European researchers last month issued a report that portrayed the U.S. Internet infrastructure in a positive light. The study was commissioned by the World Economic Forum, and conducted by Insead, a business school near Paris. It ranked the United States fourth, behind just Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.
This struck me as strange. Turns out the study uses an index of 68 variables, pulling in things like political system and regulatory environment to reach the ranking. Here’s an article from John Markoff of the Times:
Ifound this sentence revealing — “The Insead assessment offers a stark contrast to other appraisals based on single measures that have portrayed the United States, the nation that invented the global data network, as both lagging and declining in the broadband boom.” Some single measures seem very valid to me — like whether someone can get broadband or not, and if they can what do they have to pay?
You don’t have to go far outside of Washington DC to get a picture of the challenges. The Post did a story last December that looked at broadband access in Loudoun county, only about 30 miles from the capitol. Your access to broadband is very limited if you happen to live in the more rural western part of the county:
I reached out to Drew Clark, founder of BroadbandCensus.com http://www.broadbandcensus.com, for his take. Caught him on the phone and he shared the following:
“First off all I know is what I read — I haven’t reviewed the report. But it sounds like they are incorporating a lot of soft variables in their rankings. Not to say these aren’t useful, and a country certainly needs a solid legal and regulatory frameworkto foster productivity. But you really need hard numbers to make relevant comparisons. That’s the reason I started BroadbandCensus.com, to provide like-to-like numbers straight from users, rather than filtering data through government organizations. Right now we’re focused on the U.S., but some day I’d love to extend it internationally.”
I’d love to believe the U.S. is number four in the world. But looking at the variables that really matter — percentage of population reached, average speed and average cost — there’s no way. Our Internet is #4 the same way our healthcare is #1 — only if you focus on the haves, and ignore the have nots.