The report, "Shooting the Messenger," urges policymakers to focus on the real problems that have caused America to fall dangerously behind the rest of the world in Internet adoption -- competition and availability.
Mythmaker Mike McCurry
These same companies -- including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast -- have unveiled plans to block or degrade Internet users' access to Web sites and services by erecting new toll booths on the Internet. This threat to Net Neutrality has compelled more than 1.6 million Americans to write Congress demanding legal protections for Internet freedom.
Earlier this week people from every corner of the country flooded the FCC with comments, 20 to one in support of full Net Neutrality protections.
Dismissing the Shills
Shooting the Messenger's findings dismiss many of telecommunications industry's excuses for America's failures compared to the rest of the world -- and prescribes policy solutions that would make our Internet more open, affordable and accessible to everyone.
Recent data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks the U.S. 15th in the world in broad penetration per capita, down from fourth in 2001 and 12th just six months ago. The OECD data is not alone. Reports from the International Telecommunications Union, United Nations and Communications Workers of America demonstrate nationwide problems with access, speed and affordability.
The near absolute control phone and cable giants have over America's Internet is being bolstered by a Washington establishment that's loath to upset this imbalance of power.
Papering Over Failures with Telco Talking Points
Instead of addressing America's digital decline, federal policymakers and industry representatives have attacked the methodology of researchers. Fully expect that they will 'shoot the messenger' in response to Free Press' new report or attempt to obscure the findings with a feckless veneer of telco talking points dressed up as independent research.
Report author S. Derek Turner said, "no amount of industry spin can excuse the problems caused by lack of broadband competition, or the irreparable harm to our economy if we fail to address the mounting crisis."
The Free Press report found that the critiques leveled at the OECD report fall apart under scrutiny. No matter how one measures broadband penetration the United States still ranks 15th among the 30 OECD nations. [For an understanding of how France has outpaced the U.S., read this article published today at BusinessWeek]
"There is absolutely no correlation between a country's population density and its broadband penetration," the report finds. Despite what telco shills have said, the geographical size of the United States doesn't explain the poor state of broadband adoption and availability."
According to Communications Daily, the Bush administration's top Internet official, NTIA Assistant Secretary John M.R. Kneuer, claimed that America has already met President Bush's goal of universal broadband access. Kneuer's based his claim on the recent increase in the availability of data-enabled cellular networks.
But a cell phone is no substitute for a true broadband connection -- "and if these phones were counted, the United States would fare even worse in the world rankings," the report finds.
The Solution: Competition, Accessibility and Neutrality
While U.S. consumers have at best two choices for a wired broadband connection, in Europe consumers have many choices -- sometimes dozens -- among providers on just a single platform.
Such competition brings new innovation into the market while driving down prices to the consumer. It also safeguards against the types of Net Neutrality abuses that the phone and cable duopoly explicitly have in store for American Net users.
"International rankings do matter," Turner said. "This is not just a point of pride. Each spot the United States slips represents billions in lost producer and consumer surplus, and potentially millions of real jobs lost to overseas workers."
The Prescription: Policies that Work
It's no surprise that those selling high-cost, low-speed broadband want to defend the status quo. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and their many Washington flacks are desperate to assert that everything is peachy in broadband land.
There's no need to upset a thriving free market, they crow, while quietly pressuring Washington to pass laws that lock in their near total control of our connections to the Net.
What's more worrying is the near total abdication by elected and government officials, who are allegedly in place to protect the public interest.
Policymakers who are serious about America's economic and social well-being should reject the distraction of excuses and focus on policies that bring open, affordable, high-speed broadband access to all Americans.
The public has already spoken out on the issue. We don't need more federal handouts to industry, but policies that work for us all.
-- My original post