In the 1970s, communities began handing out exclusive franchises to cable companies that could bring remote entertainment into homes. Over the next 20 years, the cable companies consolidated and swapped system franchises. By the mid-1980s, the phone companies wanted to expand their bandwidth to allow video delivery, too, but said they couldn’t attract the needed capital unless they were released from the conditions imposed on them by the AT&T breakup.
The arrival of commercial Internet communications in the mid-1990s posed a threat to both the phone and cable companies; eventually, the FCC deregulated the entire sector, thinking that competition among various modalities of Internet access - cable, phone, wireless, satellite - would protect Americans. And in 2002, when the five-year period of deregulation began, there was indeed rough parity in speed and price between the cable companies and telephone companies providing Internet access.
Soon, however, cable companies found a way to upgrade their networks to provide connections perhaps 100 times faster than what was possible over copper wires, and at much lower expense than the phone companies incurred replacing their phone lines.
The American copper wire telephone system is, in fact, becoming obsolete. The physical switches used in the network are reaching the end of their useful lives. But now that cable has won the battle for wired Internet service and consumers are moving to mobile phones for voice service, the telephone companies are looking to shed the obligation to maintain their networks at all.
Meanwhile, the United States is rapidly losing the global race for high-speed connectivity, as fewer than 8 percent of households have fiber service. And almost 30 percent of the country still isn’t connected to the Internet at all.
To fix this problem, a new approach is needed.
The first step is to decide what the goal of telecommunications policy should be. Network access providers - and the FCC - are stuck on the idea that not all Americans need high-speed Internet access. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan of March 2010 suggested that the minimum appropriate speed for every American household by 2020 should be 4 megabits per second for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. These speeds are enough, the FCC said, to reliably send and receive e-mail, download Web pages and use simple video conferencing. The commission also said it wanted to ensure that, by 2020, at least 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps.
Such rates wouldn�����t be difficult. Comcast Corp. is already selling its 100-megabit service in the richest American communities, though it costs $200 a month. In a sense, the FCC adopted the cable companies’ business plan as the country’s goal. The commission’s embrace of asymmetric access - slower upload than download speeds - also serves the carriers’ interests: Only symmetric connections would allow every American to do business from home rather than use the Internet simply for high-priced entertainment.
Other countries have different goals. The South Korean government announced a plan to install 1 gigabit per second of symmetric fiber data access in every home by 2012. Hong Kong, Japan and the Netherlands are heading in the same direction. Australia plans to get 93 percent of homes and businesses connected to fiber. In Britain, a 300 Mbps fiber-to-the-home service will be offered on a wholesale basis.
The current 4 Mbps Internet access goal is unquestionably shortsighted. It allows the digital divide to survive, and ensures that the U.S. will stagnate.
A smarter goal would be to give most Americans access to reasonably priced 1 Gb symmetric fiber-to-the-home networks. This would mean 1,000 Mbps connections, speeds hundreds of times faster than what most Americans have today. Only fiber can meet the growing demand for data transmission.
Think of it this way: With a dialup connection, backing up 5 gigabytes of data (now the standard free plan offered by many storage companies) would take 20 days. Over a standard (3G) wireless connection, it would take two and a half days. Over a 4G connection it would be more than seven hours, and over a cable DOCSIS 3.0 connection, an hour and a half. With a gigabit fiber-to-the-home connection, it can be done in less than a minute.
If the U.S. had a fully fiber-based network, Hollywood blockbusters could be downloaded in 12 seconds, video conferencing would become routine, and every household could see 3D and Super HD images. Americans could be connected instantly to their co-workers, their families, their teachers and their health-care monitors.
To make this happen, though, the U.S. needs to move to a utility model, based on the assumption that all Americans require fiber-optic Internet access at reasonable prices.
How much would it cost to bring fiber to the homes of all Americans? Corning Inc., the American glass manufacturer, and others have estimated that it would take between $50 billion and $90 billion.
The Internet has taken the place of the telephone as the world’s basic, general-purpose, two-way communication medium. All Americans need high-speed access, just as they need clean water, clean air and electricity. But they have allowed a naive belief in the power and beneficence of the free market to cloud their vision. As things stand, the U.S. has the worst of both worlds: no competition and no regulation.
Susan Crawford is a contributor to Bloomberg View and a visiting professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School. She is a former special assistant to President Barack Obama for science, technology and innovation policy.
Akamai: Average U.S. Internet Speed Up 28% YoY, Now At 7.4 Mbps, But South Korea, Japan And Hong Kong Still Far Ahead
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Akamai published its quarterly “State of the Internet” report for the last quarter of 2012 today. The report, as usual, looks at global Internet speeds, as well as the state of Internet security, the number if IPv4 numbers in use and other similar metrics.
Internet speeds, of course, are the most interesting numbers for users in this report. South Korea has long been in the lead in this category, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Interestingly, though, the average Internet speed in South Korea has slowed down a bit lately. At an average speed of 14 Mbps, South Korean Internet users now surf 4.8 percent slower than last quarter and 13 percent slower than a year ago.
In the U.S., Akamai found, the average connection now clocks in at 7.4 Mbps. That’s up a respectable 28 percent year-over-year and 2.3 percent since last quarter and enough to rank the U.S. No. 8 on Akamai’s list. Currently, about 19 percent of U.S. Internet connections deliver speeds over 10 Mbps+ connections. It’s encouraging to see that this number increased 90 percent since last year, though growth in this metric seems to have stalled a bit, as the U.S. only registered a low 5.5 percent increase since last quarter.
Overall, the 10 countries with the fastest connections saw relatively minor speed increases over the last quarter, ranging from just 0.1 percent in the Netherlands to 7.4 percent in Sweden. Globally, though, the average connection speed grew by 25 percent year-over-year. The only country to see a major dip in speeds since the last quarter was Guatemala (39 percent).
As for mobile connectivity, Akamai reports that its partner Ericsson found that mobile data traffic around the world grew 28 percent in the last quarter alone and doubled year-over-year. Android and Apple’s Mobile Safari are almost even here when it comes to connections over cellular networks (35.3 percent vs. 32.6 percent), but taking all connections into account (that is, including Wi-Fi), Apple accounts for 58.7 percent of requests compared to 21.7 percent for Android Webkit.
In this quarter’s report, Akamai is also taking a closer look at DDoS attacks. The company says its own customers reported 768 attacks in 2012, a 200 percent year-over-year increase. While this is not necessarily representative of the Internet as a whole, it’s yet another indication that the number of these attacks across the Interent continues to increase.