America's Internet Sucks So Much, Even Libertarians Are Complaining

Senior Contributor
05.29.12 2 Comments

We don’t mean to tease libertarians, but it’s just so easy when they automatically default to “the free market solves everything!” on the Internet, usually in response to somebody whose dad was just told a newly discovered flesh-eating disease currently eating his leg is a “pre-existing condition.”

To be fair, though, the intellectuals involved will often write intelligent rebuttals to common wisdom. For example, we don’t agree with Timothy B. Lee’s paper, written for the Cato Institute, about how net neutrality laws are totally unnecessary, but it’s a fascinating read and it makes some good points.

Or rather, it made some good points, because now Lee is taking it back — and calling for government regulation, which is a bit akin to the Pope saying that Richard Dawkins guy has some good ideas about religion, in some quarters.

While I’m still skeptical about the wisdom of network neutrality regulations, I’ve become more concerned about the state of the broadband market in the four years since writing that paper. In a March article for National Affairs, I made a case for regulatory action to prevent further consolidation of the largest broadband firms.

What changed my thinking was less the theoretical arguments set out in that piece than it was a sequence of developments in the telecom marketplace, all of which forced me to reexamine my own assumptions about the state of US broadband.

Lee offers an interesting overview of what’s gone wrong since he wrote that paper. Essentially, though, it boils down to this: American telecom companies aren’t investing in infrastructure and in fact doing their level best to limit broadband penetration and speeds, so that those can be dictated on their terms for as much money as possible to as many communities as possible.

A good example is the fact that Verizon has stopped building FiOS, even though several major cities like Boston and Philadelphia don’t have FiOS networks. Why? Because those cities demanded that they wire the entire city, not just the rich parts, and that they follow public access rules. Once they had to offer Internet to, ew, the poors, who might not want to pay a hundred bucks a month, Verizon suddenly lost interest.

Pair this up with Comcast’s ongoing middle finger to Netflix and it pretty rapidly becomes clear that there’s something rotten going on. And, really, even though the FCC is apparently all “Yay capped broadband!,” when even the Libertarians are complaining, it might be time to acknowledge something has gone wrong.

(Image courtesy Taramisu on Flickr)

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