Scientific American presents an interesting example of how even seemingly small politically-based decisions can have far-reaching and significant consequences.
Ten years ago, the US ranked at or near the top in most studies of broadband internet price and performance. But in 2002, the FCC (dominated by Bush appointees) made an strange decision. They classified broadband internet service as an “information service” (a content or entertainment service) rather than as a “telecommunication service” (like a phone line). This reclassification removed regulations designed to encourage competition — in effect it deregulated the internet.
The results couldn’t be more stark. Today, compared to the rest of the industrialized world, we pay far more for a slower connection. In the words of SciAm, broadband service in the US is “awful”. In fact, we have fallen behind even countries known for having poor infrastructure, such as Portugal and Italy. And instead of being the leader in internet technology, a recent study ranked the US dead last among 40 countries in how fast it is progressing toward an information-based economy.
Now that Obama is president, the FCC is trying to reclassify the internet as a telecommunication service (which is what it is, actually). But they are facing stiff resistance from Comcast, AT&T, and other huge companies that stand to lose their monopolies.
Still think the US is the land of free markets? In other countries, companies compete to provide you with broadband service, so prices fall while speeds increase. Our current internet situation is just like the old phone days, when the phone company who owned the wires to your home had a monopoly on things like long distance and phone books. Once competition opened up, long distance rates dropped dramatically. In the US, the company that owns the wires has a monopoly on providing service. We are one of the few industrialized nations (along with only Mexico and the Slovak Republic) that doesn’t require competition (and the Slovaks are starting to open up their lines).
We invented the internet, but ironically we are losing our lead because of greedy monopolies who spend hundreds of millions of dollars to control our government.