Internet Service, the New York Times and Choice in the World of Mono-Duo-poly Capitalism

What Planet is the Times Orbiting?

Today’s New York Times editorial page included a piece titled “How Fast Is Your Broadband?“. It provides a reasonable review of the sad performance of the Internet service providers in the US. It is widely known that Internet service providers like Comcast, Time-Warner and locally Mid-Hudson Cable chronically provide significantly less than their advertising claims. Here in Hudson, NY Mid-Hudson claims “blazing speeds” of 5 MB/sec (download). Repeated measurements, now numbering over 280 in the last six months prove that they provide speeds 30% less than this mark. Service technicians from M-H have acknowledged that this is the typical service they provide.

Worse is that the latency frequently reaches 2 seconds instead of being under the 100 milliseconds that is commonly accepted as OK latency on the Internet.. This means that after your click your mouse on a link in a browser, you can literally count “1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi” before you get any response to your query. This latency disables common communications tools like VOIP telephone services and audio and video services via Skype or Google.

As the NYTImes points out there are no standards for Internet services. So, in addition to the great American scam of false and misleading advertising, when you complain to your Internet service provider they simple say, “Well, we don’t agree on how you are measuring the service” Our data shows something entirely different.

Would You Accept This Electric Service?

Let us consider another utility that we count on and convert some of this bad service into something more tangible. Suppose the next time you turned on a light in your home or office, the bulb only vaguely glowed because the electric utility decided that today they would only provide 80 volts instead of the 115 volts. Lets add to this that when you turned on the light nothing happened for “1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi” and we  added a bunch of jittering around to the voltage so that light slowly oscillated in intensity. That is what Internet service in the US today is.

Add to this terrible service the fact that US providers are receiving substantially more money than their brethren in many parts of the world who are also providing much better services.

So, now we come to the last paragraph of the “How Fast Is Your Broadband?” editorial. This is where the Times goes off to some other planet. “The objective should be federally mandated standards of measurement and disclosure that consumers can rely on when deciding which online service to use.” The fact of the matter is that there is no choice in almost any Internet service market in the US. Basically we either have a monopoly or at best a duopoly. Here in Hudson, we can choose between M-H, a cable TV centered franchise or Verizon that provides DSL service. That is not a choice. DSL simply does not and never will provide the speed required to support real Internet interactivity. So, this leaves us with M-H. Some choice.

Where Is the Choice?

If we had a real choice, all of these words here would never have been written. But, in the case of Internet service, it seems unlikely that a duplicate infrastructure could ever make economic sense. So, where are we left. Seems that government action is required. First,  a serious effort to develop and deploy standards is a must. Second, in the short run, false and misleading advertising must be stopped. Third, some sort of effort like the rural electrification and universal telephone service of the 1930s will be required. If we leave capitalism to its usual performance, the poor and all of the rural population will be left out of the Internet revolution. Maybe if we surveyed where the editorial board of the NY Times lives we would find that they are already inside the bubble of the real world of broadband and therefore don’t know or care that the rest of us have s choice between marginal and bad Internet services.