Nuggets of Wisdom

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Open Thread Thursday: High Speed Internet

For the next few weeks, I'm posting open threads to promote discussion on future technology and developments, and the best political-economic policies (specifically, libertarian) by which to help bring them about. This week, we're discussing high speed internet (which, while not futuristic in and of itself, will undoubtedly facilitate emerging technologies and developments).

More than 30 years ago, the very idea of having computers interconnected with one another through a "world wide web" was still a relatively novel concept with endless possibilities. Now, most of those possibilities have since been fully realized, as the internet has become a common staple of our everyday lives. The fact you're reading this post proves that. Now we use the internet for everything from communicating with other people, buying and selling goods and services, watching movies and television shows, listening and downloading music, and receiving breaking news.

The internet remains an important aspect of our lives now, and it will only continue to do so in the near future, especially with more and more smart devices, from our refrigerators to even our light bulbs, becoming connected to the "internet of things." As such, ensuring that every single person receives the fastest, most reliable service must be high priority. Sadly, that priority still remains low.

Despite 98 percent of Americans currently having access to broadband, that still leaves two percent of Americans without such access. Many of these people live in rural areas, where 39 percent of the population lack a proper high speed connection.

Even then, Americans experience slower, more expensive service compared to their international peers. As PBS explains: "For an Internet connection of 25 megabits per second, New Yorkers pay about $55 — nearly double that of what residents in London, Seoul, and Bucharest, Romania, pay. And residents in cities such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo and Paris get connections nearly eight times faster."

The reason for America's slow and limited access, according to Gizmodo, is two-fold: "technical restraints holding back the bandwidth needed to support modern-day internet traffic, and a lack of competition between the major carriers selling internet service to the end user." Not only does our telecommunications infrastructure still rely on outdated technology, but what little capable infrastructure exists is controlled by only three major cable companies, thus providing them a virtual oligarchy with limited competition.

As always, politicians have suggested government policies by which to address these issues. Many have argued that government should take the initiative in creating broadband infrastructure. In 2015, the USDA proposed $85.8 million in funding to strengthen and provide access to high speed broadband for rural areas. Many cities have proposed and created "municipal broadband" projects, with city governments providing high speed internet; however, as Reason Magazine details, many of these services were inefficient and inevitably sold to private companies.

So what's the best way to address the problems with America's high speed internet? How can we reach rural Americans without such service? Should the government create broadband infrastructure, or should we wait until cable companies consider such infrastructure profitable enough to create themselves?

And what about the lack of competition among what few cable companies provide broadband? Should the government break up these "monopolies"? Should the government provide its own municipal broadband service to compete with private companies? Or should laws and regulations be relaxed as to better facilitate new competitors?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.