Bill Moyers: Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair
>Americans are getting bilked for second class internet access.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve heard me before quote one of my mentors who told his students that “news is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity.” That’s why two books are rattling the cages of powerful people who would rather you not read them. Here’s the first one. Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age by Susan Crawford. Read it and you’ll understand why we Americans are paying much more for internet access than people in many other countries and getting much less in return. That, despite the fact that our very own academics and engineers, working with our very own Defense Department, invented the internet in the first place.
EXTRACT (Susan CVrawford)
What's happened is that these enormous telecommunications companies, Comcast and Time Warner on the wired side, Verizon and AT&T on the wireless side, have divided up markets, put themselves in the position where they're subject to no competition and no oversight from any regulatory authority. And they're charging us a lot for internet access and giving us second class access. This is a lot like the electrification story from the beginning of the 20th century.
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BILL MOYERS: In here you call it the digital divide. Describe that to me.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: Well, here's the problem. For 19 million Americans, many in rural areas, you can't get access to a high speed connection at any price, it's just not there. For a third of Americans, they don't subscribe often because it's too expensive. So the rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out. And this means that we're creating yet again two Americas and deepening inequality through this communications inequality.
The United States government wants to make access to fast and free WiFi as easy as accessing public roads.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has proposed to free up digital infrastructure to allow free public access to WiFi — more powerful than what most people have in their homes — in most metropolitan areas and many rural areas, The Washington Post reports:
If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, connections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public WiFi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.
To achieve this, the government would have to repurpose how airwaves are used. As the Post points out, that means local television stations and other broadcasters would have to sell some of their airwaves to the government. Whether companies are willing to make the sale is yet to be seen.
As you can imagine, support of the proposal is split between two major industries. On the one hand, the telecomm industry is lobbying the government to keep those airwaves in the hands of businesses.
Tech giants like Google and Microsoft, however, see a nationwide public WiFi network as a catalyst for innovation (and increased sales of their products). Though Google, at least, isn’t waiting for the government to act to offer free public WiFi. In New York City, the company recently launched free public WiFi in the Chelsea neighborhood.
But a free-for-all WiFi network? Politics will decide its fate.