Source: OECD]Broadband services per 100 inhabitants, 2004 to 2006 [Source OECD]

The OECD broadband ranking has clearly triggered a response in the popular imagination. National pride is now at stake, and old rivalries resurface… yes, Australia (ranked 16th out of 30 countries in 2006) maintained its lead over New Zealand (ranked 21st), both countries stepping up one place in the rankings, although New Zealand achieved a higher growth rate.

What is clear from the figures is that over the past two years, many countries – in particular those starting from low bases – have experienced an extraordinary growth in broadband take-up. Countries such as Ireland and New Zealand have more than tripled broadband penetration since 2004. Even more striking is the continued strong growth in many of the leaders.

Another milestone achieved in 2006 was the first time that any country – Denmark and also the Netherlands – exceeded 30 subscribers per 100 inhabitants.

There are questions about the accuracy of the underlying data and the difficulties in comparing countries with very different population densities, settlement patterns, household formation and geographic size. It is also arguable whether the OECD’s minimum downstream bandwidth of 256kbit/s is really sufficient to be considered “broadband”, with the growth in data-rich multimedia applications requiring speeds in excess of 2Mbit/s.

But, as in the Olympics, the winner is whoever runs fastest on the day – the primary aim should be to ensure that you earn a place in the final, as that is the only way you will have any chance to grasp that gold medal. Unlike the Olympics, however, it is still unclear where the future broadband finish line will be, either in terms of bandwidth or market saturation.

If the OECD ranking motivates countries to improve their broadband take-up through positive policies and the removal of market barriers, the ultimate beneficiaries will be the local inhabitants through gains in economic and social well-being.

And just maybe this was the OECD’s intention.

April 2007


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