The U.S. Is in the Middle of the Pack as Broadband Growth Slows

Carl Weinschenk

A spate of studies during the past few months suggests that broadband penetration in the U.S. has slowed for the summer, that the easy gains of the early days may be a thing of the past, and that the U.S. is, at best, in the middle of the pack in terms of overall broadband use.


The least interesting element of this piece is the fact that the U.S. moved up one notch to 24th in the world in broadband penetration, passing Australia. More compelling is the fact that 52.72 percent of homes in the United States have broadband connectivity. That number is dwarfed by South Korea, which leads the world at 89.38 percent.


The piece offers many numbers, but it seems that the reality is that the nations at the top of the list -- Hong Kong, Iceland, Singapore and others, in addition to South Korea -- are technically adept and geographically dense. Countries such as the United States and Australia, for instance, have a far greater percentage of rural areas that are difficult to serve with broadband.


While only about half of U.S. homes have broadband, a much higher percentage of active Internet users -- 83.43 percent -- connect via broadband. The percentage of users opting for broadband instead of narrowband shows consistent growth, according to the firm.


Last week, Leichtman Research Group weighed in with its assessment of the second quarter broadband numbers. The results were sobering, at least from broadband proponents' perspective. The firm says that 1.7 million broadband subscribers were added, which makes it the smallest second quarter gain since 2004. During last year's second quarter, about 2.1 million customers were added.


The pain was divided about equally between cable operators and the telephone industry's DSL initiatives. Only one cable company, Charter, significantly beat its year-ago quarter, while the top telephone companies didn't do as well as last year. The final score at the end of the quarter: Cable companies have about 31.5 million subscribers and the telcos have about 26.4 million subscribers.


This WebProNews story reports the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says the U.S. ranks 15th in the world for broadband adoption, though a precise definition of the statistic isn't given. In February, the Pew Internet Project said 47 percent of adult Americans have broadband at home, about double the 24 percent recorded three years previous. The median age of those not accessing the Internet is 59, and a quarter say that their household income is less than $20,000. The story noted that despite the growth of broadband, the percentage satisfied with dial-up remains consistent.


The news may not be getting better any time soon. This post reports on research from CIBC that says growth of broadband is likely to slow. The firm says about 30 percent of homes simply don't have Internet access, converting dial-up subscribers is becoming more difficult -- an assessment that validates the Pew findings on the consistency of the dial-up universe -- and infrastructure upgrades only reach about 85 percent of networks' geographic coverage. The result, the study says, is that the players will battle each other instead of increasing the size of the overall market. This increased competition will cut prices and lower margins.


It's unclear how all of these numbers tie into the great trend going forward, which is mobility. SiliconRepublic says by 2012, 1.2 billion people, one-third of broadband users, will be mobile. High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) will be used by 70 percent of these subscribers. The piece, which reports on research from JupiterResearch, says that the trend will be particularly strong in Europe, the United States and Canada. It also will be felt in the Far East and China. WiMax will become a more significant factor after 2012, the study says.

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