NEWSFLASH: U.S. Broadband Expensive, Uncompetitive
Usually when the mainstream press talks about high broadband prices, there's no explanation given and the dots are never connected. In most press narratives high prices simply exist
as if created magically -- occasionally with the subtle implication that U.S. broadband is just so difficult to provide or just so damn awesome
that high prices are justified. Obviously that's not true, given that the United States is thoroughly mediocre in every possible global broadband metric
, from penetration and customer service to speed and price. That's not an opinion, it's a fact. And no, the country being so gosh darn big
is not a defense for being pathetic, given our limitless budget to wage war or build bridges to nowhere.
Rarely are readers informed that they're over-paying for services thanks to regulatory capture and limited competition, realities the general technology press avoids acknowledging like the bubonic plague. That's a result of a media that's often too timid to tell the truth, whether it's because they're owned by an ISP, are a trade rag petrified of upsetting industry advertisers and trade show attendees, or journalists afraid to lose access to scoops. It's all compounded by the millions spent on lobbying and PR designed to try and convince the public that paying $70 for a connection that can barely deliver 3 Mbps is the height of technological innovation
With that as a backdrop, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston is making the mainstream media rounds this week to promote his new book
), confounding a press that usually enjoys marginalizing folks like this. The short version of his findings: ISP lobbyists have stripped most meaningful consumer and price protection regulations, cut back on broadband expansion, destroyed most of their competitors, and bought off Congress to obtain regulatory capture. The result?
•Americans pay four times as much as the French for an Internet triple-play package—phone, cable TV and Internet—at an average of $160 per month versus $38 per month.
•The French get global free calling and worldwide live television. Their Internet is also 10 times faster at downloading information and 20 times faster uploading it.
•America has gone from #1 in Internet speed (when we invented it) to 29th in the world and falling.
•Bulgaria is among the countries with faster Internet service.
•Americans pay 38 times as much as the Japanese for Internet data.
Johnston's full interview is worth a watch:
As Johnston points out, the phone and cable companies have been given hundreds of billions
(half a trillion by Johnston's estimates) in taxpayer subsidies to build networks never delivered. Johnston doesn't even get into how when local communities try to intervene and improve their own local infrastructure, they're demonized, sued, harassed and attacked until the effort implodes. He also doesn't mention (and the press hasn't noticed this, either) that it's about to get worse: AT&T and Verizon are in the process of offloading all of their unwanted DSL customers to cable
, resulting in a more powerful cable monopoly in more than half of the country and even higher prices. The wireline broadband sector is an uncompetitive, over-priced mess, regulators are asleep, and the press's bobble-headed obliviousness only adds to the circus.
Obviously none of this is new to our readers, but it's amusing to see how we're having these same conversations (and as you'll see in our comment section below, denials) ten years on without much to show for it. We're still mired in the same debates that shouldn't even really be political, with partisans fooled into cheering against their own best self interests, national infrastructure investment still treated like a cancer, apathy and denial still the height of fashion, while all the while the industry happily gets less competitive and prices (for the majority of us) continue to soar.
The solution? It's the same as it was ten years ago, and it's the same for every other sector where consumers are getting shafted by unbalanced corporate influence on rule making and enforcement: focusing cross-sector effort on crushing the influence of corporate cash on politics, with a focus on stopping the revolving door between government regulators and lobbyists. The press might want to stop being cowards and report on reality for good measure. Until those things happen, we're just going to keep having the same fruitless conversation.