Compared to South Korea, Japan, even Canada, broadband adoption in the U.S. is falling behind. For 20% of Americans, it’s not even an option.


In the early 1990s, Taylor Reynolds spent time as an exchange student in South Korea — a good deal of it hunting for a computer on which to write his term papers. “I finally found someone whose sister worked in a preschool, and it had a computer,” he remembers. “I had to go in on Saturdays to use it.”



Reynolds, now a telecommunications analyst at the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), an international body that researchers the state of world economies, says South Korea is a far different place today, with 73% of the population enjoying high-speed Net access at home. “It was quite a transformation,” he says. However, his parents in Salt Lake City, Utah, can’t even get a digital subscriber line (DSL) high-speed Net connection from their phone company, Qwest.



They’re not the only Americans missing out on the broadband boom. Countries like South Korea, Demark, and even Canada are leapfrogging ahead of the U.S. in broadband adoption. Thanks to high costs, very little competition, and the logistical challenges of wiring large metropolitan areas, the U.S. is increasingly losing ground to other countries when it comes to broadband penetration and access.



Could Be Better. In 2000, the OECD said the U.S. ranked third in Net users connecting at high-speed among the top-30 world economies. The next year it fell to fourth. Now it’s 11th, according to the OECD. And fast connections in the U.S. are slower than in many other countries. A top-of-the-line cable modem in the U.S. carries five megabits per second, while broadband connections in Asian countries like Japan and South Korea are often 20 times faster. South Korea is, in fact, the world leader in broadband. And unlike the U.S., it has multiple companies offering most of the country DSL lines that are also faster than what’s available in the U.S., thanks in no small part to government encouragement and sponsorship.



Certainly, broadband in the U.S. is growing. The OECD estimates the number of American broadband subscribers increased 32%, to 37 million, last year. That places the country well above the average for the 30 largest economies of the world. And the number of broadband connections has finally surpassed dial-up . That’s not bad.



It’s not great, either. About 20% of the U.S. has no way to get broadband Net access, and 5% to 10% more only have one choice: Their local cable-TV provider. Makes sense then, that while the U.S. ranks 11th in total broadband penetration, it ranks 23rd in DSL use.



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