But, as freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) might say, the system is rigged. Fully one-third of Americans can’t afford high-speed Internet. The rest are overpaying for substandard service in a so-called market that has been carved up by cable and telecom monopolists.
This has led to an increasing digital divide. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the one in five adults who still does not use the Internet is more likely to be older, less educated, and low-income, and less likely to speak English as a native language.
Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have bought their way in Washington and stymied regulators in the courts, successfully weakening nearly all protections for consumers and the public interest. This doesn’t just threaten American pocketbooks. It threatens American democracy. Media giants use their market power to dominate telecommunications start-ups, stifling entrepreneurship. They’re waging war on the concept of “net neutrality,” which would prevent broadband providers from blocking sites or competing applications so that consumers have equal access to all information.
Worst of all, these corporate conglomerates are increasingly using their market power to dominate content businesses. A handful of media giants are controlling not only how we access information but also what information we have access to.
Enter Susan Crawford, a leading telecommunications policy expert and longtime champion of net neutrality. She promotes a reasonably priced, globally competitive, ubiquitous communications infrastructure that enables American competition and innovation. Above all, she is committed to making high-speed Internet access a universal, affordable resource.
In her new book, “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” Crawford relays how, 10 years ago, the United States led the Internet revolution, with the fastest speeds and bargain prices. Today that global competitive advantage has all but vanished. The government’s refusal to adequately regulate telecommunications has resulted in restrictive monopolies that have allowed countries such as Japan and South Korea to surpass us in broadband speed and price.
This steady slide backward not only deprives consumers of services vital to a competitive employment and business market, it also threatens the economic future of the nation. Meanwhile, despite huge technological progress, nobody is building the advanced networks that are now possible.