What are the most wired countries in the world and why?

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The Internet's history began in the United States, where Americans had the best access to the Internet's resources for several years. According to technology experts like S. Derek Turner, as more countries began to link to the Internet, a strange thing happened. The United States began to lose its dominant position as world leader of Internet access. Other countries began to support Internet access more effectively than the country that invented it.

But other sources disagree, arguing that the United States is still a leader both as a content provider on the Internet itself and in giving citizens the access they need. What do these different perspectives mean?

Much of the reason has to do with the way Internet access is measured. Is it measured by each country's physical Internet resources? Or do you measure it according to the number of citizens who have Internet access out of the overall population? One company's method was to simply survey a sample of the population of different countries by asking each interviewee if he or she had accessed the Internet over the last month.

In this article, we'll use the same approach as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD compares each country's number of broadband subscribers against the size of the overall population. Why use this method? Because looking at the number of subscribers alone doesn't tell us enough information. Let's compare and contrast the United States with China.

­According to the OECD, the United States has more than 77 million broadband subscribers [source: OECD]. The United States Census Bureau calculates the population of the country at more than 305 million people [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. China, on the other hand, has 83.4 million broadband subscribers and a population of more than 1.3 billion people [source: Internet World Stats]. If we just look at the number of subscribers, China is ahead of the United States. But, if we factor in the number of subscribers against the entire population, we get a completely different picture. The percentage of the population in the U.S. with a broadband subscription is 25 percent, but in China, it's 6.2 percent.

Let's take a look at the world at large and find out which countries have the strongest broadband networks.

The Top Ten Wired Countries

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regularly conducts studies of 30 nations to measure broadband penetration. Broadband penetration refers to the number of broadband Internet subscribers compared to the overall population. The OECD usually breaks this down in a simple ratio: the number of broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants.

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­The OECD includes DSL, cable modem, fiber-optic and local area network (LAN) connections in its calculations. It doesn't include dialup modem users, because those users don't qualify as broadband subscribers.

­According to the OECD, the top 10 most wired countries are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Netherlands
  3. Norway
  4. Switzerland
  5. Iceland
  6. Korea
  7. Sweden
  8. Finland
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Canada

Each of these countries has at least 29 subscribers per 100 inhabitants -- Denmark has 37.2. In comparison, the United States has 25.8 subscribers for every 100 inhabitants. Despite this relatively small discrepancy, the United States ranks 15th on OECD's list. But the United States has more total subscribers than any other nation OECD surveys.

So why is it that these countries have proportionally more broadband subscribers than the United States? There are several factors to consider:

  • Population size: The United States has more than 300 million inhabitants. Denmark, the top-ranked country on the OECD's list, has a population of 5.5 million. Out of the top 10 countries listed, Korea has the largest population (49 million) and Iceland has the smallest (306,694) [source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency].
  • The size of the countries: The United States has an area of 9,826,630 square kilometers. Denmark has an area of 43,094 square kilometers. Out of all the countries on the top 10 list, only Canada is larger than the United States [source: CIA]. But Canada's population dispersal isn't as evenly distributed through the country -- the northern half of the nation is sparsely populated. It's more difficult and expensive to implement a broadband network in a larger country than a smaller one.
  • National policies: The governments in the countries that make up the top 10 have a national broadband strategy. These countries consider broadband access a political priority and provide a framework for the Internet infrastructure. The United States does not have a comprehensive broadband strategy, leaving such decisions to corporations and utility companies [source: Bleha].

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Sources

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  • Internet World Stats. "China." http://www.internetworldstats.com/asia/cn.htm
  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. "OECD Broadband Portal." (Sept. 29, 2009) http://www.oecd.org/document/54/0,3343,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html
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