Every day, across millions of homes in the United States, most Americans are happily surfing along with high-speed internet from one of two different providers: the cable company, or the phone company. While most users have been relatively satisfied with the service itself, the industry as a whole has become fat and lazy: whereas American consumers are just now beginning to receive asymmetrical speeds of 10-20 Mbps, in many cases shared amongst their neighbors, Japanese consumers are surfing along at symmetrical connections of 100 Mbps.
In the United States, where most consumers get to choose service plans between two or three regional providers, customers in the UK – even far away from London – have a choice between 20 and 30 different providers, or more.
On top of suffering slow connection speeds, U.S. consumers face terrible customer support no matter who they turn to: whether it’s an AOL representative fighting for his bonus by preventing cancellations, Comcast technicians sleeping on a customers’ couch during a service call, or Verizon accidentally setting fires during FiOS installations, many consumers loathe having to actually interface with the companies they receive their service from.
Even the concept of Net Neutrality – something that many would argue as responsible for the internet’s freedom and success – has been continually under siege, with the latest attack coming from the Justice Department.
Although forays into metropolitan wireless networks have made and are making progress, the solutions these service options offer – even long-term plans with the newly-opening 700 MHz band – are too little too late. European and Asian web surfers will soon leave American consumers in the dust, every time.
Highlighting the recent state of affairs is an editorial that appeared Friday in The Huffington Post, titled “Our Internet Policy is a Disgrace: Here’s the Proof.” In it, writer Art Brodsky describes a surreal experience he had during a conversation with a vacationing couple hailing from the 233,000-strong city of Derby, UK:
“This U.K. consumer did something not one U.S. consumer can do. This broadband consumer in the U.K. has so many options – 59 Internet Service Providers that he needed a spreadsheet to figure them out. Here in the U.S., a similar customer might have two – the telephone company and cable company.”
A comparable spreadsheet, made for Montgomery Country, Md., reveals a handful of plans available from two providers: Verizon and Comcast. Notably, the spreadsheet includes Verizon’s Fiber-to-the-Curb option, “FiOS,” and excludes any DSL service. In most urban and suburban areas in the United States, FiOS is simply unavailable, so one would replace the Verizon options on with whoever offers DSL.
Others have put together similar comparisons, writes Mr. Brodsky. Which?Magazine, a UK publication for consumers, published an evaluation similar to the Darby couple, listing 125 separate service plans from 25 different providers. Another website, ISPreview UK, lists about 200 different providers.
“It’s time to start asking some pointed questions of policymakers, beginning with the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, a pivotal point for the development of telecommunications legislation and policy,” writes Mr. Brodsky. With a government that seems bought and paid for by the telcos, he advocates that it’s time for consumers to start taking matters into their own hands.
Brodsky adds, “You have to ask your member of Congress and your Senator, ‘Why don’t we have the same choice for the Internet that people in England do?’ You have to ask what your representatives are going to do about this deplorable situation. And you have to keep on asking until there’s an answer.”
Change won’t be easy, he warns, but without proper resistance from consumers the United States will continue to fall behind in broadband speed, proliferation, and policy: “The telephone and cable companies will spend millions to keep competition from flourishing. They will employ their in-house lobbyists and their contract lobbyists. They will deploy their fake support groups. They will trot out the racial and ethnic interest groups, which take the company money while betraying their constituencies. They will gin up dozens of papers from bought-and-paid-for academics and economists. They will contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to Congressional supporters.”
Brodsky closes, “If they lose in Congress, they will fight in the courts and through the underbrush of implementing the FCC rules implementing a law.”
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