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Politics and the Internet

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.



  1. The American consumer is a slave by default.

    We have the power to stop purchasing goods and services from companies that hurt our economy and our environment, but we won’t because we consider those goods and services to be a necessity.

    Sure, we’re falling behind compared to the rest of the world, and we suffer from a mild dissatisfaction – a general malaise if you will – but we’re not unhappy enough to revolt. We’re satiated just enough to be kept underneath the corporate thumb. And it will probably continue this way.

    Our country is too vast and too diverse to ever really unite against the powers that be, especially when we’re distracted by worrying about the towelheads converting us good Christians to a terrorist religion and which celebrity is on next week’s Dancing With the Stars.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    I was eight when I first saw a television. With my children and now my grandchildren, I try to present a side that doesn’t show “conspicuous consumption” Obviously I have a computer. I try to lead them to DVDs so they see things without commercials. My seven year old grandson said “I wish I didn’t watch so much television.” I asked him to ask his mother to keep it off in the morning. I’ve forgotten until two weeks ago that most people have a TV blaring at them all the time. Have to say I saw this coming nearly sixty years ago.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  3. Falkelord wrote:

    This and the net neutrality debate make me really hate america sometimes.

    I can’t say I’m surprised though. AT&T locks the iPhone to its network and locks the HTC Aria to 3rd party developers (essentially turning an open-source phone into the iphone with the android OS). I got the aria because I had heard about how boss the droid system was. I was looking forward to using swype and side-loading apps, but lo and behold, I’m given a phone that you can’t do that on (the only android phone in the world like it) as well as loaded with a bunch of AT&T apps that I don’t want or need (navigator, etc).

    Really it’s the same bullshit to me.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  4. A. O. Moss wrote:

    Worse than New Zealand? Really? How bizarre. It’s not like anyone outside the US would notice that they aren’t competitive with other countries in terms of internet services. And by that I mean number of websites.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 2:35 am | Permalink
  5. Jennifer wrote:

    This article by Rosen is very relevant to your article. It’s a good read.

    – J

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thanks for the link Jennifer. Definitely a good read.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink