Should the Government Provide Matt Yglesias With High-Speed Internet Service?

In the course of implying that perhaps we ought to have a "public option" for broadband, Matt Yglesias writes:

Lots of places in the United States are as dense as Stockholm, and in Sweden the average is 18.2 mbps, which you won’t find anywhere in this country.

If he's suggesting that average speeds in the U.S. don't generally reach 18.2 mbps, I'm fairly certain he's right. But it's not true that such speeds aren't offered: Verizon's FiOS, for example, offers top speeds of 15, 25, and 50 mbps. Cablevision offers its customers downstream speeds of up to 30mbps

Matt also writes that his local options for high-speed Internet are pretty thin:

It’s no coincidence that the cable company is always a go-to liberal example of private sector dysfunction. I would ditch Comcast in favor of a rival cable company except . . . there isn’t a rival cable company that served by neighborhood. Nor does my window face the right direction for DirectTV. So it’s Comcast or nobody, and thus the quality of Comcast’s offerings and customer service tends to be extremely bad.

Most people in D.C. use Comcast because, despite its consistently terrible customer service, it offers the fastest Internet connection in the city. But the choice for many D.C. residents is not "Comcast or nobody." For those who hate Comcast enough to switch, there are other broadband options: RCN and Verizon both offer high-speed Internet options to District residents. I don't know Matt's address, so I can't say with absolute certainty whether or not those options are available at his residence, but I do know that, at minimum, Verizon serves the majority of the city's urban-residential core—the Chinatown, Shaw, and U Street neighborhoods where a lot of the city's young professionals live. 

More to the point, as Adam Thierer has extensively documented, municipal Internet service has historically tended to be a pretty terrible idea. Utah's cleverly-titled UTOPIA Internet service was beset with low subscriber rates and insufficient revenue. Chicago backed away from plans to set up a municipal wi-fi network after negotiations proved more difficult than expected and market rates fell. Orlando shut down its wi-fi program when city officials decided that the cost couldn't be justified. San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia have also run into difficulties with their city-run wi-fi projects. 

I sympathize with those who dislike their ISP, and it's probably true that U.S. broadband competition could stand to see some improvement. But there are good reasons to believe that getting the government into the Internet-provider business isn't likely to make those problems any better. 

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  • ||

    It’s no coincidence that the cable company is always a go-to liberal example of private sector dysfunction.

    It's a government-granted exclusive monopoly franchise, for Pete's sake. Is he on crack?

    It's "no coincidence" that liberals use that idiotic example? Is he saying that liberals are all idiots?

  • ||

    Taking anything he says seriously is a suckers bet.

    You got Yglesias'd, my friend.

  • JB||

    Liberals truly are that stupid.

  • ||

    There was a great article recently by Thomas Hazlett on how cable franchising creates a regulatory monopoly, where most people believe tha cable is a natural monopoly. Clearly, the time has come to end this policy insanity.

  • Geotpf||

    The author of this piece is rather stupid too.

    The second quoted paragraph is clearly talking about TELEVISION SERVICE, not INTERNET ACCESS. For television service, the choice is Comcast or nobody, unless they have a "window fac(ing) the right direction for DirectTV".

    Now, the solution here is less government regulation, in that cable companies should not be given monopolies. But that's a local problem, not a Federal one (except in this particular case since we are talking about DC). A Federal law forbidding cities from passing out cable monopolies would be a good idea. This is also an example how "state's rights" does not neccessarily bring more freedom.

  • ||

    The second quoted paragraph is clearly talking about TELEVISION SERVICE, not INTERNET ACCESS. For television service, the choice is Comcast or nobody, unless they have a "window fac(ing) the right direction for DirectTV".

    Unfortunately Geotpf, you're wrong.

    FIOS TV isn't available in most (all?) of DC yet. But that's DC's fault again, because they delayed the franchise for Verizon's FIOS TV for many months. However, it was approved in January 2009.

    A Federal law forbidding cities from passing out cable monopolies would be a good idea. This is also an example how "state's rights" does not neccessarily bring more freedom.

    Quite a few states, like Virginia, have "state franchises" for FIOS TV that forbid cities from having a sole cable monopoly. They were recently passed. It would never have passed in Congress, but it's been working state-by-state.

    So your point was?

  • Reformed Republican||

    DSL is slower than cable, so it is not much of a comparison.

    The question is: why is Comcast the only cable service available? Is it not because of government regulation? In other words, it is not a good example of private sector dysfunction. It is an example of the dysfunction caused by government restricting competition.

  • ||

    "DSL" is meaningless. VDSL2 is faster than anything the cable company is offering. Three times faster, or more. Even ADSL2+ (8 Mbps at 2000 feet) can match what you are likely to get from the cable company. Of course, someone has to be offering a plan with these speeds.

  • Yail Bloor||

    Why do you think DSL is slower than cable? Because coax is thicker than twisted pair? It's an idiotic assumption. Fios in apartment buildings terminates the fiber in the basement and uses VDSL over existing phone wires for speeds up to 100Mbps. Precious little Reason around here.

  • Warty||

    I don't understand why you read Yglesias, or why SugarFree reads the femblogs. Why do that to yourself?

  • ||

    I do it on doctor's orders. Apparently, if I don't inhibit my sense of humor I will day die laughing at a car accident.

  • ||

    Stupid joke handles.

  • |||

    You can say that again.

  • ||

    Stupid joke handles.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    You can say that again.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Boo hoo. My only practical option is still dial-up. But at least my compound is defensible, except, perhaps, by amphibious assault.
    Wait. Forget I said that.

  • ||

    As Matt's commenters are pointing out, DC itself held up Verizon's FIOS application (and even more their FIOS TV application) for much longer than Northern Virginia.

  • Solanum||

    Can H&R please place a moratorium on linking to anything Matt Yglesias or Ezra Klein has to say?

  • Marc||

    Seconded. Or as the kids say, +1

  • Colin||

    Yes, and please add Joe Klein, Paul Krugman, Harold Meyerson, Thomas Friedman, and Frank Rich to the list.

  • ||

    And Glen Beck.

  • ¢||

    Is this the same idiot with the drawer full of Netflix discs he's afraid to open, or is it a different same idiot?

  • ||

    That was Klein. The oppression of choice or some such nonsense.

  • Attorney||

    Is there anyone named "Klein" who isn't a leftist douchebag?

  • Boston||

    Philip

  • Attorney||

    Who is this Philip Klein of whom you speak?

  • Boston||

    He writes for the American Spectator, which apparently is read by Michelle Malkin, so it’s got that going for it.

    http://spectator.org/people/philip-klein/all

  • Attorney||

    Good to know. Thx

  • airy||

    My ATT Uverse in Dallas area gives my 15mbs down. I think up to 28 is available.

    Of course I CHOOSE to PAY for that LUXURY.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    that served by neighborhood

    Working title: Matt Yglesias Has A Cold

  • Tman||

    "B-b-b-b-b-b-but 18.5 speeds are a right! It's my right to get free broadband internet services! And look at Europe! Why can't we be more like them!!!???"

    Can we vote these people off the island yet?

  • ||

    Wow, UTOPIA. I had completely forgotten about that boondoggle until you mentioned it.

    The fact that as a Utah resident I had forgotten about it is a good indication of how relevant it is (or was).

  • ||

    What, did you say LUXERY, airy? That's crazy talk!

  • alan||

    Has Yglesias spent anytime at all examining previous telecom bills? Why would service providers spend billions building infrastructure that would be far superior to the Scandanavians on a national level when the government is going to turn around give it a way to competitors who have greased the right palms? It isn't a question of if. That is what will happen with anything remotely ambitious put forth by the telecoms or anyone. Given the current climate, the best they can hope for is to create islands in the net with a severely reduced possibility of returns.

  • ||

    I always wondered why there are no companies that built networks and license them to telecom companies. You could really make a buck and be independent from actually selling anything to customers.

    Perhaps I forgot something in this mix?

  • ||

    I suspect the reason is that most internet users aren't dissatisfied with the speed of their service.

    The reliability ... maybe, but not the speed. The only times I've been bothered by the speed of my service (which is rather on the low end of cable), is when I'm trying to download bootlegged videos.

  • ||

    Yglesias's piece is just a stalking horse for the "Internet Access is a Human Right" crowd. Which is, of course, bullshit. Except for a handful of cyber-criminals, everyone can already access the Internet if they wish.

  • T||

    Well, some people can't access the Internet fast enough. Matt's scat porn videos buffer sometimes, and you of all people should know how annoying that is in mid-stroke.

  • Solanum||

    That would explain the dingleberries in Matt's beard. Access to free hot lunches is a human right.

  • Inga||

    Lots of places in the United States are as dense as Stockholm

    Who are you calling stupid, asshole?

  • The Gobbler||

    "I don't know Matt's address"

    Bull. But if you say it enough times, perhaps we'll start to believe you.

  • mark||

    The solutions for health care and broadband happen to be remarkably similar: Deregulation. Disband the FCC and the HHS!

  • Joe M||

    Just wanted to point out that the tubes in that photo aren't serial; they're parallel. :P

  • T||

    Well, doesn't MPP stand for Massive Parallel Pipes?

  • ||

    It’s no coincidence that the cable company is always a go-to liberal example of private sector dysfunction. I would ditch Comcast in favor of a rival cable company except . . . there isn’t a rival cable company that served by neighborhood. Nor does my window face the right direction for DirectTV. So it’s Comcast or nobody, and thus the quality of Comcast’s offerings and customer service tends to be extremely bad.

    Since too much government interference in this market created the problem in the first place, clearly the solution is for more government interference in this market.

  • JB||

    Yglesias wants all government, all the time, in every orifice.

  • TP||

    Sweden was running single mode fiber with pulse width modulation years before anyone in the US was. Comcast still uses frequency modulated light through multi mode fiber, and only on trunk lines. It's no secret that Comcast would rather have the bandwidth available for pay-per-view movies and events. FiOS is the shit. No limitations on bandwidth because there are three different wavelengths used; one each for phone, cable, and internet. The fiber runs directly to the house. The problem in the past has been the federal government. More specifically, the FBI and CIA. Verizon wanted to start running fiber directly to the home many years ago. But fiber is untappable. It's only been recently that technology has allowed tapping from a central location.

    The Federal government stood in the way for many years. They no longer do. It's up to the individual states to decide what happens on their public utility lines, now, not the Fed.

  • ||

    WiFi. No wires.

  • mark||

    Don't forget WiMax, or as they call it in Korea, WiPro.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    You'd think someone who was so upset about telecom companies colluding with the government to monitor subscribers online activities would see the significant risk in making the telecom company part of the government.

  • ||

    I'm now waiting for Matt's post explaining why the difficult to getting government-purchased H1N1 vaccine is why liberals don't trust private health care.

  • B||

    If I have asked this once, I have asked it a thousand times: why in the fuck does this site continue to treat Yglesias like he is someone who matters? The guy may be one of the stupidest liberal commentators there is.

  • IceTrey||

    If the FCC wasn't in the pocket of the cable companies we'd all have gigabit high power ultrawide band. I WANT MY UWB!

  • strat||

    UWB antenna design is still a black art. If you think it's a pain to move carefully around in a room to get a good mobile phone signal, you haven't seen anything yet.

    That having been said, it's quite spiffy if you want to move several HDTV bitstreams simultaneously across the room.

  • ||

    Well, it is true that we have very good access to high speed internet here in Sweden, and especially Stockholm. However Yglesias happily ignores, or just is ignorant of, how that came to be.

    There was no actual government planning behind this development. As a matter of fact, back when broadband access started to become an issue back in the 90's, government never managed to settle for some centralized plan on how to give us citizens broadband access or how to regulate the market. Instead it fell on private parties to build most of the infrastructure, which they managed, not surprisingly, with greater efficiency than how things went in most countries where govenment played a bigger role in broadband development.

    Sure, the state was not completely uninvolved, especially at a local level, but compared with the US, as I understand it, our speedy growth in high speed Internet access was a triumph of the free market over central planning.

  • ||

    Yes FIOS offers speeds of up to 50mbps. I am one of those people who subscribe to that service. It does NOT mean that FIOS speed is 50mbps.

    Take a speed test(speedtest.net). They archive all data and their graphs are based on data from people taking the test. On a 50mbps FIOS connection, I get a speed of 7mbps, which is much lower than it should be.

    The state of telecoms in the US is very, very poor. Almost every market is a monopoly or duopoly(1 cable company and 1 phone company). Should government run it? No. Should they break up the telecoms and get more competition? Absolutely.

    If you are curious at all about internet issues, check out StopTheCap.com. It is completely consumer-based(as in it is not Astro-turf). Check it out.

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