Help Us Google, You're Our Only Broadband Hope. (The Government Has No Spine.)

For the future of innovation in the United States, few things seem as important as access to broadband Internet connections. The FCC seems to realize this, which is why they’ve set up the National Broadband Plan. And yet, we’re screwed.

As Harvard Law professor Yochai Benkler lays out in an excellent op-ed today in the New York Times, this new broadband plan may sound great, but it won’t go nearly far enough. The reason is that there is simply nowhere near enough competition in almost all of the markets in this country. In fact, under the new plan, some 85% of homes covered would have no choice when it comes to a provider. So while it’s great that just about everyone will potentially have broadband access in 2020, plenty likely won’t be able to afford it.

And even those lucky enough to have a choice, are probably only going to be able to choose between two options — and again, both of those are likely to be very expensive. The U.S. has the highest broadband prices among advanced nations, while countries like Japan and France get faster (and better) services, for a fraction of the price many of us pay. Again, it’s all about competition. So why do we put up with it? Because the U.S. government has no backbone and ruins its own ideas (such as the National Broadband Plan) because they give into corporate lobbyists.

As Benkler points out in his piece, Time Warner is quite pleased that it can set higher prices due to a lack of competition. Meanwhile, Comcast is raking in just about a billion dollars in profit each quarter thanks in large part to their pricing bullshit.

Is it expensive to lay down the necessary fiber for these super-fast networks? Of course. But there are plenty of ways that competitors could help the big players offset those costs if the government would simply make them open the pipes. But the big players don’t want that — they’re perfectly happy to pay the large upfront costs to ensure that they can reap the much larger rewards on the other end thanks to this lack of competition.

We may have but one hope.

While plenty are wary of how big Google is becoming, the Internet giant has so-far proved to be on the right side with regard to universal Internet access. They were instrumental in making sure the wireless spectrum would be (at least somewhat) open, and now they’re pushing the wired broadband movement in the right direction too with their insanely fast fiber push. While the FCC’s 100 Squared plan would put 100 megabit-per-second broadband in people’s homes by 2020, Google wants to put 1 gigabit-per-second connections in people’s homes much sooner.

Yes, Google is talking on a much smaller scale (500,000 homes vs. 100 million), but, if the initial response is any indication, Google may become a much, much bigger player in this space than they envision right now.

We’ve written a couple of stories about cities doing some wacky things to get Google’s attention so that they might bring the broadband to their cities (here’s Topeka, Kansas and Baltimore, Maryland, for example). But there are dozens of other cities also foaming at the mouth for access. Some examples:

Those are just a few of the ones we’ve been tipped about. The reaction around the country to Google’s idea should make it very clear that the people of this country are demanding better access. And yet, the government won’t take the necessary steps to open the market up, and let it bloom because the lobbyists from the companies that stand to lose the most are actually the ones in control. If Google, one of the largest companies in this country, only believes they can afford to hook up 50,000 to 500,000 homes with their plan, how is any other company expected to compete with the incumbent players?

They won’t. Not unless the government grows some balls and backs real openness.

[photo: 20th Century Fox]