The central question of whether ICTs do any good, is discussed in relation to always-on broadband connections in the OECD. The question is, of course, of even greater importance in developing countries.
The OECD released its latest report on May 19th. It surveys the broadband landscape to December 2007, and tells a warm tale. The number of broadband subscribers in the world’s 30 biggest countries grew by 18% to reach 235m, or one-fifth of those countries’ total population. Between 2005 and 2006, prices fell by an average of 19% for DSL connections and 16% for cable lines. At the end of 2004 the average speed was 2 megabits per second (Mb/s); in 2007 it increased to almost 9Mb/s. But the excellent report, written by Taylor Reynolds and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, goes beyond the numbers and examines why broadband is actually useful. And here the authors face a problem: there simply is not good data to show that broadband matters. Like Banquo at Macbeth’s banquet, the ghost of Dr Solow’s "productivity paradox" disrupts the OECD’s pleasant narrative.