- 17 Dec 09, 09:35 GMT
If you live in the UK, be proud - you're a citizen of one of the world's most advanced countries when it comes to digital communications. You're more likely to have switched to digital television than anyone else, you enjoy some of the highest levels of broadband availability in the world while paying the lowest prices to use mobile phones and the internet.
That's the picture painted by the media regulator Ofcom, whose annual compendium of international media and communications habits is full of fascinating titbits, like a rich Christmas pudding. Did you know for instance that the average British viewer watches three hours and 45 minutes of television every day, and that we've seen a bigger increase in TV viewing than any other country? Mind you, we still have some way to go before we catch up with the Americans, who lead the world with four hours and 37 minutes in front of the box each day.
Then there's the fact that the British are the second biggest texters in the world, sending 83 billion last year. Mind you, I was surprised to learn that the USA leads the world in texting - I was under the impression that Americans were a little backwards in all things mobile. Maybe they're now falling in love with SMS just as the rest of the world moves on to the mobile web. After all, the stats also show that the UK is a leader in accessing social networks on the move - 3.5 million people visited Facebook and its rivals on a mobile in the third quarter of this year.
As a country where you can make money online we're also ahead of the pack, leading the world in online advertising, and spending more on digital downloads than any other country in Europe. Mind you at £2.24 per head on downloads last year - that's roughly 10 times what the Italians spent - I don't think the music industry can relax yet about wallowing in digital profits.
And what about our general connectedness? Well Ofcom proudly lays out figures showing we have more broadband connections per household than anyone apart from the Canadians, the best 3g coverage, and the highest level of HSPA connections - that's souped-up 3g - outside Japan.
Just a minute, I hear you ask, I thought we were in the broadband slow lane. Well, buried so deep in the report that I had to ask Ofcom to retrieve it for me, is one table that doesn't paint quite such a glowing picture. Figure 4.47 shows the proportion of broadband connections with a headline speed above 8Mbits/s. In the UK that's 10% - whereas in the Netherlands it's 37%, in Sweden 33%, in France 26% and in Germany 16%.
That accords with another report issued a week or so back by the OECD. It showed the UK well down the speed league, and more significantly found that investment in fibre was racing ahead in other countries but had barely started in Britain. The OECD's report included some economic analysis which suggested that government investment in faster broadband could be justified even if it delivered just small benefits in areas such as health, electricity, education and transport.
I was pondering some of these issues as I was out walking the dog on a bitter London morning. While I walked, I listened on my phone to an excellent radio programme about the advance of technology in the last decade, A Googling We Will Go. The programme streamed via the BBC mobile iPlayer, arrived first over my home wi-fi, and then via a 3g phone network. But just as it was getting really interesting, about half a mile from my front door the 3g network gave out and the programme stopped. I had been disconnected from the information superhighway, just a few miles from central London.
What kind of metaphor that provides for the state of Digital Britain I'm not sure. But perhaps Ofcom could have been just a little more cautious in its claims about our status as the champions of the connected world.
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