In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act designed to remove many of the regulatory laws in place which were responsible for stagnating competition. The Internet was young and by the year 2000 the Act was somewhat responsible for the creation of 9,000 ISPs in the U.S. under the common carriage rules. Fast forward to 2012 and the number has declined to around 4,000 ISPs after a serious of decisions by the FCC (News - Alert) (News - Alert). Critics claim the decisions were made after heavy lobbying from industries in the cable and telecommunications field. This decline has been responsible for making the U.S. rank low amongst industrialized nations when it comes to providing broadband.
Susan Crawford is a Yale-educated professor of law who was asked by President Obama to join his transition team after his election in 2008. After only one year, Crawford left her post and went back to teaching. In that time she learned about the detrimental affects that the lack of competition was having in providing broadband access nationwide. While countries like South Korea enjoy a 95 percent rate of high-speed Internet access, the U.S. has been declining and just this year is back up to 67 percent.
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As a fellow of the Four Freedoms Center at the Roosevelt Institute her goal is to highlight the glaring differences between the US and other countries and remind policy makers the long term effects of digital exclusion.
"We have a titanic battle ahead of ourselves to reverse this set of events, it will take asking questions about high-speed Internet capacity at every single debate making sure that every candidate for office cares about this and understands how important it is. It will take getting the national media aware that this is a central issue just like electricity was back in the 1920s,” says Crawford.
The difficulty lies in competing against telecom companies that spend millions of dollars lobbying against regulations that would increase the amount of players in the industry.
“In the future, consumers wishing to subscribe to higher speed Internet services will likely face a near monopoly from cable providers, as telephone providers have halted wide-scale upgrades of their networks,” added Susan Crawford.
Although we like to think deregulation is good for competitions, the fact is it allows companies with influence to squash those who don’t have the resources to influence policy makers. Another fact is there are more than 100 million Americans who don’t have access to broadband. While the governments of other countries are putting policy in place to ensure their citizens receive the tools to compete in the global arena the policies in this country are being dictated by companies with influence.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman