Print

Print


Broadband is more expensive in US:

     The French Connections
     By Paul Krugman
     The New York Times

     Monday 23 July 2007

     There was a time when everyone thought that the Europeans and  
the Japanese were better at business than we were. In the early 1990s  
airport bookstores were full of volumes with samurai warriors on  
their covers, promising to teach you the secrets of Japanese business  
success. Lester Thurow's 1992 book, "Head to Head: The Coming  
Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America," which spent more  
than six months on the Times best-seller list, predicted that Europe  
would win.

     Then it all changed, and American despondency turned into  
triumphalism. Partly this was because the Clinton boom contrasted so  
sharply with Europe's slow growth and Japan's decade-long slump.  
Above all, however, our new confidence reflected the rise of the  
Internet. Jacques Chirac complained that the Internet was an "Anglo- 
Saxon network," and he had a point - France, like most of Europe  
except Scandinavia, lagged far behind the U.S. when it came to  
getting online.

     What most Americans probably don't know is that over the last  
few years the situation has totally reversed. As the Internet has  
evolved - in particular, as dial-up has given way to broadband  
connections using DSL, cable and other high-speed links - it's the  
United States that has fallen behind.

     The numbers are startling. As recently as 2001, the percentage  
of the population with high-speed access in Japan and Germany was  
only half that in the United States. In France it was less than a  
quarter. By the end of 2006, however, all three countries had more  
broadband subscribers per 100 people than we did.

     Even more striking is the fact that our "high speed" connections  
are painfully slow by other countries' standards. According to the  
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, French broadband  
connections are, on average, more than three times as fast as ours.  
Japanese connections are a dozen times faster. Oh, and access is much  
cheaper in both countries than it is here.

     As a result, we're lagging in new applications of the Internet  
that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of  
subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn't even in the top 10.

     What happened to America's Internet lead? Bad policy.  
Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet  
policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot - or was  
persuaded by special interests to ignore - the reality that sometimes  
you can't have effective market competition without effective  
regulation.

     You see, the world may look flat once you're in cyberspace - but  
to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your  
phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling  
these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying  
whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

     America's Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal  
regulators didn't let that happen - they forced local phone companies  
to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to  
use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore  
and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications  
Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue  
- but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while  
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page ridiculed them as people  
with the minds of French bureaucrats.

     And when the Bush administration put Michael Powell in charge of  
the F.C.C., the digital robber barons were basically set free to do  
whatever they liked. As a result, there's little competition in U.S.  
broadband - if you're lucky, you have a choice between the services  
offered by the local cable monopoly and the local phone monopoly. The  
price is high and the service is poor, but there's nowhere else to go.

     Meanwhile, as a recent article in Business Week explains, the  
real French bureaucrats used judicious regulation to promote  
competition. As a result, French consumers get to choose from a  
variety of service providers who offer reasonably priced Internet  
access that's much faster than anything I can get, and comes with  
free voice calls, TV and Wi-Fi.

     It's too early to say how much harm the broadband lag will do to  
the U.S. economy as a whole. But it's interesting to learn that  
health care isn't the only area in which the French, who can take a  
pragmatic approach because they aren't prisoners of free-market  
ideology, simply do things better.

Paul Robertson

On Jul 24, 2007, at 3:26 PM, Phil Gasper wrote:

> I am uncomfortable with Eric's comment, which seems to be blaming  
> the poor for their lack of computer access.
>
> I also think that on a list about science it ought to be possible  
> to do better than make claims that begin "I bet". Why not do a  
> little research first?
>
> --PG
>
> At 1:31 PM -0400 7/24/07, Eric Entemann wrote:
>> I'll bet a lot of lower-income people have big TVs and cable, but  
>> no computer or broadband.  A computer that is adequate for  
>> broadband net access can bought new for little and used for almost  
>> nothing. The primary computer I use is an old Pentium 3 that has a  
>> value of maybe $50.  And if need be, cable TV could be sacrificed  
>> for cable broadband.  So no doubt choice is a big factor here.
>>
>> But, of course, much more needs to be done toward the provision of  
>> technology education and low-cost broadband.  And more public  
>> access to computers on the internet as alternatives to libraries  
>> and schools and Starbucks.  For example, when I visited Tucson  
>> three yy ago, I was pleased to find the Univ. of AZ computer  
>> center to be open long hours and to have free public access with  
>> no time limit. Every computer even had a CD burner available for  
>> downloads.
>>
>> ----Original Message Follows----
>> From: Sam Anderson <[log in to unmask]>
>> Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List              
>> <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Subject: Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide
>> Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 08:38:17 -0400
>>
>> Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide
>>
>> By Jose Antonio Vargas
>> Washington Post Staff Writer
>> Monday, July 23, 2007; C01
>>
>> CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Less than a mile and a half from the Citadel,  
>> the  site of the Democratic presidential debate tonight, sits  
>> Cooper River  Courts, a public housing project. Forget the Web.  
>> Never mind YouTube,  the debate's co-sponsor. Here, owning a  
>> computer and getting on the  Internet (through DSL or cable or Wi- 
>> Fi) is a luxury.
>>
>> "I am low-income and computers are not low-income," says Marcella  
>> Morris, sitting on the front step of her apartment building on a  
>> sweltering day last week.
>>
>> The unemployed 45-year-old adds: "I know how to use a computer. I  
>> just can't afford one right now."
>>
>> There exists "two Americas," as John Edwards, South Carolina's own  
>> son, likes to say: an America for the rich and an America for the  
>> poor. But what Edwards and the rest of the presidential field have  
>> yet to adequately address are the two Americas online: one that's  
>> connected to high-speed Internet -- socializing, paying bills,  
>> uploading debate questions to presidential candidates on YouTube  
>> -- and one that's not. This is the digital divide, now more than a  
>> decade old, a rarely discussed schism in which the unconnected are  
>> second-class citizens. In some parts of this so-called Internet  
>> ghetto, the screech of a telephone modem dialing up to get online  
>> is not uncommon. And with dial-up, YouTube is impossible to use.
>>
>> Between 40 to 45 percent of Charlestonians, city officials here  
>> estimate, subscribe to high-speed Internet. That figure is nearly  
>> in line with the national average, according to the nonpartisan  
>> group Free Press. And though a study released last month by the  
>> Pew Internet & American Life Project found that broadband use  
>> among African American adults increased from 14 percent in 2005 to  
>> 40 percent this year, blacks continue to lag behind whites and  
>> English- speaking Latinos. In fact, a great number of American  
>> households , especially in rural areas and poorer parts of cities  
>> such as Charleston, are without broadband.
>>
>> And in a presidential election that's being fought as much online  
>> as off it -- all campaigns employ Web strategies -- some say the  
>> candidates have generally ignored the issue.
>>
>> "I would argue that the digital divide is worse than it was 10  
>> years ago. Back then everyone -- schools, businesses -- was trying  
>> to get online. These days every single Fortune 500 company has its  
>> employees, its customers and its suppliers connected 24 hours a  
>> day, seven days a week. In the meantime, while our students have  
>> online access at school, many of them don't have it at home," says  
>> Andrew Rasiej, a member of a panel studying universal Internet  
>> access in New  York, and co-founder of TechPresident, a  
>> nonpartisan blog that tracks  the online campaign.
>>
>> "Our presidential candidates may all have BlackBerrys, but they  
>> have no vision when it comes to bringing all our citizens to the  
>> 21st century. If you go to look at the presidential candidate Web  
>> sites, the word 'Internet' practically doesn't exist. Breaking the  
>> digital divide has not been recognized as a critical issue,"  
>> Rasiej continues.
>>
>> Two months ago, TechPresident challenged the candidates to adopt  
>> specific policies to get everyone online. "Declare the Internet a  
>> public good in the same way we think of water, electricity,  
>> highways," reads a policy statement. "Commit to providing  
>> affordable high-speed wireless Internet access nationwide," reads  
>> another. So far most of the candidates have not adopted any of it,  
>> Rasiej says.
>>
>> "At one level, the YouTube debate shows that the Web has really  
>> become a centerpiece of American political culture," adds Lee  
>> Rainie,  director of Pew Internet. "At another level, it also  
>> shows that the  debate is not for everybody. It's certainly not  
>> available to all  Americans."
>>
>> That is especially true at Cooper River Courts, where Tiara Reid,  
>> 14,  in her jeans shorts and pink striped top, runs up and down  
>> the complex asking friends if anyone wants to go the library.  
>> Finally her  mom, Jossie, who works at a deli, drives her and a  
>> neighbor's daughter. With school out and without Internet access  
>> at home, the library is the only place where she can go on the Web  
>> -- for a maximum of two hours a day. Says Tiara: "It's 10 minutes  
>> to get to the library if someone drives you. It's 15 minutes if  
>> you take the 30  bus. It's about 30 minutes if you walk." On the  
>> library's second floor, she folds herself up on a chair and  
>> updates her MySpace profile, sends e-mails on her Yahoo! account  
>> and, if there's time, surfs Disney.com.
>>
>> Across from the Reids' apartment stands LaToya Ferguson, holding  
>> her grandson Marquis. She's one of the few residents here to have  
>> Internet access at home. It's a sense of pride for her. "You're  
>> falling behind if you're not online, now that's the truth," says  
>> Ferguson, a nail technician in her 30s.
>>
>> Nearby Marcella Morris runs after her son Donny, who's nearly 2.  
>> Morris says she relies on "the three F's" -- food stamps, family  
>> and friends -- to provide for Donny and her 7-year-old daughter,  
>> Jordan. Money's tight. She has a phone, subscribes to cable, but  
>> that's it. No cellphone, no car, no computer. At 3 in the morning,  
>> when an infomercial about the Web-based Specialty Merchandise  
>> Corp.comes on TV, she dreams of owning a business, she says.
>>
>> A few weeks ago, she signed up for a computer program at Trident  
>> Literacy Association, a 10-minute walk from her apartment. At the  
>> end  of the 10-week program, she will receive a refurbished  
>> computer, free.
>>
>> "Never too late to start, right?" Morris says. "But after I get  
>> the computer I have to worry about the Internet."
>>
>> It's a familiar story around the country, even in places as  
>> Internet- savvy as San Francisco, Chicago and the District. Who  
>> can get online?  Who can't? And what can be done about it?
>>
>> Charlestonians pay as little as $20 or as much as $99 (which  
>> covers phone, cable and the Internet) a month to get online,  
>> depending on the package. There are a few free Wi-Fi "hot spots"  
>> in town, such as the Cereality cafe on King Street, where a  
>> cappuccino costs $2.99.
>>
>> Nearly two years ago, officials vowed to spread Internet access  
>> across the city. An initiative called the Charleston Digital  
>> Corridor  selected a proposal to build a citywide Wi-Fi grid. It  
>> was meant to  give everybody free Wi-Fi -- and the city didn't  
>> even have to pay for  it. As in other municipalities that are  
>> developing public Wi-Fi  projects, now numbering around 400, the  
>> goal is twofold: to empower  small businesses and to plug poorer  
>> neighborhoods such as Cooper  River Courts into the online world.
>>
>> But like other cities, including San Francisco, Charleston has  
>> struggled with its Wi-Fi project. The city originally said the  
>> service would be up and running at the end of 2005. It was  
>> delayed. Twice. When it finally was launched last spring, the Wi- 
>> Fi reached only about 30 to 40 percent of its intended coverage.
>>
>> And the Charlestonians tapping into the free Wi-Fi network --  
>> sometimes more than 200 surfers a day -- were largely the ones who  
>> could already afford to pay for it.
>>
>> Now the citywide Wi-Fi project is in limbo. But Ernest Andrade,  
>> head of the Digital Corridor, is optimistic: "We're evaluating  
>> right now and I know that we'll bring Wi-Fi access to the rest of  
>> this city," he pledges. Morris sounds upbeat, too. She plans on  
>> sticking with her  10-week computer course. "Not having the  
>> Internet in this day and  time makes me feel disconnected from a  
>> whole other world. Things I  could see, things I could hear,  
>> things I could do.
>>
>> "I could take my kids to other places on the Internet," says  
>> Morris as Donny naps on her lap. "Sometimes I feel shortchanged.  
>> Not envious, but shortchanged."
>>
>> She just turned 45 three days ago. By her 46th birthday, she hopes  
>> to  own a computer -- and be online.
>>
>> --------------------------------------------------
>> s. e. anderson (author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners" -  
>> Writers + Readers) + http://blackeducator.blogspot.com
>>
>> _________________________________________________________________
>> Local listings, incredible imagery, and driving directions - all  
>> in one place! http://maps.live.com/?wip=69&FORM=MGAC01
>