The term “broadband penetration” refers to the amount of the Internet access market that high speed or broadband Internet has captured. When broadband was first introduced as a method to connect to the Web, many companies confidently expected it to capture the majority of the market share, and with good reason. Broadband tends to be faster, more efficient, and less problem-laden than other access methods such as dial-up. As online content grows more bandwidth intensive, broadband allows Internet users to load content quickly.
With an increase in affordable technology and competing providers, broadband Internet is affordable for many consumers, who make the switch after being frustrated by slow dial up connections. Many telecommunications companies also try to increase their broadband market by offering it as part of bundled phone, Internet, and/or cable services. Combining this with low prices makes broadband appeal to low income subscribers. 70% of Internet subscribers in Western nations were expected to adopt broadband by 2010 according to analysts in 2006.
Broadband penetration grew by leaps and bounds initially after being widely introduced in the early 2000s. By 2004, in the United States and Great Britain over half of Internet users were using broadband at home, at the office, or in both locations. However, broadband penetration began to decline rapidly in many Western nations after this point, as early adopters had already picked up the technology and older Internet users felt that they either couldn't afford it or didn't need it. This often occurs with new technology which initially captures the public imagination and then falls off as it reaches peak saturation in the market.
The area of the world with the highest broadband penetration is Asia, which bypassed traditional dial-up access to the Internet in many locations and jumped to satellite or DSL broadband services. Europe is next, with the Scandinavian countries having the highest rate of broadband penetration. North America follows, with South American and Africa slowly catching up.
In both Europe and Asia, the spread of the broadband market has been encouraged by countries who support competition between multiple companies and the development of better technology. In some cities, citywide broadband Internet access is provided at low cost, while others such as San Francisco, California have developed initiatives to provide free broadband to all citizens. In the United States, many customers do not have options when it comes to choosing a broadband provider, something which some critics feel has slowed the rate of growth for broadband penetration.