Posted by: Tony Carson | 1 September, 2007

If you’ve got ‘high-speed’ you’re getting screwed

Hype is screwing us again.

Fire up some inferior product or technology, slap on it a sexy or over-hyping name and viola, rake in the profits until the poor stupid consumer figures it out, usually without the help of a complicit, corporately owned media.

Thats the case with internet hook-ups. They call it ‘broadband’ and ‘high-speed’ and they promise all these wonderful things that will require twice the pipe to deliver. Hell, I was paying big bucks for a high-speed DSL that was too slow to watch a frigging youTube.

And you are getting screwed, too, if you live outside of Japan.

Here’s the story, A Tale of Two Cities. You may want to read it from the source as it has a lot more links than I’ve included here.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And when it comes to broadband, Tokyo is a long way from Little Rock.

The Japanese enjoy broadband speeds that are up to 30 times faster than what’s available here at a far lower cost. This faster, cheaper, universal broadband access – according to an excellent article in today’s Washington Post – “is pushing open doors to Internet innovation that are likely to remain closed for years to come in much of the United States.”

To the Japanese, our “high-speed” Internet service doesn’t look much different from dial-up:

The speed advantage allows the Japanese to watch broadcast-quality, full-screen television over the Internet, an experience that mocks the grainy, wallet-size images Americans endure.

Ultra-high-speed applications are being rolled out for low-cost, high-definition teleconferencing, for telemedicine — which allows urban doctors to diagnose diseases from a distance — and for advanced telecommuting to help Japan meet its goal of doubling the number of people who work from home by 2010.

What’s the secret of Japan’s success? Open access.

Less than a decade ago, DSL service in Japan was slower and pricier than in the United States. So the Japanese government mandated open access policies that forced the telephone monopoly to share its wires at wholesale rates with new competitors. The result: a broadband explosion.

Not only did DSL get faster and cheaper in Japan, but the new competition actually forced the creaky old phone monopoly to innovate. As the Post explains:

Competition in Japan gave a kick in the pants to Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT), once a government-controlled enterprise and still Japan’s largest phone company. With the help of government subsidies and tax breaks, NTT launched a nationwide build-out of fiber-optic lines to homes, making the lower-capacity copper wires obsolete.

“Obviously, without the competition, we would not have done all this at this pace,” said Hideki Ohmichi, NTT’s senior manager for public relations.

If this quaint idea of “competition” seems familiar, that’s because America invented “open access” policies in the first place. And open access worked for decades to bring lower prices and more choices in long-distance phone service and dial-up Internet access.

The Japanese first adopted open access because they were worried about falling behind us. But under pressure from our own phone and cable monopolists, the Bush administration abandoned open access – and the fundamental protections for Net Neutrality along with it.

Now they’re standing idly by as America drops further and further behind the rest of the world in every measure of broadband progress.

But instead of recognizing their mounting failures and charting a new course (or really, just getting back on the old one), our policymakers prefer to shoot the messenger.

Which bring us to Little Rock.

On Tuesday, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor hosted a public hearing on high-speed Internet access. Rural groups, educators and librarians turned out to decry the lack of broadband service and high-tech opportunities in their communities.

“We have not successfully transitioned into the information age, and I would contend a lot of that is because we’re not delivering broadband to our people,” testified Rex Nelson of the Delta Regional Authority, according to a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Having access to broadband in even the most rural areas of our country is as important as getting that electricity to them and air conditioning to them back in the 1940s and the 1950s.”

Also on hand were FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein — two notable exceptions to the usual inside-the-Beltway blindness on broadband issues. They bemoaned America’s digital decline.

“While some have protested the international broadband penetration rankings,” Adelstein said, alluding to some of his colleagues at the Commission, “the fact is the U.S. has dropped year-after-year. This downward trend and the lack of broadband value illustrate the sobering point that when it comes to giving our citizens affordable access to state-of the-art communications, the U.S. has fallen behind its global competitors.”

Copps called the lack of a national broadband policy “tantamount to playing Russian roulette with our future.”

“Each and every citizen of this great country should have access to the wonders of communications,” Copps said. “I’m not talking about doing all these people some kind of feel-good, do-gooder favor by including them. I’m talking about doing America a favor. I’m talking about making certain our citizens can compete here at home and around the world with those who are already using broadband in all aspects of their lives.”

Bringing the benefits of broadband to all Americans would seem like a no-brainer for any politician. But if the reaction thus far from the White House and the majority at the FCC is any indication, you’d think Copps and Adelstein were speaking in Japanese.


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