Bust the telecom trusts

A national Internet plan ignores the dominance of industry monopolies.

Instead of forking out more money just to wait for a podcast to download, imagine spending $33 a month for Internet twice as fast, bundled with high-definition television and unlimited long-distance calling. This is not some wild utopian vision; itâÄôs France. Similar levels of service are widely available in many European and East Asian countries. Relative to other developed countries, American Internet service is almost laughable, and itâÄôs more expensive to boot. Average download speeds putter along at just 4 megabits per second. A 2009 U.N. report stated the United States ranked 17th in the world back in 2007 in adopting new information and communication technologies. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission made a belated attempt to catch up with global competitors when it released its National Broadband Plan, which will guide an expansion and improvement in American Internet access over the next 10 years. Included in the strategy are some bold goals, including bringing 100-megabit-per-second download speeds into 100 million homes by 2020 and building the worldâÄôs fastest wireless Internet system. Unfortunately, the FCCâÄôs patchwork of policy proposals, which include redirecting subsidies away from rural telephone toward rural broadband, would leave entrenched near-monopolies in the U.S. communications industry untouched; essentially, the current plan tries to improve access without reduced costs. Affordability is a vital component of improved access, though, and ensuring viable competition is the easiest way to make broadband affordable. The National Broadband Plan wonâÄôt be successful until it regulates uncompetitive markets.