Saturday, August 22, 2015

American internet access: The exceptional dream, the terrible reality

Americans think of themselves as exceptional in many ways. But too often the reality is harshly different. Internet access is one example explored by Bill Moyers in a 2013 program from his Moyers and Company. (I offer this one to you ICYMI (in case you missed it - I certainly did!)

The interview with Susan Crawford is in this Facebook post and linked elsewhere.

Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation, and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, joins Bill to discuss how our government has allowed a few powerful media conglomerates to put profit ahead of the public interest — rigging the rules, raising prices, and stifling competition. As a result, Crawford says, all of us are at the mercy of the biggest business monopoly since Standard Oil in the first Gilded Age a hundred years ago.

"The rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out, and this means that we’re creating, yet again, two Americas, and deepening inequality through this communications inequality," Crawford tells Bill.

Europe, for example, enjoys very fast fiber optic connectivity. America is stuck with slower copper wire. And we pay two to three times as much for that inferior service. As a society, we pay in other ways: the income disparity in America is correlated with access to the internet. Poorer households tend not to have access. So the transmission of our very culture is restricted to the richer Americans. And all that is due to the regulatory environment - or lack of it - and the failure of the "free market" to operate for the good of the consumer.

Moyers closed the interview by eliciting Crawford's reactions to three topics.

The need: "All Americans need a fast cheap connection to the internet"
The problem: "A few companies control access in America and its not in their interest to bring that fast cheap access to us all."
The solution: "The solution is for people to care about this issue, ask hard questions at every debate, make sure you elect people who will act, and give your mayor air cover so he or she can act to make sure that your city has this fast competitive access."

Postscript: There was an effort to get Crawford appointed as FCC chairwoman. See, for example, this change.org page. But the job went to another guy from the industry; here is the bio at FCC.

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