Susan Crawford: How to Get High-Speed Internet to All Americans

On Monday, President Obama said that during his second term, Americans would act together to “build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores” and that “we cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise.”

Susan Crawford is professor of law at Cardozo and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

The president is right that digital communication networks — especially high-capacity fiber networks reaching American homes and businesses — can be a powerful economic engine. But we are far away from being able to realize that vision, even as we cede the advantage such technology offers to other countries.

Although Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has challenged the country to build additional gigabit fiber networks — about 100 times faster than most residential connections today — his words won’t advance our digital future unless they are backed up with the leadership necessary to enact pro-growth, pro-innovation and competition-enabling rules.

At the heart of the problem lie a few powerful companies with enormous influence over policy making. Both the wireless and wired markets for high-speed Internet access have become heavily concentrated, and neither is subject to substantial competition nor oversight. Companies like Time Warner Cable routinely get their way when they seek to prevent local officials from encouraging competition. At the federal level, Verizon Wireless is keeping the F.C.C. in court arguing over the scope of its regulatory powers—a move that has undermined the agency’s authority.

As a result, prices are too high and speeds too slow. A third of Americans opt not to buy high-speed Internet access at home, often because they can’t afford it. Read full op-ed in The New York Times

Susan Crawford, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Yeshiva University.