De-Spinning the UN Broadband Report

October 10, 2012

WASHINGTON (October 10, 2012) - What the public and policymakers do not need is another poorly constructed report claiming that the United States lags behind in broadband, which advocates are already holding up as yet more evidence of America's failed broadband policy.


But before jumping to this erroneous conclusion, it's important to look underneath the hood of such reports. ITIF's Senior Research Fellow Richard Bennett did that in examining the recent United Nations Broadband Commission report and found a number of problems. 

First, the report measures broadband connections per capita, but in a nation like the United States which has larger average household sizes than many other nations, measuring broadband on a per-capita basis, rather than a per-household basis, will bias the results against the United States. After all, a household with four members does not have four wired broadband connections.

Second, the report ignores the fact that the most important factor determining whether someone subscribes to broadband, after whether they have access, is whether they have a computer. Many Americans still lack computers at home and do not see any reason to purchase the broadband subscriptions that are available to all via satellite (to 95 percent via at least one fixed location wireline or wireless carrier, and to 90 percent from three service providers (of all types) or more). In the UN ranking of "People using the Internet," the United States is in 23rd place worldwide (at 78%), behind a collection of countries that have invested in computer ownership. 

The U.S. low ranking in broadband is not because of the broadband networks, it's more a result of our low level of computer ownership and digital literacy. This is an area where we can do more work, as ITIF has long argued. As such, ITIF believes our policy efforts should concentrate on expanding digital literacy, not on subsidizing redundant networks or bringing irrelevantly high-speed connections to those who are already connected. This is especially true since the UN notes that 100 percent of United States connections to Akamai servers are at 5 Mbps or higher.

See Bennett's full analysis:



The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote public policies to advance technological innovation and productivity internationally, in Washington, and in the states. Recognizing the vital role of technology in ensuring prosperity, ITIF focuses on innovation, productivity, and digital economy issues. Founded in 2006, ITIF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For additional information, visit or contact interim press contact Alexis Fearon at (202)524-4390 or [email protected].