The number of people with broadband connections in the United States, Korea, Canada and the United Kingdom increased very little last year. Too many people there already have the service for there to be much growth. That was not the case in Russia, China, Ukraine or India, where percentage growth was well into double digits. The governments in these countries have cause to be nervous about this trend. More people in each nation have access to information and news. More people can use social networks to spread messages almost instantly.
It is too much to say that broadband will be the undoing of governments in places like Russia and China. But broadband adoption was up 37% in Russia and 20% higher in China in 2011, according to research by DSL Prime. More than 158 million people in China had broadband connections at the end of last year. Nearly 27 million people were added in the People’s Republic during the year. The total number of people in Russia with service was 21 million, about the same as the UK and France. However, Russia added 5.5 million, many more than the two European nations combined.
Data about how people in China or Russia use broadband connections are scarce. If these people are like those in Western Europe, Japan and Korea, they use the connections for access to news, information and entertainment. Governments in these countries have little to fear because of entertainment programming. News and information are another matter. The effect of state-controlled information is eroded by broadband. The services allow the use of search engines like Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU) the dominant service in China, and Yandex, the largest in Russia. Many of the results supplied by these search engines are limited by the governments, but it is much harder to block the dissemination of news.
Broadband has been a way to circumnavigate traditional news sources in places like the U.S. That movement nearly has destroyed some traditional media like newspapers. But the news in newspapers and that on the Internet have a great deal of information in common. That is not as true in Russia and China, as people there gain the ability to look at sites such as CNN and MSNBC.
Broadband may be good for its users, but for the governments who govern these users, it probably is not so good.
Douglas A. McIntyre