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by Tim Karr - Save the Internet
The New York Times reported
on Wednesday that the U.S. has sunk to 25th in a global ranking of Internet
speeds, just behind Romania.
Why? Because our nation's regulators abandoned an earlier
commitment to foster competition in the marketplace for Internet access
providers.In the years that followed the signing of the 1996
Telecommunications Act, lobbyists working for powerful providers like AT&T,
Comcast and Verizon pressured a compliant FCC to tear down all of the important
safeguards established by Congress.
Under the Bush administration, the FCC tossed out
competitive broadband safeguards such as open-access requirements, which
opened lines to other providers. In 2002 the agency declared that high-speed
cable Internet access would no longer be considered a telecommunications
service that opened the network to competitors, but rather an “information
service” that did not. Following a 2005 court decision, the FCC also
reclassified broadband delivered by the phone companies as an “information
These were radical policy shifts that went against the
long-held assumption that open communications in competitive markets were
essential to economic growth and innovation.
While the U.S. blindly followed a path of
"deregulation," other nations in Europe and Asia beefed up their
pro-competitive policies. The results are evident in our free
fall from the top of almost every global measure of Internet services,
availability and speed.
About this my Free Press colleague Derek Turner
"By turning its back on the 1996 Act, the FCC ordered
up a future of digital mediocrity and stuck American consumers with the bill.
Americans pay more per month for broadband than consumers in all but seven of
the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development ... When price and speed are considered together as a
measure of value, we see that Americans pay more per megabit per second than
consumers in many other countries. The value of U.S. connections is some four
times less than that of countries like France, and is only slightly better than
the value of connections in Hungary, a country with a per capita GDP nearly
two-and-a-half times lower than the United States."
The lack of competition has turned America into a broadband
backwater. In the aftermath of the FCC’s decisions, powerful phone and cable
companies legislated and lobbied their way to controlling 97 percent of the
fixed-line residential broadband market — leaving the vast majority of
consumers with two or fewer choices of land-based providers in any given
The absence of true consumer choice has driven prices up and
services down. Wednesday's New York Times reports that in some parts of the country the situation has had a direct impact
on economic growth, education and public safety.
"This is about our overall competitiveness,"
Jonathan Adelstein of the Rural Utilities Service told the Times. "Without broadband, especially in rural areas, kids
might not reach their full potential. And we can’t expect to be competitive in
a global economy."
Timothy Karr oversees
all Free Press campaigns and online outreach efforts, including
SavetheInternet.com and Free Press' work on public broadcasting, propaganda and