China will pour billions into a country-wide fiber-optic network. What is the US doing? asks Asia Sentinel

China appears about to give the United States – if not the rest of the western world – another thing to worry about.

On Aug. 17, the state-owned news agency Xinhua announced an extensive “Broadband China” strategy to expand broadband coverage to at least half of the country by 2015 and to almost all the rest by 2020, reaching speeds of 20 megabytes per second (mbps) in urban areas and 4 mbps in rural areas. The plan is designed to foster business development and provide an important aid to households.

Chinese internet users play games at a cafe in Beijing. Pic: AP.

China’s fastest broadband speeds are designed to reach 100 mbps, according to the Xinhua release, in marked contrast to China today, in which average broadband speeds reach 1.8 mbps, far below international standards. The country has the fastest-growing number of Internet users on the planet, now numbering 591 million according to official figures and expected to hit 718 million by the end of the year.

Broadband in the US today reaches an average of 7.4 mbps, according to a survey by Forbes Magazine. That puts the US behind nine other countries, including, for instance, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Latvia and Hong Kong. South Korea boasts the fastest broadband in the world today, at 14.2 mbps.

In the US, average prices, run through commercial communications companies like ATT, cost US$25-40 per month. It is unclear what China will charge. To a Hong Kong resident visiting the US, service is frustratingly uneven, with dead spots and regular delays in transmission.

The decision to provide public broadband to the entire country is yet another indication of China’s willingness to use its considerable public funds to pay for dramatic modernization of its infrastructure, in contrast especially to the US, where a hostile Congress in thrall to extreme conservatives has demonstrated the intent to cut investment to the bone, raising concerns that the US will fall out of competition with its biggest rivals – and of course the biggest of those is China.

A 2013 survey by Ernst & Young of global business found that the US ranks a lowly 17th in quality of infrastructure, just ahead of Turkey. Switzerland, Singapore, Finland and Hong Kong rank at the top.

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