The internet service in the United Stated is among the worst in the technologically-advanced world. Compared to other civilized nations, our service is slow, expensive and unreliable. It is an international embarrassment that the nation that literally invented the internet lags so far behind in making its network competitive. So who’s to blame for this American failure? Monopolies.
Time Warner, Comcast, and Verizon are a few of the companies that have lobbied to be granted special positions as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and they are not holding up their end of the deal. Telecom companies have been granted special privileges, by law. But those privileges come at a price.
In 1996, the United States saw its first overhaul of telecommunications law since 1934. The law that was enacted was the 1996 Telecommunications Act (the Act). The Act was intended to encourage competition and instead has allowed cable and telecom companies to do little more than divide markets and establish their monopolies.
Want proof the law was intended to foster competition in the market? Check out the FCC’s own explanation of the law:
“The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. The goal of this new law is to let anyone enter any communications business — to let any communications business compete in any market against any other.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has the potential to change the way we work, live and learn. It will affect telephone service — local and long distance, cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools.
The Federal Communications Commission has a tremendous role to play in creating fair rules for this new era of competition. …”
But how is this affecting internet speeds? How can we draw the direct correlation from their lack of competition to your YouTube video not buffering quickly enough?
Well, as a part of the Act, telecoms that were granted the privilege of installing the network that services an area are required to continue to upgrade the network and maintain certain standards. (Don’t worry, they get a check from the government to help relieve the burden for this.)
Unfortunately, the major telecoms aren’t wanting to keep up with the modern trends of installing fiber and replacing the existing copper network. Instead, the companies argue that the existing copper infrastructure is sufficient. In fact, you don’t even really want a gigabit connection. Because really, what would you do with it?
Oh, I’m sure we can think of something.
So instead, they continue to divide up their existing network, and charge ever increasing prices.
What would competition look like in the internet sector? In the UK, where competition in the market exists, broadband home internet service can be obtained for as little as $4 a month.
Is there hope?
Well, yes and no. New rulings from the Supreme Court are opening the door for the major telecoms to start smashing their internal competition. Google Fiber is continuously seeing competition, not in the form of improved or competitive service, but rather legislative barriers. Municipal fiber is experiencing fits and starts but the landscape is troubled at best. Obama has talked about a national broadband service, but we’re still waiting on it.
Realistically, the best chance is for the FCC to correct what it should have done long ago and label ISPs what they are, a utility. Doing so would bring the networks administered by the providers into tighter control by the FCC and allow the government to force the improvement of the network.
Will it happen?
Last year, Obama appointed Tom Wheeler to chair the FCC after the resignation of Julius Genachowski. Where was Wheeler before he was the highest ranking officer at the FCC?
He was a lobbyist for the telecom and media industry.
Your internet sucks, and you have cronyism, deregulation and monopolies to thank for it.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.