The United States tops the world in a lot of categories—like incarceration rate, for example—but fastest and cheapest Internet aren’t two of them. Not only is that not the case, but it might even get worse.
According to Netindex.com, the United States ranks 31st in average Internet download speeds and 41st in upload speeds.
The U.S. average download speed is 23 mbps. For context, Hong Kong and Singapore— the two leading countries—triple our average with 78 and 6 mbps, respectively. In upload speeds, we trail behind Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Slovakia.
Another study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) demonstrated that in terms of costs, we’re paying nearly five times the amount as other leading countries. Customers in cities like New York and San Francisco are paying over $90 a month for 45 mbps. In Seoul, that would cost you a little under $20.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are partially, if not fully, to blame for this. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the deregulation of High Speed Internet in 2005 opened the door for monopolies to surge in exchange for universal service.
Susan Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and President Barack Obama’s former Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation, told the BBC that since deregulation, "we've seen enormous consolidation and monopolies” and as a result “companies that supply Internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight.”
These monopolies are only trying to get bigger.
This past month, Comcast announced its intention to merge with Time Warner Cable. In a foreseeable response, someone leaked that AT&T was eye-balling DirectTV and their 20 million TV users. These mega-mergers facilitate the ability of these companies to wield even further dominance in the communications market.
Combined, a possible merger between AT&T and DirectTV would boast over 26 million users. The Comcast and Time Warner agreement would put them at about 30 million.
In the midst of all this is the ongoing war on Net Neutrality—the concept, also known as the Open Internet, that everyone with an Internet connection can access whatever information is online without restrictions. With the potential toppling of Net Neutrality safeguards, ISPs could restrict your access and charge you more for what you’re currently getting now (which, as we already established, is pricier and slower than what most of the world gets).
The slowing down of the Internet could also result in ISPs charging companies to pay for access to faster connections to their sites, leaving smaller and potentially innovative companies out of the loop and unable to compete. This, again, already appears to have happened. Netflix recently agreed to pay Comcast a fee so that their streaming service wouldn’t be throttled.
“Some big ISPs are extracting a toll because they can—they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote in a blog post about the move.
Slower, more expensive internet hurts innovation and businesses. In another interview with NPR, Crawford described the future of communications in the US as such:
"Unless somebody in the system has industrial policy in mind, a long-term picture of where the United States needs to be and has the political power to act on it, we'll be a Third World country when it comes to communications."
In short, there’s a looming communications crisis going on in the United States. We’re paying an outrageous amount of money for a second-tier service to media monopolies who have their sights on splitting the web between rich and poor.
The FCC has scheduled a hearing for May 15th to on the topic, but FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel—one of three Democrats on a five person panel—has called for a delay on the matter due to public outcry.
Julian Reyes is a VR Producer for Fusion.