Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Do you hate your Internet provider?

By Frida Ghitis
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Comcast proposed to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion
  • Frida Ghitis: Merging the two largest cable providers is bad for America
  • She says Americans pay more for lower quality Internet service; other nations are ahead
  • Ghitis: Comcast will have little incentive to improve our vital Internet infrastructure

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis.

(CNN) -- Do you hate your cable company? Is that same company your Internet provider? Or do you pay an outrageous sum for super slow Web access over your phone line?

The announcement of yet another megamerger in the telecommunications industry -- this time Comcast is proposing to buy Time Warner Cable in a plan that would merge the country's two largest cable providers -- highlights just how broken and misguided the United States is when it comes to its vital Internet infrastructure.

Americans are divided on many issues, but resentment against these telecom giants is so pervasive that it may just be the most heartwarming symbol of national unity. And that's as it should be. Except that the resentment should extend to politicians who have made this disastrous system possible and allow political contributions to prevent them from fixing it.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The problem is not just one of dismal customer service. Instead, it is a growing threat to the country's economic and strategic position.

If you travel overseas, you will quickly notice that Web access in much of the developed world is light years ahead of America's. You may also be irritated to discover that far better Internet is much, much cheaper in other countries.

The average American spends thousands of dollars each year for Internet, phone and cable services. If you live in, say, Lafayette, Louisiana, your best "triple play" deal -- cable, Internet and phone -- comes courtesy of Comcast at $121 per month, according to a study by the New America Foundation. That service limps into your house at a rate of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps).

If you lived in Seoul, South Korea, you could buy the same three-service bundle blazing at 100 Mbps -- 20 times faster -- for just $35. Or you could pay just $15 a month for a modest 8 Mbps, still a huge improvement in speed at a small fraction of the cost.

Franken: Cable merger bad for consumers
Franken: We need more cable competition
Will TV merger help or hurt service?

How much do you pay? Does it feel like you're being robbed?

The problem is that telecommunications services are coming from an ever-smaller number of companies with very little genuine competition. And the way the system is structured, those companies have practically no incentive to build a fast Internet.

Why would Comcast invest in fast fiber networks when it already controls most of the market? In fact, if Comcast provided faster Internet service, it might jeopardize its own cable business by making alternatives such as Netflix and Hulu more appealing. Already there are reports that Comcast is trying to keep its competitor Netflix in check.

Verizon, incidentally, started building a fiber optic network, FiOS. But it decided to stop expanding and focus on improving the profitability of the existing FiOS ecosystem. Why invest on fast Internet when you can mint money on mobile service, and when fast Internet makes services such as Skype more of threat?

What is good for the phone, cable and Internet companies is not good for America.

To open the country to the future, Internet providers would need to build a network of fibers reaching into all our homes. Fiber optic cables will make the Internet so fast we can barely imagine it.

To show us what we're missing, and probably to prod us into action, Google decided to build those networks in a handful of cities. Google Fiber, growing in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, Utah, will clock at an astounding 1,000 Mbps. That's an incredible 200 times faster than the Lafayette example, and 100 times faster than the U.S. average.

In the past few years, I have experienced Internet service that is cheaper and much faster in Paris, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam, Jerusalem and other cities. America's Internet is awful and awfully expensive. That means Americans waste precious time waiting for downloads to limp onto their screens.

It also means American businesses are less efficient than they could be, and it means America's brilliant, creative technological minds and its entrepreneurs, who already gave the world the Internet and much of its wonders, are falling behind and will continue to fall even further.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, the U.S. ranks 35th in world Internet bandwidth per user despite being ranked No. 1 in gross domestic product.

Countless reports have documented the embarrassing state of the country's crawling Internet network. Adding insult to this electronic injury are the larcenous rates extracted by providers from America's mostly helpless consumers.

Check out Akamai's quarterly State of the Internet report, and you will discover that as bad as the situation is, it is only getting worse, particularly when it comes to top quality connection speeds.

The world's fastest average peak connection speeds, which requires bringing the Internet over fiber lines, are found in Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Israel, with peak speeds in the range of 47.7 Mbps to 65 Mbps. The U.S. did not even make it into the top ten for the category. Meanwhile, the U.S. average connection speed was just 9.8 Mbps, less than half that of South Korea.

There are a number of possible solutions.

In places where the Web signal flies like an Olympic luge over the ice, the government may have developed the infrastructure, but they can rent those fiber lines to private telecom firms that package the service for consumers. The fees can even bring profit to municipal coffers.

Some American cities are experimenting with the idea. But the telecom firms are generous and powerful lobbyists, poised to block competition and regulations.

At this time of national political polarization, this is a ripe issue for new politicians hoping to bring change. My humble proposal is that brave new candidates tackle the problem loudly, embracing the common purpose of helping consumers while responding to an urgent national imperative. It is a problem that unites Americans across party lines, and those fed up with party lines, in their disdain for the companies that give them an inferior service at a ridiculous price.

Politicians who campaign -- and later govern -- with a clear plan to improve America's Internet infrastructure will incur the wrath of wealthy corporations, but they will earn the admiration of voters.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT