Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Broadband Service Is So Poor In The U.S.

In an October 4, 2010 editorial titled Why Broadband Service in the U.S. Is So Awful And one step that could change it, Scientific American discusses the poor condition of U.S. broadband service when compared to much of the rest of the world. Here’s a couple of key points (we’re all way too familiar with) from the piece:

  • The U.S. came in dead last in a recent study that compared how quickly 40 countries and regions have been progressing toward a knowledge-based economy over the past 10 years.
  • A decade ago the U.S. ranked at or near the top of most studies of broadband price and performance.
From the top of the list to the bottom – what happened in the last 10 years? Scientific American traces the start of our problems back to 2002 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified broadband Internet service as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” This reclassification allowed infrastructure owners (essentially telco and cable companies) to keep their infrastructure private (some would say monopolize), stifling competition.

How are places like Japan and Korea different? Countries that are beating the pants off us require infrastructure companies to wholesale access to independent providers. This means consumers in these countries have many options from companies competing on price and service. Simply said, broadband competition is good but unfortunately, we don’t have it.

Can we fix it? The Scientific American editorial also discusses the net neutrality debate. Here’s another piece:

A separate debate—over net neutrality, the principle that Internet providers must treat all data equally regardless of their origin or content—has put the broadband crisis back in the spotlight. Earlier this year a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s plan to enforce net neutrality, saying that because the FCC classified the Internet as an information service, it does not have any more authority to ensure that Internet providers treat all content equally than it does to ensure that CNN treats all political arguments equally.

In response, the FCC announced its intention to reclassify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service. The move would give the FCC power to enforce net neutrality as well as open broadband lines up to third-party competition, enabling free markets to deliver better service for less money.
Sounds great but…. current FCC chair Genachowski has said that although he regards the Internet as a telecommunications service, he does not want to bring in third-party competition. The Scientific American editorial speculates this move may have been intended to avoid criticism from policy makers, both Republican and Democrat, who have aligned themselves with large Internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast that stand to suffer when their local monopolies are broken.

The Scientific American editorial is an excellent read along with the growing number of reader comments. Check it out.

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