Recently the Federal Communications Commission announced that it wanted to create a free super Wi-Fi network across the country, virtually eliminating a monthly internet bill. Naturally, the telecommunication giants and the lawmakers in Congress who protect them are opposed. In Europe, internet users enjoy inexpensive, high speed access to a broadband, phone, and cable TV package for as little as $40 a month. The phone service has unlimited local calling and a lot of free international calls.
Bloomberg View contributor and visiting professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School, Susan Crawford notes that Americans pay a high price for slow and bad internet connections at a time when “the internet has taken the place of the telephone as the world’s basic, general-purpose, two-way communication medium“. In the article, she describes how a city in Louisiana brought cheaper, high speed internet to its community despite opposition from the telephone and local cable companies:
Terry Huval is a large, friendly man with a lilting Southern accent who plays Cajun fiddle tunes in his spare time. He is also the director of utilities in Lafayette, Louisiana. “Our job is making sure we listen to our citizens,” he says.
In 2004, the Lafayette utilities system decided to provide a fiber-to-the-home service. The new network, called LUS Fiber, would give everyone in Lafayette a very fast Internet connection, enabling them to lower their electricity costs by monitoring and adjusting their usage.
Push-back from the local telephone company, BellSouth Corp., and the local cable company, Cox Communications Inc., was immediate. They tried to get laws passed to stop the network, sued the city, even forced the town to hold a referendum on the project — in which the people voted 62 percent in favor. Finally, in February 2007, after five civil lawsuits, the Louisiana Supreme Court voted, 7-0, to allow the network.
From 2007 to mid-2011, people living in Lafayette saved $5.7 million on telecommunications services.
Prof. Crawford joined Bill Moyers on Moyers & Company to discuss why U.S. internet access is slow, costly and unfair
Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation, and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, joins Bill to discuss how our government has allowed a few powerful media conglomerates to put profit ahead of the public interest – rigging the rules, raising prices, and stifling competition. As a result, Crawford says, all of us are at the mercy of the biggest business monopoly since Standard Oil in the first Gilded Age a hundred years ago.
“The rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out, and this means that we’re creating, yet again, two Americas, and deepening inequality through this communications inequality,” Crawford tells Bill.