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“Come on, just load already. Please? I’ll do anything. I beg you!” Do you ever find yourself saying something along those lines to your computer screen? Now what if I told you that your three minute YouTube wait times (i.e. an eon) is not YouTube’s fault, but rather your Internet provider?

A recent court decision ruled that Internet-Cable service providers are no longer required to charge one flat rate from every website.

Instead, if a website refuses to pay the service provider extra fees, that site will not be provided faster service, resulting in setbacks–such as slow-loading GIFs–that could cost the website user traffic. The service provider will then give faster service to sites that do pay the extra fees.

Unfortunately for us, the consumers, we get the short end of the stick with lousy Internet speeds either way.

Data from Ookla’s ongoing speed test index website places the U.S. 31st on a list of 188 countries. In and of itself, that kind of speed wouldn’t be considered half bad for the average user: Ookla calculates a national average of 21Mbps/DL. But, when you consider the fact that the country that invented the internet is lagging behind 30 other countries it seems a bit silly.

We do have a much larger geographical area to consider and since averages are calculated from the lows, and the highs of the bunch, the number can seem lower compared to a place like Denmark which is nowhere near as large as the United States.

This issue poses a serious problem for Americans. As society becomes more dependent on the Internet for everything from education and work to entertainment and socializing, we have to stop thinking of this service as a privilege, and instead necessity-as other countries have.

The United States has a reputation as a leading innovator, yet this may not be the case in the future if service providers continue to impede our Internet’s potential breadth, depth, and speed.

Countries like Sweden, China, and South Korea don’t treat Internet access as a luxury controlled by the private businesses; instead, government involvement and regulation is what ended up bringing faster services to these countries.

For $25 a month, the citizens of Stockholm, Beijing, and Seoul (among other cities) are accessing services that boast speeds up to 100 times faster than the fastest connection in the U.S.—for a fraction of the cost.

Internet-Cable companies are currently making outrageous profits by setting the service price high and Internet speed low, and we don’t even realize we’re being swindled because Americans have never known what high-speed Internet truly is.

What’s needed to implement a change is a little cooperation from the service providers. But that change may be hard to come by due to a 2002 FCC decision and subsequent regulation that reclassified broadband internet service as an “information service” as opposed to a “telecommunications service,” with the intention of making internet service equivalent to content providers.

This decision has all but stymied competition, leading to large areas of land served by a few providers, all charging high and unattractive tariffs on their services but tariffs many people have no choice but to pay.

This is different from many other countries, where broadband service providers compete directly for the consumer, generating both healthy competition and the vastly improved networks we see worldwide.

If a collaborative effort can’t happen, Professor Susan Crawford, author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the Gilded Age, warns us “Unless somebody in the system has industrial policy in mind, a long-term picture of where the United States needs to be and has the political power to act on it, we’ll be a Third World country when it comes to communications.”

If the phrases “United States” and “Third World” used in the same sentence aren’t scary enough, what’s at stake is even more unsettling: New ideas, inventions, goods, services and jobs will be coming, not from the U.S., but instead from cities like Stockholm, Beijing, and Seoul—all because these countries expect to have Internet access with faster downloading capacity, much like we expect to have electricity.

Although FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has recently acknowledged his intent to correct the FCC’s previous mistake, he did so without implicitly angling for more competition, which kind of defeats the purpose. Alternative solutions such as Google Fiber are being proposed more often and in more places in the United States, circumventing the issue of infrastructure altogether.

The biggest issue with this is the speed and availability initiatives like this can’t truly develop with large monopolies still at play.

Services like Google Fiber are meant to be disruptors, shaming larger companies into offering competing products and services, but they can’t be effective at doing so if these large companies continue to use legal tactics to bar these services from ever being competition. All this just slows down whatever improvements in internet speed we would stand to gain as consumers.

The FCC’s aforementioned classification mistake has led to a battle in Washington over the principal of net neutrality, or consideration of forms of internet traffic equal to others.

This is a non-issue other places in the world don’t consider because it doesn’t have legs: companies want to have the power to charge certain websites for the bandwidth or else suffer throttled internet speeds, simply to place undue economic pressure on them and force more money out of consumers.

This drastically reduces the types of speeds achievable overall and, more importantly, hurts the enterprise and education sectors: startups wouldn’t be able to get new ideas off the ground that aren’t directly subsidized by a bigger, more entrenched company, and schools and libraries, access points to the internet and centers of knowledge all throughout the country for millions, would be placed on the back burner in favor of entertainment.

The consequences of a closed internet are far greater than just the speeds we experience, although we can consider them a sort of heartbeat for the state of the internet in general.

A closed or open internet will determine where we are in the next 10, 25 and 50 years.

With the potential the internet offers with regards to learning and engagement with the rest of the world, it would be almost criminal to hamper it for the sake of profit, not that it would be a surprise.

Now before you reach for your passport and book the next flight to Sweden, there are ways out of this rut which the U.S. could take.

One solution is to have the government mandate that everyone has access to high-speed Internet. Another would be to build a better, faster Internet network that exceeds the capabilities of other services around the world and install it in every city in the country. The network will then be treated as if it were another form of infrastructure; it would be upgraded and maintained more efficiently while providing non-discriminatory service to both customers and websites.

Whatever changes are made in the future, at least this page loaded quickly and completely enough for you to read this information.

Audrey Strasenburgh

Audrey Strasenburgh

Associate Editor at The Chiefly
Born and raised in Rochester, NY, a graduate of St. Lawrence University with a passion for the sport of rowing. A current rowing coach, avid hiker and skier with the lifetime goal of sampling every beer ever made.
Audrey Strasenburgh
Audrey Strasenburgh
Audrey Strasenburgh
Audrey Strasenburgh

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