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U.S. slips to 10th in broadband rankings

Despite a triplefold increase in two years, U.S. adoption of high-speed Internet lags behind Canada and other nations, according to a new FCC Report.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. communications regulators Thursday insisted the United States was making progress in rolling out high-speed Internet service, despite falling further behind other countries.

A new Federal Communications Commission report found that U.S. high-speed Internet lines had tripled to 28.2 million by the end of 2003 from June 2001, but the country at best was 10th place in international rankings down from fourth, lagging nations like Canada and South Korea.

President Bush has pushed for universal broadband access by 2007 while Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry has pledged tax breaks to boost broadband deployment.

Broadband is becoming more and more popular as consumers want faster access to the information superhighway to communicate, shop, do research, watch movies and listen to music, among a myriad of other uses.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, said the agency had failed to establish a coherent policy for broadband, sacrificing the nation's rank. He also noted that service was as cheap as $10 a month in Japan for 8 megabits a second versus $30-$50 for 1-3 megabits in the United States.

"Our economy and our future are going to be driven by how quickly and how well we get this technology out to all of our people," Copps said. "I think our efforts are insufficient and that broadband deployment is insufficient."

Still, the report showed the increase was three-fold over the 9.6 million lines as of June 2001. About 26 million of the subscribers were residential or small businesses.

Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell argued that U.S. consumers have many more options to get high-speed Internet service, which was critical to meeting the 2007 goal, and disputed the importance of the rankings.

"What matters to us most importantly is whether our citizens and our country are growing at a rapid rate," said Powell. "There are very, very different circumstances in those countries that I would never want to repeat here."

While the five-member FCC is officially independent, the commissioners are nominated by party leaders and the president selects the chairman, and partisan political disputes occasionally break out.

Powell referenced Bush's goal, even borrowing a line from the president's standard campaign speeches in which he says the country has turned the corner on such issues as the economy and education.

"This report will serve as a milestone that we have indeed turned the corner in the digital migration," he said.

Telephone carriers and cable television services are competing to offer consumers an all-in-one package of services.

Private industry estimates there were about 30 million U.S. broadband subscribers through June this year, mainly via digital subscriber line (DSL) service from telephone companies or cable modem service from pay television companies.

While the FCC report found that more had signed up to service from cable companies, that trend seems to be shifting in recent months because DSL is a bit cheaper.