It’s no surprise broadband internet sucks in the US

A recent Akamai survey, which I shared here and here, ranked US in the 33rd spot (globally) when it came to broadband internet connections above 2 Mbps. Sure, it moved up two spots compared to last year, but it’s still lagging behind countries such as Monaco, Slovakia, South Korea, and believe it or not, Romania — which is where I’m living these days.

That’s sad. It’s very sad because a country such as Romania, with fewer resources than the US, and with a LOT more corruption at every level, has managed to provide better Internet services than the US. It just goes to show you how much pork barrel legislation and ridiculous lobbying can slow down an entire country’s Internet access. Why, every time a company tried to improve the way broadband worked in the US, it was eventually bought out or dragged down and kept down for the count.

Remember Telocity? It was one of the first companies to offer DSL service in the US, ahead of Ma Bell. Even though it was paying hefty amounts of money for the right to transport Internet traffic on Ma Bell’s lines, they had enormous problems with the same Ma Bell, due to problems that would somehow just happen to crop up on the same wires or the switching equipment. Then they’d have to pay more money so Ma Bell could fix their own equipment, which they’d say Telocity broke, etc., ad nauseam, and so on and so forth.

That’s just one example. Another was the more recent push to restructure the way cable services are provided (both TV and internet). One of the efforts was the a-la-carte programming initiative, and another was the push for faster and more reliable cable Internet services. You wouldn’t believe the advertising, PR and lobbying blitz the cable industry started and kept up for several months — actually, I’m fairly sure you saw their ads on TVs and buses everywhere, particularly in the Washington, DC area.

Or what about when they got together in late 2007 and 2008 to ask for an Internet tax? Remember the tiers of traffic they wanted to create? They wanted all the big websites to pay them for the traffic, as if they weren’t already getting enough money from the customers for their slow and unreliable services. They also wanted large chunks of money from the federal government in order to upgrade their infrastructure. No matter how much money they make, they’re so greedy they always want more, more, more.

What I’d like to know is how all these other countries, including Romania, can manage to offer faster and more reliable Internet services without asking for money from their countries’ government, without charging big websites for their traffic, and also by charging less per month for better broadband? How is that possible? Could it be that these companies actually know how to run their businesses while their counterparts in the US are filled with lazy, greedy idiots?

I still vividly remember an incident which happened while I was a director of IT at a Florida hospital, several years ago. A BellSouth technician had been called in to check the phone boards, and my network and servers kept going down and coming back up. The Medical Records system kept giving errors when employees wanted to access forms to fill in patient data, not to mention that other network services, like file sharing and printing, kept going on the fritz. I checked every one of the servers and they were fine. I finally walked into the switch room, at my wits’ end, only to find the moronic BellSouth employee with his fat, lazy butt on our UPS, jiggling it back and forth as he chatted with someone back at BellSouth HQ, plugging and unplugging the power supply that fed one of the main network switches. I went ballistic, grabbed him by the collar and threw him out of my switch room. Was he that stupid that he didn’t know where he was sitting? Was he such a pig that he couldn’t feel the plugs underneath him as he sat on them? He didn’t even want to apologize for taking out an entire hospital’s network during daytime hours. That’s BellSouth for you.

I don’t know how the US can get better broadband, unless it’s legislated. An ultimatum must be given by the government, one that can’t be overridden by any lobbyists or CEOs shedding crocodile tears in front of Congress. These companies simply will not get their act together until they, too, are grabbed by their collars and shaken about. They’ve gotten used to the status quo, they like it, and they’re clinging to it with all their might.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of the Internet plans you can get in Romania right now. For comparison purposes, 1 Euro is worth about $1.4 these days.

Romtelecom (the main phone carrier, provides ADSL services):

  • 2 Mbps, 2084 kbps/512 kbps, 4.88 Euro/month
  • 4 Mbps, 4096 kbps/512 kbps, 7.02 Euro/month
  • 6 Mbps, 6144 kbps/512 kbps, 9.40 Euro/month
  • 8 Mbps, 8192 kbps/768 kbps, 14.16 Euro/month
  • 20 Mbps, 20480 kbps/1024 kbps, 24.87 Euro/month

[source]

Birotec (provides fiber optic services, all plans include phone line with varying amount of minutes based on plan price):

  • 3 Mbps up/down, 10 Euro/month
  • 4 Mbps up/down, 15 Euro/month
  • 6 Mbps up/down, 20 Euro/month
  • 8 Mbps up/down, 29 Euro/month
  • 10 Mbps up/down, 49 Euro/month

[source]

RDS (provides fiber optic, cable, cellular modem and dial-up access — prices not readily available on website):

  • Fiber optic access up to 2.5 Gbps
  • Cable access up to 30 Mbps

[source]

The lowest internet access plan in Romania is 2 Mbps. Cellular modems are advertised at speeds up to 3 Mbps. Meanwhile, in the US, you can still find 512 Kbps plans at prices twice or three times as much as the 2 Mbps plans in Romania. That’s the price of complacency and excessive lobbyism.


19 thoughts on “It’s no surprise broadband internet sucks in the US

  1. And i thought i had it bad when i had 5mbps down and 850 kbps up, now that British Telecom (a private company that was state owned) has begun to install fibre to 40 million people by 2015 i have been on 40 meg down and 8 meg up since july £36 per month, you even have a choice of coaxial from Virgin Media, although some people on it say it’s not all that great.
    BT install plan http://www.superfast-openreach.co.uk/where-and-when/

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  2. Yes – coming from the UK the US service providers have been nothing but a disappointment. In the UK there are many services providers all trying to get your business with 20MBps (dsl as well as cable) and – 35 pounds (<$50) would get you 20MBps+ service with TV. The premium services now deliver 50-100 Mbps. Here I have a choice of two service providers (one dsl one cable) – the dsl is too slow, I don't understand why it's so slow, reducing the choice to one. Unsurprisingly that one service provider has no motivation to provide a good service and delivers something heinously unreliable for an extortionate price.

    I'd always considered the UK and internet backwater – it seems that backwater is really the US. With South Korea now installing 1GBps internet the US really needs to kick the lobbyists in to touch.

    I think Jim's example of the health care is good in as much as it highlights how much power the lobbyists and large corporations have here – I don't really understand US politics but it's clear that a lot more is determined by money than in other democratic countrys. At the end of the day it's the US public paying for it.

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    1. Thanks Dan, you’ve definitely got a good understanding of what’s going on. The lobbyists are much too powerful in the US, and the politicians are much too susceptible to bribes donations to their campaign funds.

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  3. I was shocked when I discovered how primitive the American internet system is. In Canada, I have had Cable internet (512KBps) since around 1997 and the price has always been affordable (between $30 and $40/month). Over the years I have upgraded until today, where for the same price I can have a 15MBps line. Plus, Canada has a huge landmass, with a population that is more spread out than in the states, yet even in small towns they have the same access, at the same price. I can think of no ligitimate reason why the states is so behind the times.

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  4. The power of money is a double edged sword when it comes to things like this. Tons of money to expand broadband from supporters, yet more money from ISP’s to keep it where it is.

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  5. But, people need to realize that America is much larger than most of the top ranked countries. It’s kind of an easier task to get done. But it’s still just red tape money hungry bullshit at the end of the day.

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  6. Didn’t we give them $80 billion in tax dollars to get cable to the curb? What happened to that money? Oh well let’s give them more maybe they’ll do it next time, if not we’ll give them more more more more more more more more more more…………………….

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  7. This sounds like the same situation with health care. Of all the countries with freely-elected governments and developed economies, the USA is the ONLY one without a health care plan that covers all of its legal citizens.

    Here in Brazil, I have a 6 mbps service that includes Cable TV, and telephone for about $50 USD a month. If all of these other countries can do these things without becoming socialist states and indenturing their populations for generations to come, what’s the problem with the USA?

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    1. Brazil is probably the worst example ever! You say you have 6mbps of internet but you fail to mention the 50 gb transfer limit a month after wich you get downgraded to 150kbps! Also the telefone service is one of the worst, because of the lack of a dedicated line and a very rudimentary VOIP server administration by NET S/A. After the free inicial period they will charge you unbelievable high pricess (compare to vono.net.br) for their non-functional service. Also you are charged for their TV service which includes only channels that everyone with a SAT reciver can obtain for FREE… this is in turn called basic cable package, which will then bombard you with ads and offers to lure you to their higher channels grid which are considered the world’s most expensive TV cable service (compared to average wage). The complete HD package can cost well over 200 USD monthly. Also as of June 2010 no fullHD content (which is rarely used, instead 720p is standart resolution for digital broadcasts) was ever broadcast at 60fps. But back to the internet: in Brazil there is no broadband service over 2mbps that does not monitor bandwith usage, in addition there’s heavy traffic chapeing (NET Virtua for instance will disrupt connections to 3rd party VOIP providers and reserve the right in their contract to cancel your internet connection based on their explicit ban of 3rd party voice over internet services).

      Meanwhile in Switzerland the basic 50 USD Cablecom internet line will provide you 25 mbps, moderate p2p traffic shapeing during high load hours, no bandwith limit (tested, I download around 170GB monthly for the past 8 months) and for +35 USD they offer the 100 mbps lines in major cities like Zürich, Bern and Basel

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      1. The situation in Brazil sounds terrible. And Switzerland sounds really nice! Then again, Switzerland is nice in a LOT of ways.

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  8. I live in Denmark which is one the countries with best broadband coverage I think. While studying we had a trip to California in 2005, and was a bit chocked that next big thing overthere, was DSL. “Now its possible to be online and still make a phonecall” it said in the comercials 🙂

    Got DSL at home in 2000 although only 256/64kbps, but at that point the max. 2048/512kbps at around 100Euro/month.

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  9. Raoul beat me to the punch.

    The only reason we dont have near 100% coverage of highspeed for low rates is because there’d be no room for further extortion of consumers. As long as the ISP’s fail to deliver, they always have room to do “Upgrades” and charge more for “Higher Quality Service”

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  10. One big factor that I always consider when you are looking at the broadband of these other countries is the size of these countries. For the United States to have universal broadband at some of these faster speeds you are talking about an infrastructure investment in the multibillion magnitude. For a country like Romainia which is half the size of California it is easier for them to update their infrastructure.

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    1. RJ, the US may have more ground to cover, but they also have more people willing to pay for broadband, people who make much better incomes than the folks in Romania. The average salary in Romania is about 285 Euros/month, while the average salary in the US is much higher than that. Romania’s population is about 20 million, and it’s been shrinking lately. The US has a population of over 300 million and growing. There’s really no excuse for the poor broadband, any way you look at it.

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  11. That was a article designed to piss me off, ha ha.

    I just hope that town in NC running their City connection beats the ISP’s and manages to set a new model.

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