The OECD now provides a host of broadband data in addition to penetration in its "Broadband Portal." I have criticized the OECD numbers in the past and am pleased to see them showing a more complete picture of the available data and better explaining the source of the numbers.
For example, the OECD now shows household penetration. These data are useful because the data on which the famous rankings are based combine business and residential and cannot accurately measure business connections. Household penetration, instead, is just the share of households with broadband connections and is generally determined through surveys. The OECD only shows data from the U.S. for 2003, which put the U.S. about seventh in terms of household penetration that year.
More recent data show that household penetration in the U.S. remains fairly comparable to other developed countries. Data from the European Commission's 2007 "E-Communications Household Survey" reports, based on a survey of 26,000 households, combined with information from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reveal the following figure (see figure below).
A few notes on these numbers: There are some discrepancies between the household data on the OECD site and the numbers reported in the 2007 EC report. In addition, the OECD reports 94 household penetration in Korea, but the footnote points out that this figure includes handheld devices, so it isn't directly comparable to other countries. Nevertheless, in 2003, before they started counting mobile devices, household penetration was almost 67 percent. The most recent data for Japan shows 65% penetration. Japan and Korea would thus almost certainly be the top two countries in this figure.
The new portal also clearly notes that the speeds it shows are average advertised speeds, not the speeds that consumers actually choose or ultimately get on their connections.
I'm sure that all sides of the debate about whether the U.S. is "ahead or behind" on broadband will find something to bolster their case. But the key point is that the OECD is moving to show more information than simple one-variable country rankings. More information is always better, and I am grateful that the OECD has taken this step.