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Technology and Politics

Do you ever wonder why your city has terrible broadband internet? Why there is limited or no competition for providing internet service to your home? Why Google didn’t put your city on the list of places it is considering for gigabit fiber? If you are lucky you have a choice of two internet providers, one of them a telecom company and the other a cable company, both of which charge more for slower service than you can get in most other countries.

Well, here is your answer. This article, written by the former CTO for the city of Seattle is specific to that city, but explains in detail why every last problem with getting better broadband in this country is political. And many of these problems would be trivial to solve, and yet we don’t.

Why? Unfortunately, the article does not mention the real problem, which is that the incumbent companies (those same telecoms and cable companies) like being able to charge lots of money for substandard service. And your politicians are only too happy to take their campaign contributions and keep it that way.

And don’t think Google is installing gigabit fiber out of the kindness of their hearts. They will gain tremendously from people having faster internet. In the end, we are at the mercy of moneyed interests fighting it out.



  1. Max wrote:

    I think population density mostly explains why countries like Korea and Japan have excellent broadband. It’s simply cheaper to build. (Above ground wiring helps too; it’s cheaper to add wires to polls than to dig).

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t explain it for urban areas (including in the US). Every major city in the US should have fiber internet by now. As the linked article points out, there are no technical issues (including building costs). The issue is pure politics.

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  3. Don wrote:

    I live in a small town (7,000) in a sprawling, rural county with small, scattered population centers. I currently have internet service from a local provider with about 20Mbit/s service and it costs me less than the service that ATT was providing me just 3 months ago. Turned out I had 4 choices for service. The small, rural phone company that I used to use has installed fiber-optics throughout its extensive service area and folks have reasonably high quality internet service through them. Why do we have these choices here that those in larger cities appear not to have?

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink
  4. westomoon wrote:

    Blindly give Google, of all people, carte blanche in a city? There must be better ways to improve our broadband service than that!

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  5. PatriotSGT wrote:

    I’m with you on that WESTOMOON. The company that mines data for the us intelligence agencies running our data backbones. We must be gluttons for punishment.

    I do agree we can use less costly and more effective internet solutions though.

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  6. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly why Google got contracts and the OK from big brother in the first place. The seems to be a symbiotic relationship in the making there…

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, an ISP (providing service to the home) is not the same as an internet backbone. And to be honest, I trust Google more than I trust most of the companies currently running the internet backbones.

    Monday, March 10, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    As I recall, it wasn’t all that long ago (2003, maybe?) when the FCC–based on telco lobbying efforts–was considering legally defining 128 Kbps as “broadband.” As a result of continual mergers and acquisitions, our Internet infrastructure is controlled by a handful of rentiers who have no interest or incentive to innovate.

    Don, consider yourself lucky. Most local providers went out of business a long time ago. Some were bought out–and subsequently dismantled–by the major companies. Others lost out because the major providers cut exclusive deals with apartments, businesses, etc. There are many reasons, but the end result is the same: a stranglehold of oligopolies.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Exactly. There is actually a disincentive for companies to innovate, unless there is competition. We used to understand this, which is why we used to have real laws against monopolies. Now it is all about mergers.

    The same thing happened in our automobile industry. Once upon a time there were dozens of brands of cars, but it eventually got merged and reduced into just three and the major “innovation” out of those three was deliberate planned obsolescence. It wasn’t until they got some real competition from the Japanese that things got better.

    The same thing happened (and is still happening) with media, telecom, and other industries. And next it will happen with food and water.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  10. Dan wrote:

    There’s something wrong when cities like NYC, that are very dense, don’t have fast reliable internet. It’s a place that could presumably afford it.

    In David Clay Johnston’s book “The Fine Print” he explains how the telcos basically decided how much rent they want to extract from each customer ($100/mo.) irrespective of level of service. They seem to have succeeded, and are quite happy with the status quo.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  11. Michael wrote:

    “And next it will happen with food and water.”

    There was a time when that would have been a laughable suggestion. Now, it’s both plausible and horrifying.

    Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink