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One country with an exemplary record in broadband is Korea, host of the 2008 OECD ministerial meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy. On broadband reach it is the seventh in the OECD in December 2007, for fibre-optics it lies second only to Japan and is well ahead of the rest of the field, and for download speeds, it is in a comfortable third, after France and Japan. Korea is also a leader in mobile technology.

Some 94% of households had access to broadband via computers or mobile phones in 2006, three times more than in 2000, and many hotels and public places provide broadband connections for free. In fact, Koreans are so “wired” that Internet addiction is now seen as a treatable condition (see Databank, page 40). OECD’s Taylor Reynolds* explains more.

How strong is Korea’s Internet performance really?

Korea has been a world leader in broadband since the OECD began collecting statistics. Its broadband penetration rate five years ago would still be above average in the OECD today. There are three times as many 3G mobile subscribers in Korea than wired broadband subscribers. It was the first country to roll out mobile WiMAX. This allows Koreans to have Wi-Fi type connectivity, even while riding in cars, etc. Koreans also commonly watch television on their mobile phones, while riding public transportation to and from work. Koreans can pay for items at grocery stores or public transportation simply by swiping their mobile phone in front of a reader.

What explains this consistent performance?

The Korean government has focused on innovation as part of their national economic strategy and broadband has been a key component. For instance, the government made public broadband terminals available throughout the country in government offices to combat the digital divide.

Families also put huge emphasis on education and many households cite improving their children’s education as a key reason for subscribing to broadband. As a result, students commonly use Internet cafés (“PC Bangs”) for gaming instead of playing games at home in front of their parents.

Any challenges, despite these successes?

For a start, while Korea has the infrastructure to support telework, it needs the business culture to exploit it more fully. It lacks the compelling “triple play” broadband packages that we can find in other parts of the world (packages that combine Internet, telephony and television). Also, Korea produces huge amounts of content for the domestic market which could be translated and made available to wider audiences.

*Taylor Reynolds works in the Information and Communications Policy division of the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry.

©OECD Observer No 268 June 2008