Big Cable has American Internet access held firmly in its grasp. In many parts of America, Big Cable is the only high-speed wired Internet option available or is far superior in quality to its nearest competitor. That means often subscribers have no choice in which ISP they use for the best quality Internet service. This puts Big Cable in an even more advantageous position, one in which it can adjust pricing to its advantage without losing customers. That’s exactly what is happening as Big Cable pursues data caps and usage-based billing. Yet despite this Big Cable is still growing, as more and more DSL Internet users are switching to faster cable Internet.
Inequality in Internet access is a problem that is not improving. In 2013, there were only 8% of Americans households that had smartphone only access to the Internet. However, that number has grown and is now 13%. The people who fall into that category are those who cannot afford the monthly cost of wired high speed Internet, people who are minorities and low-income households. Rural Americans who do not have the option of wired high speed Internet where they live are also amongst those who are smartphone only households for fast Internet.
The same couple of Big Cable companies are not the answer to universal accessibility for high speed Internet. The monopoly situation that exists in most markets throughout the country will always lead to a situation where there are “haves” and “have nots.” Yet if private funds were creatively channeled in the right direction, there are alternatives that can make accessibility a reality.
America needs to take a closer look at where we are investing money when it comes to Internet technology. The priority should immediately and for the foreseeable future be fiber optic networks. By starting with the most recent technology, we will be better equipped for the future of high speed Internet installation. Investing any money in cable, copper or DSL technologies is taking a step away from progress.
Investing in the development of fiber optic networks is a great idea, but it doesn’t just happen overnight. Even if a community is ready to move forward, there are many roadblocks that can slow things down. Permitting and getting rights of way require applications, negotiations, and review periods that can take extensive amounts of time and differ in each community. A streamlined process that is uniform nationwide would greatly increase the speed at which fiber optic networks reach more of the country.
Another issue that slows down installation of new fiber optic cables is the need to share underground conduits and poles. These facilities are necessary for building a fiber optic network, however, for each project an agreement needs to be worked out with competitors to use them. These competitors are not happy about the arrival of fiber optic speeds and have no incentive to act fast. However, a solution is to create a “single pole administrator” like the state of Connecticut did. Doing so eliminates the right of existing providers to block progress.
The federal government can help to finance the progress of Internet access by creating tax incentives for those who help to finance the installation of fiber optic networks through the purchase of municipal bonds. Because interest income from such types of bonds is non-taxable, it makes them very attractive to those looking for long term investments. Fiber optic network expansion is an integral part of communications infrastructure that will show returns long-term.
In order to make high speed Internet accessibility universal throughout the nation, the American government needs to step in and create an institution that can propel these, and other, strategies forward. While there is sure to be argument from Big Cable and DSL providers stating that fiber optic network development is too expensive, the reality is that with a life expectancy of 30 years and inexpensive maintenance costs, a fiber optic network is the cost-effective way of the future for universal Internet access.