I’ve just finished Susan Crawford’s Captive Audience:The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, a recently published book that explains in clear language how telecommunications has become the new monopoly and why we are paying more for our connections to the Internet and getting less than people in other countries.
Susan, currently a professor at NY’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a former member of the Obama administration, argues that like electricity, water, and other utilities, Internet access has become a necessity for all of us.
However, similar to our history with previous monopolies, a few companies now have gained control of this ‘new utility’, and unless we understand what is happening and do something about it, we will continue to have a Digital Divide in this country, we will continue to fall behind other nations in our high speed connectivity, and we will continue to pay a high price for our use of the Internet.
It does not have to be this way, Susan believes. In this short NY Times article in January, she wrote about what we could do to reverse this direction.
In her recent 25 minute interview with Bill Moyers, see above, Susan expands on her Times article and covers a number of the issues about which she writes in her book. Basically, she tells Moyers:
The Need: All Americans need a fast, cheap connection to the Internet.
Even though our country invented the Internet, we are quickly falling behind other countries in the delivery of access to the Internet. In a time when connectivity is becoming essential in all aspects of our lives, there is a growing Digital Divide between those with access and those without. Those of us who do have that access (generally in larger, urban areas) are paying high rates and those who cannot pay or live in places where it is not available are unable to connect to the Internet.
The Problem: A few companies control access in America, and it’s not in their interest to bring that fast, cheap access to us all.
Basically four companies, Comcast & Time/Warner (on the cable side) and Verizon & At&T (on the wireless side) have non-compete agreements resulting in lack of competition and therefore high prices. Our government officials have participated in allowing this situation to occur.
For those of you who want to delve more into this issue, Captive Audience is worthy of your time.
Although I initially started to read the book because of a friendship with Susan, I quickly found myself captured by the book. She tells us specifically how we have arrived at the place where America now has the worst of two worlds in our telecommunications, no competition and no regulation.
Lucky are the students who have Susan as a teacher.
And we would all be wise to listen to what she has to tell us.