Sunday, December 04, 2011

Susan Crawford on the state of U.S. Internet access

Susan Crawford has penned an excellent overview of the current state of Internet access in the United States in The New York Times, The New Digital Divide.

As the title of her piece suggests, Internet access is highly fragmented. Cable companies provide limited wired access in discrete, monopolistic markets in densely populated metro areas for those able to afford the $100 monthly cost (when bundled with voice phone and video) that these cablecos can increase at will absent the check and balance of market forces and rate regulation.

Meanwhile, lower income Americans who can't afford both wired and wireless access rely on wireless smartphones for Internet connectivity that costs half as much as bundled wired access. So must those who can afford wired access but can't get it at any price because of incomplete build out of wireline infrastructure. But it's not full access and comes with major disadvantages versus wired premises service. Crawford explains:

The problem is that smartphone access is not a substitute for wired. The vast majority of jobs require online applications, but it is hard to type up a résumé on a hand-held device; it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection.

It is not just inconvenient — many of these activities are physically impossible via a wireless connection. By their nature, the airwaves suffer from severe capacity limitations: the same five gigabytes of data that might take nine minutes to download over a high-speed cable connection would take an hour and 15 minutes to travel over a wireless connection.

Even if a smartphone had the technical potential to compete with wired, users would still be hampered by the monthly data caps put in place by AT&T and Verizon, by far the largest wireless carriers in America.

No comments:

Web Analytics