Originally published: January 9, 2013
Last updated: January 9, 2013 - 9:45pm
Should broadband Internet service be treated as a basic utility in the United States, like electricity, water, and traditional telephone service? That’s the question at the heart of an important and provocative new book by Susan Crawford, a tech policy expert and professor at Cardozo Law School. In Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Guilded Age, released by Yale University Press, Crawford argues that the Internet has replaced traditional phone service as the most essential communications utility in the country, and is now as important as electricity was 100 years ago.
“Truly high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago,” Crawford writes, “but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it over to Comcast and a few other companies.” Because the U.S. government has allowed a small group of giant, highly profitable companies to dominate the broadband market, Crawford argues, American consumers have fewer choices for broadband service, at higher prices but lower speeds, compared to dozens of other developed countries, including throughout Europe and Asia. “In Seoul, when you move into an apartment, you have a choice of three or four providers selling you symmetric fiber access for $30 per month, and installation happens in one day,” Crawford said. “That’s unthinkable in the United States. And the idea that the country that invented the Internet can’t get online is beyond my imagination.”
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