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When It Comes To Broadband, U.S. Plays Follow The Leader

Broadband access in the United States continues to grow at an impressive rate, from 60 million users in March 2005 to 84 million in March 2006, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. As-yet unpublished survey data gathered by Pew in December 2006 shows that 45% of respondents now report broadband access at home.

Despite these compelling growth statistics, the reality isn't quite so rosy, especially when comparing broadband progress in the United States with other industrialized countries.

According to a study by U.K.-based Point Topic, as of the third quarter in 2006, the United States led the world in total number of broadband lines installed with 54.5 million lines, followed by China with 48.6 million. The same Point Topic report, however, indicates that broadband growth rates are much higher in other countries -- for example, China is now projected to surpass the U.S. in total broadband lines within 2007, given current trends. And the total number of broadband lines, while a useful figure for some purposes, isn't the most meaningful statistic for measuring how common and widespread access really is, or to compare broadband progress relative to other nations.

For these judgments, metrics based on per-capita household penetration provide a clearer picture. For instance, it's inevitable that, due to its vastly higher population, China will surpass the U.S. in total number of broadband lines, even if the percentage of people in China with broadband lines stays quite small and access is restricted largely to affluent urban areas.

Looking at the more representative measurement of the percentage of those who have access to broadband connectivity, the United States isn't even in the top 10 countries, various studies indicate. President George W. Bush admitted back in 2004 that while broadband use had tripled over the previous four years, the U.S. then ranked 10th among industrialized nations for broadband availability, and he added, "Tenth is 10 spots too low, as far as I'm concerned." Now almost three years later, how much progress have we made, and where do we stand?

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