Internet Service: United States vs South Korea

In a report published by technology company Akamai, South Korea ranked 1st in the world for average download speed, clocking in at 25.3 MBPS (megabits per second). The United States, by comparison, ranked 11th, with an average speed of 11.5 MBPS. South Korea’s speed is more than twice as fast. To make matters worse, compared to the average cost for an internet connection in South Korea, internet service is much more expensive in the United States. This report by the Open Technology Institute, released in 2014, gives an extremely detailed analysis of internet speed and price in various major cities around the world. For the sake of comparison, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, averages about 300 MBPS download speeds for a price of around $50 per month. The United States, for the same price, offers an average speed between 25 and 45 MBPS.  Only the cities with Google Fiber, as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee (which has its own innovative municipal fiber network) bring this average up with extremely competitive prices for gigabit internet, the fastest service available to the consumer in the United States. The rest of the country lags so far behind in terms of price per speed that it drags down the averages by several orders of magnitude.

Why are we so far behind? The monopolies that control almost all internet service in the United States are primarily responsible for this sad state of affairs. They don’t compete with each other. While they don’t directly co-ordinate with each other in setting prices, they have little, or in some cases, no competition, and they don’t need to compete on price as a result.  They know what the other monopolies charge so they all offer poor service for a high price, in the same range so they don’t undercut each other. Between Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T, American consumers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Why is any of this important? Does it really matter if the United States isn’t number 1 in internet speed and price? I say that it absolutely matters. We aren’t even in the top 10 in speed. Poor, overpriced internet has serious consequences. It limits economic opportunity for people that can’t afford internet access. It stifles innovation by putting technical limitations on what people are able to do with their connection. The difference between a 25 MBPS connection and a 1000 MBPS connection (gigabit) is like the difference between a children’s tricycle and a Ferrari.

The internet service situation in the United States raises billions of dollars per year for the same 3 mega corporations who spend millions of dollars a year lobbying politicians to continue to protect these failed, terrible policies that created this situation with the monopolies. The United States, the birthplace of HP, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and many more hugely influential tech companies, should be the de facto leader in internet speed and price. We should be head and shoulders above the rest of the world, but we aren’t. If we are going to remain competitive in a global marketplace, this has to change, and quickly.

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