The Slow Path to High Speed

The United States is alone among major developed nations in its utter lack of a comprehensive plan for high speed internet access. Not only are many Americans missing out on the benefits of high speed internet, but as a country we are at risk of falling behind in the global economy.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., understands the problem:

We are still at the stage that having any broadband plan at all would represent an improvement.

And as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, he is in a position to start fixing it. In remarks recently to the Consumer Federation of America, Markey said his panel will focus on forging a comprehensive plan that provides affordable and fast internet access to all Americans. Specifically he wants to enhance the e-rate program, which subsidizes internet access to schools and libraries, as well as find ways to ensure every corner of American has high speed access.

A large part of the problem, though, is that the FCC currently defines high speed internet as anything above 200 kbps. That is far too low a standard; most other nations define high speed internet at least five times faster than that. Speeds in Japan can reach 2,000 times faster. As Markey noted,

Our cable modem and DSL speeds wouldn't even qualify as broadband in many countries abroad unless they arrived to the home with a good gust of wind behind them.

Further complicating matters is a lack of quality data on the current state of high speed internet access. The FCC released statistics last week on the matter, but its findings were far from complete. For example, it counts a particular zip code as having high speed access as long as just one subscriber lives there. Moreover, the FCC definition of "access" includes not just cable and ADSL service, but satellite as well, which is both expensive and delivers spotty service.

Some trends do emerge from the FCC data, though. Low-income zip codes have significantly less high-speed access than more affluent areas. The same is true of less densely populated regions compared to those with higher population densities. Once again, America's small communities and rural areas are being left in the dust.

Rep. Markey Laments State Of High-Speed Internet

Congressman Edward Markey Addresses Consumer Federation of America on High Speed Internet Policy

FCC Report: High-Speed Services for Internet Access