A Bleak, Fictional Internet Future
Visiting Harvard Professor Susan Crawford paints a bleak future for U.S. Web users in an excerpt of her book “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” that ran in Bloomberg on Dec. 25th. But just as with other pieces by the author, Crawford does not reflect the true state of the incredibly dynamic broadband market.
The excerpt begins by chronicling how U.S. broadband has become dominated by a cable industry monopoly, an allegation that Broadband for America has explored before.
It then continues by concluding that wireless broadband services do not meet the needs of Americans.
“Wireless access, dominated by AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon, is, for its part, too slow to compete with the cable industry’s offerings; mobile wireless services are, rather, complementary.”
But recent statistics show that wireless services and devices are fast becoming a primary method for communications services.
A survey released in July by CTIA – The Wireless Association showed a 104 percent increase in mobile data consumption between June 2011 and June 2012. Adding to this is new research from Forrester showing that that mobile devices are driving increases in Internet usage overall, not just on wireless networks. This trend can be measured by the percentage of adults that log online daily. In 2011, 78 percent of U.S. adults accessed the Web daily, with that number rising to 84 percent in 2012. As TechCrunch explains, “One of the reasons for this is, of course, the growing smartphone and tablet penetration.” This shift underscores the point that mobile devices and wireless broadband are more than mere “compliments” to its wired counterparts.
To correct the shortcomings of the broadband industry in the U.S., Crawford advocates for a “watchdog to ensure that… citizens are connected at cheap rates to fiber-optic networks.” She then compares the broadband networks of the U.S. and South Korea. Incredible size differences not withstanding (9,826,675 sq. km for the U.S. compared to 99,720 sq. km for South Korea), South Korean Internet regulators are not worthy of imitation. Broadband for America reported earlier this fall that the nation’s Internet regulatory board actively censors online content and more than tripled the number of Internet posts removed or blocked in recent times, up to 53,000 last year from 15,000 in 2008, for “infractions” that include posting pornography, using profanity or supporting North Korea. Reporters Without Borders listed South Korea as a country “under surveillance” in a report titled “Enemies of the Internet” and said “censorship is also focused on political opinions expressed online.” South Korea has been called “one of the most wired nations in the world” before, but there are limitations to those wires.
“Compared with people in other countries, Americans are paying more for less and leaving many of their fellow citizens behind,” the excerpt concludes. If America is to have the best broadband networks in the world, then the regulatory path forward is clear.