Paul Krugman and Population Density.

Well, yes Paul:

Whenever I write about America’s lag in telecommunications — how we’re falling behind other countries both in wired and wireless networks — some people point out that we have much lower population density than Europe or Japan.

This is true in a literal sense, but largely irrelevant. Yes, there are vast open spaces in America. But hardly any of us live there.

That\’s, umm, sorta the definition of low population density, isn\’t it? Lots of space and not many people?

And the truth is that New Jersey is more typical of modern America than Crawford. In 2000, a sizable majority of Americans — 58% — lived in metropolitan areas with populations of more than a million people. Two thirds of us live in metro areas with more than half a million people.

The density issue isn’t entirely irrelevant. South Korea surged ahead in broadband partly because so many South Koreans live in easily-wired large apartment buildings. But there’s no excuse for poor network coverage in the fairly dense sprawl in which most Americans live.

Dense sprawl? Bit of a mix and match phrase there. But still, what about that urban density then? The Europeans are packed in two and a half times more densely, the Brits nearly four times.

Given that telecoms, whether mobile or land, have a very close relationship to population density, I still don\’t think you\’ve managed to blow off that concern, not yet.

7 thoughts on “Paul Krugman and Population Density.”

  1. Glenn (pka angry economist)

    Well most folks in US are urban, but US definition of ‘urban’ is fairly low population density to UK/Europe as you point out.

    Its true though – US lags behind in a lot of infrastructural provision. From roads, to rail, to networks. Its rare that Federal or State policy have really got it together to deliver things like integrated transport or comms networks.

    Tim’s point is bourne out in Africa – mobile telecoms huge in some countries, especially in rural areas.

  2. As Krugman so wisely points out, it’s a dodge; you don’t need to run fibre into the fucking fields, do you?

    Low population density exurban Americans actually tend to live along large roads, all of which have a nice chunk of federal right-of-way down each side; this is already the cliched place to put yer OC192s because the feds made a policy decision to let everyone lay cables there for cheap back in the 90s.

    (The man chiefly responsible was Al Gore.)

    Further to that, the other place you’ll find fibre in the States is next to the railroad tracks, and the interstates go where the railroads went, ‘cos that’s where the people are. Hence the phenomenon that the Internet backbones across North America roughly match the cattle trails of the 1850s. (Note also that Southern Pacific formed Sprint to use their RoWs; Qwest got started when Phil Anschutz sold his railroad interests but kept the RoW for telecoms.)

    Getting some form of coverage into the bush is actually not that hard because nobody lives there; down under, Telstra has UMTS HSPA cells that are 200Kms across, which they can get away with because there are very few subscribers outback.

    So, basically, this is embarrassingly ignorant stuff.

  3. Texas (where Crawford is located) may not be the most densely populated of the states but it is certainly the most “urbanized,” i.e., the one in which the greatest percentage of its population live in its urban agglomerations. New York is positively “country” by comparison. Just thought that an interesting bit of trivia.

  4. Alex:

    Reflecting on that bit of trivia (preceding), I’d impute it at least partly to the development pattern. Texas developed, as did much of the
    eastern U.S., along private property lines (in comparison with most of the West, where the land was–and in many cases, still is–property of the federal government). And I’d observe that the “backbone” to which you refer is not so much along the old “cattle trails” as along the routes of westward population expansion at least partly influenced by the government policies of making land available free or nearly so both to the settlers and to the railroaders. So the present owners’ rights-of-way (being used as clear-cut line-of-sight roads for microwave transmission rather than for laying of cable, I’d imagine) are just another giveaway gaveaway in that long-ago (a gift which keeps on giving), like the generous RoWs the lines were able to sell off in parcels where a town seemed wanted.

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