Global comparisons: Why bandwidth drives Internet participation


One of most interesting snippets in the Future of Media Report 2007 was a chart showing the relationship between bandwidth speed and time spent online across a number of countries, in the second diagram below. The data supporting these charts was provided by Future of Media Summit Research Partner Nielsen//NetRatings, which was able to provide original and valuable insights by drawing on its global coverage.



(Click on the images for full details in the Future of Media Report 2007)

As the first chart shows, the proportion of people with access to so-called “broadband” (in this case meaning anything other than dial-up) is consistently high across nations. However the speed of Internet access varies substantially, by a factor of almost five across the countries covered. The second chart shows an unambiguous correlation between bandwidth and time spent online, underlining the debate in Australia and other countries about the impact of low bandwidth Internet access. Demonstrably, low bandwidth Internet means people use it less, and for a narrower range of applications (there is specific data on that).

My comments in the recent Sydney Morning Herald article on why blogging is so behind in Australia have attracted significant attention. In particular, a number of people (e.g. Gavin Heaton, Mark Aufflick, Meg Tsiamis) have questioned my assertion that low bandwidth impacts blogging activity, given that blogging is a low bandwidth activity – it is after all mainly text. The reality is that people if something is easier to do, they spend more time doing it, explore further, try different things, get engaged more, and are far more likely to actively participate. If you’re a keen blogger, it makes no difference. If you are someone who may be interested in blogging, but because spending time online is not a great experience you don’t discover the power and potential of participating yourself, you’re less likely to do so. The evidence in the data above is there for anyone who doubts what appears entirely obvious to me.

Of course bandwidth is far from the only issue at stake here. I’ve written before about the challenges of building a distinct English-language blogging community that doesn’t get absorbed into the global blogosphere. Meg adds further thoughts on what’s happening and how to build a national blogging community. I do believe that as a society, some introspection is required as to why we aren’t engaging as well as we could with the transformative potential of a connected world. This is a fundamentally important issue.