The United States may have invented the internet, but today it lags abysmally far behind countries like South Korea and Japan. As President-Elect, Barack Obama said, “It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption.”
The problem is “a total lack of competition,” Nicolas Thompson writes for the Washington Monthly. Telecom companies have successfully neutered legislative attempts to force competition, giving near-monopolies on home internet service to phone and cable companies. Some hope that the new stimulus package could help, but the money devoted to bringing new broadband to the United States will likely be dwarfed by the $3.4 billion South Korea is putting into Green IT. GigaOM reports that by 2012, South Koreans may enjoy internet speeds that are 200 times faster than the typical DSL line in the United States.
There are a few possible solutions. Thompson suggests that the US government should create a public entity like the post office to provide internet to Americans. “Private companies would compete,” Thompson writes, “just as UPS and FedEx compete with the postal service.” The competition could force telecom companies to clean up their acts and give globally competitive service to customers.
“America built the world’s first computers, and then along came Microsoft. America pioneered the Internet, and along came Google,” Thompson writes. Without drastic changes to the United States broadband infrastructure, “It’s hard, however, to imagine that the technologies of the future will be hatched here.”
Image by Jay Cuthrell, licensed under Creative Commons.