Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

April 16, 2014

Cable guys too slow with Internet upgrade

Remember the good-old 1990s, when you could make a pot of coffee while waiting for the screeching dial-up modem to connect to the Internet at a leisurely 9.6 kilobits per second?

Two decades later, the average American household’s connection is 1,000 times speedier, at 9.8 megabits per second. But it needs to be faster.

Connectivity in the United States is slower, and costs more, than in most of the world. Many European and Asian countries are upgrading to 1 gigabit per second — 100,000 times faster — before most U.S. households have 100 megabits per second, the rate experts consider true high-speed Internet (1,000 megabits equals 1 gigabit).

The U.S. needs to catch up quickly, because a nation with inferior Internet service is destined to be less productive. A national campaign is needed to encourage installation of superfast fiber-optic networks like those available (or soon to be) in Kansas City; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Provo, Utah; and a few other cities.

If you count the sheer number of broadband connections (at least 256 kilobits per second), the U.S. looks pretty good: It outranks all others in the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet on a per-capita basis, it’s just average. About 100 million households don’t subscribe to broadband; 19 million don’t even have access to it.

Most of those broadband connections, at any rate, are old- fashioned coaxial cable (what the cable companies use), digital subscriber lines connected to a modem (what telephone companies provide), or wireless connections.

As for the average cost of broadband, the U.S. stands at 58 out of 90 countries — well above the median. The typical U.S. household pays $89 a month.

Most alarming is that just 2.3 percent of U.S. homes have a fixed fiber-optic connection, the gold standard of Internet service. Even Turkey and Slovenia have a larger share.

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