While a recent court ruling has stopped the FCC from enforcing net neutrality for the time being, the internet in America has another serious problem. It’s slow.
That’s all relative of course. There are many places with slower internet connections. Middle Eastern and African countries like Syria and Cameroon have average connection speeds lower than 1 megabit per second (Mbps). Among developed countries though, our competitors in the online marketplace, the U.S. is far behind.
The latest Akamai State of the Internet report placed the U.S. tenth on its list of average connection speeds by country at 10 Mbps. Next to Syria and Cameroon that doesn’t sound too bad, but when you learn that the next countries up on the list are Ireland and Latvia at 10.4 Mbps, it becomes clear that something is wrong.
The world’s internet leader, South Korea, has an average connection speed of 21.9 Mbps as well as lower prices for broadband internet. So why is it that the country that invented the internet is falling so far behind? The obvious answer is that South Korea is a small country and the U.S. is a large country. While that is true and size plays a big role in setting up broadband infrastructure, that is only a small part of the story.
The real reason South Koreans have the fastest internet connections on the planet and America falls behind Ireland is that the South Korean people let their government know that the internet is important to them, while Americans have not.
Improving the internet is an ongoing national project in South Korea. The internet service providers operate in an environment that encourages competition and rewards innovation. Their American counterparts operate in a stagnant environment that discourages competition and offers little to no reason to invest in better infrastructure.
According to the FCC, 67 percent of Americans have two or fewer options when it comes to choosing an ISP, while 28 percent have only one choice. Virtually all South Koreans can choose between their country’s three major ISPs. With so little competition, there is just no reason for American ISPs to improve service or lower prices.
The FCC has begun to consider a possible step to change that. Broadband internet is currently defined as anything higher than 4 Mbps. Since that definition is clearly outdated, the FCC is soliciting public comment on whether it should raise that threshold to somewhere between 10-25 Mbps.
While this wouldn’t solve the problem overnight, it would give ISPs an incentive to increase speed if they want to keep selling “broadband” internet. So let’s do what the South Koreans did and let our government and the FCC know that the internet is important to us and that we believe the United States ought to be a leader in information technology.
Image from Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013