The broadband world cup

The United Nations published their digital opportunity index yesterday and the United States couldn't even beat Estonia. It's worse than the soccer World Cup. America has become a third rank power in terms of the race to provide universal broadband access for its citizens.

The top ten was made up exclusively of East Asian and European countries. Leading the index was South Korea, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Hong Kong. What ties all these countries together is a strong governmental commitment to investment in broadband services and infrastructure.

For anyone interested in the Korean model, I suggest listening to an extremely informative afterTV interview I just did with Professor Stephen Epstein, director of the Asian Institute at the University of Wellington in New Zealand. Epstein explains that Korean broadband miracle is a consequence of massive Korean state investment in connectivity and infrastructure during the Nineties. This is a successful revolution that came from above. It reflects the real wisdom of the state, rather than the imaginary wisdom of the crowd.

The Korean model is now being emulated by enlightened states and cities around the world. The mayor of Paris, for example, has just announced a plan to give the city universal , with a plan to install 400 free wi-fi points around the city.

It is probably no coincidence that many American technologists, particularly in Silicon Valley, are dyed-in-the-wool libertarians, with a deep seated hostility to state intervention in economic affairs. Chris Anderson, for example, the editor-in-chief of Wired, confessed this week to being a "conservative libertarian". Anderson's idealistic new book, The Long Tail, celebrates the cornucopian consequences of the broadband revolution, but it blithely takes for granted connectivity. Yet if America remains a laggard in the race to provide universal access to broadband services, long tail or not, then the real story in the United States will be of a digital divide rather than a digital revolution.