'Digital Divide' deepens; America loses
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'Digital Divide' deepens; America loses

Chicago : IL : USA | Sep 09, 2012 at 5:45 PM PDT
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Why does the United States sport only the 26th fastest Internet speed? The answer may be found in a two-word phrase,”monopoly capitalism.”

A new study from the New America Foundation reports that not only is the U.S. broadband speed considerably slower than most other major (and many not-so-major) countries, but it is also even more dramatically costly.

Let’s look at cost first. According to the New America Foundation study, of the 244 cities looked at, New York City is the most expensive city on earth in terms of connectivity. There, Verizon charges $154.98 for its cheapest fiber triple-play package (phone, TV, internet). Lafayette, La., was the least expensive for triple play: $65.60. That puts the mid-range between these two monthly prices at about $90.00. All U.S. cities in the study ranked at or above the mid-range.

Compare those numbers to Riga (Latvia), Seoul (South Korea), and Paris. All three offer triple-play packages for less than $40 per month. London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Hong Kong clock in at under $50.

In terms of speed, the U.S. lags far behind all of the above mentioned cities and countries. New America found that the fastest downloading speed of an American city for the price (around $37) was San Francisco. Webpass offers a 200Mbps (MegaBytes for download speed or Megabits for connectivity speed per second) service for $37.50 per month. New York and D.C. can get you 25Mbps for under $40 per month. If you live in Los Angeles, sadly, you may only get 10Mbps of downstream bandwidth for $29.99.

By sharp contrast, and with the single exception of San Francisco, the numbers for speed of connectivity render America a “third world” nation when it comes to downloading speed. In Hong Kong one may get 500Mbps for $37.34 per month. Tokyo, Riga, Seoul, Paris, Bucharest, and Berlin -- all offer 100Mbps download speeds for under $40 per month.

As for the fastest Internet connections worldwide, New America reports that the U.S. loses again – if not on speed grounds, then certainly on price. Chattanooga, TN, of all U.S. cities, will hook you up with gigabit Internet access -- at $317.03 per month. Verizon in New York will give you 150Mbps service for $159.95 per month, and D.C.'s Comcast offers 105Mbps service for $105.00.

Again, in contrast, a Hong Kong gigabit connection costs $48.59 per month. Surprisingly, Amsterdam almost doubles the Hong Kong rate, offering a half gigabit for $83.33 per month. Tokyo wins this one, though, hands down: A “symmetrical” 200Mbps connection runs $26.85 per month.

OK. So these are the basic numbers. Again, the question stands: Why does the United States, the inventor of the Internet and technological leader in so many knowledge-based areas…why are only 70 percent of the U.S. population home-Internet connected (compared with 94 percent of South Koreans)? And for those Americans who are connected, why do we pay through the nose to get simple, basic, decent service?

The answer seems to be that the providers of Internet service, the cable companies, have made a “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts with the providers of the cable lines, ATT and Verizon, whereby they do not compete with each other for the consumer’s dollar. That is, the cable companies concentrate on high-speed service while the line-holders only worry over the mobile platforms. This is not what was intended by a 2005 decision to abandon line-sharing rules, but it has been the effect.

What this means, of course, is that each separate group of providers has a monopoly in its particular area of concern, and may therefore charge whatever “the market will bear” regardless of where or who can afford the price. This situation leaves whole neighborhoods of American cities (guess which neighborhoods) and rural areas unconnected (due to lack of “market”) or inability to pay. That’s roughly 100 million people in the United States.

This amounts to much more than a “digital divide.” It’s more like a Grand Canyon-sized gash between the two-thirds of those who “have” and the one-third of those who “have not.”

The answer…the solution, is rather obvious. The FCC (yes, that pesky "guvmint” again) must demand more competition among all providers, and enforce it by actually breaking up the majors into smaller and more accessible pieces, so that everyone may get – and stay -- connected for an affordable price. (Admittedly, free Internet connectivity for all would be ideal; but if Americans won’t support universal medical care, then I doubt they’ll be enamored of paying for each others’ Internet access….But I digress).

Also, is it just too “socialistic” to talk about…think about Internet connectivity as a basic “right” for all Americans, even for all the world’s peoples? Look, in order to travel on any Interstate Highway, all one needs is a vehicle. The same should apply to the Information SuperHighway…If you’ve got a computer, you can ride.

If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.

References:

http://go.bloomberg.com/tech-blog/2012-04-19-whos-fastest-google-measures-web-speeds-around-the-world/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_the_United_States

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/01/fastest-internet-countries-akamai_n_1467892.html

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-grid/us-internet-speeds-prices

http://www.news.com.au/technology/state-of-the-internet-reports-reveals-internet-speeds-around-the-world/story-e6frfro0-1226344876391

http://mashable.com/2011/09/21/fastest-download-speeds-infographic/

http://www.internetworldstats.com/links10.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/internet-access-and-the-new-divide.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-01-10-minorities-online_N.htm

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Herbert Dyer, Jr. is based in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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