Commentary

Lamenting The High Cost Of Broadband

Is bandwidth similar to oil? Yes, in one important respect, says Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law.

"Production is controlled by a tiny cartel that sets prices high and keeps them there," Wu said today at a press conference about broadband access at the Personal Democracy Forum.

The analogy impressed fellow speaker Vinc Cerf, widely credited as the father of the Internet. "Wow. That's cool, Tim," he responded.

Both were speaking at the launch of Internetfor Everyone.org, a Web site that aims "to make universal, affordable high-speed Internet access a national priority." The event was organized by Internet access advocacy group Free Press.

Joining Wu and Cerf on stage was FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who lamented what he called eight years of failed broadband policy. "It's clear that what we are doing in Washington isn't working," Adelstein said.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, offered some discouraging statistics. Only around 50% of American households have high-speed Web service, while 10 million rural Americans have no access to broadband.

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Other speakers included Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America-East, and Brad Burnham, a partner in Union Square Ventures.

Speaker after speaker decried the sorry state of broadband availability in the U.S. but without discussing any concrete proposals. In fact, during the Q&A, one of the journalists present, Wired's newly hired Steven Levy, asked how broadband was supposed to improve when no one was suggesting any specific reforms.

But at least some of the speakers indicated that reform needs to begin with a change in expectations. Wu pointed out that between mobile service and Internet connections, some households are spending as much on bandwidth as on energy -- yet precipitating little of the same complaints about cost. "We've just accepted that bandwidth is something that American families will spend hundreds of dollars on a month," he said.

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