Susan Crawford, law professor and former special assistant for science and technology to the White House, recently sat down with journalist and commentator Bill Moyers and explained something that might surprise comfortable Americans: U.S. Internet access is, even today, costly and slow compared to access in other parts of the world.
How so? Crawford lays out the numbers: In Hong Kong, Crawford says, a citizen can purchase 500 megabit data pipeline for $25 a month. In Seoul, the same service is $30 a month, but subscribers have a choice of three different providers, all of whom will set up a connection within a day because of cutthroat competition.
But in New York City, arguably the most industrialized city in the U.S., the same connection costs $200, and subscribers have no choice of providers.
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Crawford names the usual culprits: telecommunications companies, whose local monopolies encourage them, she says, to "gouge" the rich and neglect the poor, and the U.S. government, which she says refuses to consider the Internet a utility or promote competition between current carriers. In November, HuffPost reported that AT&T had failed to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans after assuring Congress it would do so.
The U.S. government has lots of catching up to do: The Federal Communication Commission's 2011 "Connect 2 Compete" program, which was supposed to give Internet access to low-income citizens, only operates on a small scale, while the recent "Super WiFi" rumors proved a massive flop. Existing telecommunications players have little reason to change because, as Crawford says, they're for-profit businesses whose motive is to make money in the most efficient way possible.
Change within the telecommunications industry may come from an unlikely source: other corporations. Google’s Fiber project, an experimental broadband network that delivers speedy, inexpensive Internet to chosen communities, has forced Time Warner Cable to increase speeds and lower prices. Similar projects might help spark change among telecommunications monopolies across the country.
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