Canada ranks in top 10 of OECD broadband users: Report

Canada ranks ninth in broadband penetration among the 30 members nations of the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), ahead of the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

That’s one of the figures in a 151-page report released this week on the spread of broadband in the largely developed countries of the world over the last three years.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Korea and Sweden lead the OECD with broadband penetration well above the OECD average, each surpassing the 30 subscribers per 100 inhabitants threshold.

The national rankings were as of June, 2007 and might have changed since. However, Iain Grant, managing director of the Montreal-based telcommunications consultancy the SeaBoard Group, suggested in an e-mail interview the figures and rankings may be deceiving.

The OECD defines broadband as is a service that is at least 256 kbps, he wrote. He thinks it should be much faster – 3Mbps.

Not surprisingly, because the cost of broadband has been dropped sharply since 2004, broadband subscribers in the OECD have increased over the last three years by 187 per cent, reaching 221 million in June 2007.

Broadband is available to the majority of OECD inhabitants, the report notes, even within the largest member countries. [Canada is the largest by geography.] A number of countries have reached 100 per cent coverage with at least one wired broadband technology and up to 60 per cent with coverage by two.

Wireless Internet connections at broadband speeds are also increasingly available and are particularly important in underserved areas. As broadband connections proliferate, connections are faster – and less expensive – than they were just three years ago the report said. The average speed of advertised connections increased from 2 Mbps in 2004 to almost 9 Mbps. in 2007.

Between 2005 and 2006 the average price for a DSL connection across OECD countries fell by 19 per cent and by 16 per cent for cable Internet connections. Broadband is also affordable in most OECD countries. The price of a broadband subscription in 20 of the 30 OECD countries was less than 2 per cent of monthly GDP per capita in October 2007. Yet there are still substantial differences in broadband access and use among the OECD countries, the report said. Levels of competition among Internet service providers vary among the different OECD member countries and also between rural and urban areas within each country.

Prices for Internet access in some markets remain high and users may have a very limited choice of broadband providers, the report’s authors said.

The report also noted that a shift to fibre-based connections, still in its infancy in Canada, continues to expand in some countries. Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and Fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) subscriptions comprise 8 per cent of all broadband connections in the OECD. However, fiber connections account for 40 per cent of all Japanese broadband subscriptions and 34 per cent in Korea.

OECD policy makers can do more to promote efficient competition in some markets, the report’s authors urged. Governments that have chosen to focus on infrastructure-based competition must create a competitive market environment that provides investment incentives for competitive operators and incumbents.

Governments that have historically relied on unbundling for competition will need to evaluate the role and future of unbundling in next-generation networks, and should also facilitate infrastructure-based competition.

Furthermore, there exist specific problems with broadband within OECD countries. While the number of broadband connections in rural areas has increased, the qualitative aspects of these connections vary significantly than those in urban areas, the report also noted.

Significant differences in the uptake of broadband in businesses, schools and households still exist among the OECD countries; some with far lower use levels than others. Particular attention needs to be paid to the broadband use of small-and medium sized enterprises and particular socio-economic groups.

OECD firms and governments are only just beginning to realize the full potential of broadband when it comes to advanced broadband applications, the report added.

“The use of broadband in education, for tele-work, for e-government services, energy, health (tele-medicine), and transport (intelligent transportation systems) is still in its infancy,” the authors wrote.

“Organizational and institutional barriers hamper the necessary innovation and structural changes needed and leave many OECD countries struggling to move beyond pilot projects. The notions of ubiquitous networks, broadband-based home management, and other new forms of broadband use have yet to develop and diffuse.”

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