Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How The U.S. Could Get the High Speed Internet it Deserves

America’s standing in international rankings of internet speed resembles our performance in math and science education – here’s how that could finally change

  • June 16, 2011

Everyone whose access to business-critical emails slows to a crawl as they simultaneously perform the all-too-necessary tasks of streaming Netflix to multiple devices whlie torrenting last night’s episode of Game of Thrones knows that Internet speeds in the U.S. are borderline unacceptable. How is it that the “world’s richest country” comes in at number 18 in internet speed, well behind, for example, former Soviet client states?

The Czech Republic’s potassium is superior to all other potassium. Oh and its Internet speeds make ours look like a joke.

Fortunately, help is on the way – even if none of these options are a quick fix.

1. Kill TV, use the bandwidth for Internet

Cable equipment provider Arris is about to demonstrate 4.5 GBps download speeds and 575 Mbps upstream on existing cable network infrastructure. That’s as fast as fiber-optic networks. Only problem? Doing so requires using more channels in the cable stream and bonding them into one ultra-fat pipe.

That means fewer channels for regular TV. Considering that the entire pay TV infrastructure subsidizes the existing cable Internet infrastructure, how likely is that?

There is one possibility: if all TV turns into IPTV (TV signals transmitted with the same protocols that rule the Internet) it could conceivably eliminate the need for the existing bandwidth for cable TV, or at least cram it into a more-compressed IPTV stream on existing infrastructure.

2. Introduce competition into Internet service providers

Phone company or Cable service provider? That’s about as much choice as most of us get when it comes to internet service providers. What if someone else came along who wasn’t interested in using their power over the physical infrastructure connected to your house to charge you usurious rates for the privilege of sharing your Internet connection with every bittorrenting teenager on the block?

In California, ISP Sonic.net is rolling out fiber optic cables to the home for $70 / month. It offers speeds 600x faster than base cable Internet service, which is only $30 / month less. “I believe that removing the artificial limits on speed, and including home phone with the product are both very exciting,” Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper told Ars Technica.

3. Wait for the situation to get so bad that someone finds a way to treat Internet service like the public good it is

Slow internet ultimately hurts the bottom line of companies like Google. That’s why they’re giving away fiber optic connections in Kansas City, MO. They claim they have no interest in becoming a nation-wide ISP, but it’s obvious that they’re trying to goose the monopolists into providing better service by showing what a model Internet experience looks like.

And if existing service providers drag their feet long enough, maybe Google will come up with an ad-supported experience that makes a Google-branded ISP a reality, after all.

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