US is a broadband laggard, according to FCC commissioner

Ars Technica just posted an article regarding broadband availability in the US. To quote the article:

It seems like everybody agrees on an essential point: access to “quality,” reasonably priced broadband is crucial in this day and age. Unfortunately, we’re not even close in the US. Yes, the nation’s two largest telecoms are at this moment rolling out new fiber optic networks. Better yet, consumers in areas served by Verizon’s new FiOS network are seeing the benefits of increased competition: some cable providers in those areas are bumping speeds up to 15Mbps/1.5Mbps. However, fiber deployments are slow and selective, leaving most Americans out in the cold.

We may be looking at a radically different landscape in five years, with WiMAX, BPL, cable, DSL, and municipal WiFi networks offering consumers a host of equally-good choices. That rosy outcome is by no means guaranteed—there’s much that has to be done in the interim to make it a reality.

I couldn’t agree more. Look at Japan: basic broadband is 24 – 40Mbps, and runs the equivalent of around $20 per month. Alternately, where FttC is available, customers can get 50 – 100Mbps, for $30 – $45 per month. Right now, I pay $65 per month for 6Mbps service through Comcast, including the 15 channels I’m required to sign up for. Technically, I don’t have to sign up for those 15 channels; however, the price for service to those without any TV services goes up such that it ends up being about a dollar cheaper to add the TV stations – and besides, my girlfriend watches TV, so I suppose that’s fine. Also, that 6M service can burst over 12M when I’ve got the network to myself; it can also go down for hours at a time when it rains, or slow down to sub-200k speeds during peak times. And it’s $65 a month.

DSL in my area isn’t exactly better; they just rolled out 6M service, and are moving toward 12M and eventually 24M (via two lines). However, that 6M service is not available without phone service; for 6M service and a phone line (which I won’t use other than for DSL), the price comes to $65, before taxes, surcharges, fees, installation, equipment, and so on.

Basically, Americans sit around thinking we’re the kings of the Interweb, but, lo and behold, we’re barely even on the list. We’re no higher than 15th place in terms of broadband penetration, and 21st place when you factor in cost, speed and availability. And to think, we pioneered this thing.

What’s the big holdup? Well, Japan managed what they’ve accomplished through government sponsorship of their telco, NTT DoCoMo. NTT serves every Japanese person with telephone service; it is a regulated monopoly. NTT offers phone, broadband, wireless, and TV. They also have the advantage of shorter distances; DSL offers better speeds the closer you are to your CO, allowing the more densely-packed Japan to offer higher speeds to more people. It also means a fiber rollout requires fewer miles of fiber to be laid down.

America could accomplish the same thing, but it won’t – it’s just too socialist for us. We’d rather foster competition: some local municipalities are offering broadband wireless, and some power companies are starting to talk about maybe eventually rolling out broadband over power lines (BPL). Both of these are great options; however, the wireless technology just isn’t there yet, and there are still spectrum hurdles to be overcome. BPL is a great prospect, with the capability of huge speeds at low cost; however, it’s a long way off, and the cost to the consumer is entirely decided by the provider. If the broadband market hasn’t changed much by the time these offerings arrive, the providers may see little incentive to end the price gouging – it’s more profitable to join in.