Why the U.S. Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability

Not often will I agree with opinion from “The New York Times,” but in this case they are pretty close to getting it right. After you dig through the comparison to other cities and slamming of our communications service providers they get to the heart of the matter by saying that a duopoly is not competition and competition will lower prices and improve the quality of service. Note that I did not mention “speed.” 

here are structural differences that make the U.S. different from Asian and European countries such as our lower population density and more people living in single-family dwellings. These two facts dramatically increase the cost to build a network to where at best two providers can make a decent ROI. Why do you think that AT&T and Verizon keeps shedding their rural territories? Where we see competition, we see lower prices and better services. Another reason many of these countries have lower prices is that governments have subsidized building of these networks with taxpayer dollars easing the challenge of turning a profit to service providers. In many of these countries service providers use to be owned by the government so they still have a cozy relationship.

New entrants into the business are faced with steep costs of deploying fiber to every home and business while paying cities for right-of-ways and pole attachment and franchise fees. What if they didn’t have to build that last-mile infrastructure? What if they partnered with other service providers or leased it from the city or another private provider? These are business models that have been successfully implemented in other countries, but cannot here due to laws enacted in states and through federal regulations. Counties and municipalities are good at building and maintaining infrastructure so why not let them put the fiber in the ground and sell access to any service provider? If you jump to the end of the article you will read that discussion.

America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a reportpublished Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry.

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About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry’s first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

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