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on January 8, 2013
The Internet turned 30 last week.

On Jan. 1, 1983, engineers launched the basic protocol for sharing bits between computers, setting in motion the networked world we live in today. Susan Crawford's book is published as the Internet enters its middle years, and it offers a timely diagnosis of the problems Americans face as we try to make the most of our digital age.

Crawford's basic prognosis is this: Internet users can no longer take the network for granted. For too long we have allowed powerful phone and cable incumbents to dictate Internet policy in America. The result is reflected in international rankings of broadband access and services, which have the United States falling far behind other developed nations. The tendency among paid corporate apologists and shills (one of whom has made an appearance in these reviews) is to blame the American geography for this decline: We're a rural nation that isn't as easily connected as, say, Singapore, they argue. Another tendency is to put the regulators at fault: If only we unchained the invisible hand of the marketplace, then the American Internet would be Numero Uno.

The truth, as Crawford points out lies somewhere else -- in our policymakers' failure to put the interests of the nation before those of profitable companies. Lobbying powerhouses like AT&T. Comcast and Verizon have flexed their financial muscle in Washington to ensure that the billion-dollar spoils of the Internet access business are shared only among a few corporations. The policies resulting from this largesse have led to the destruction of a competitive marketplace. Most Americans buying home Internet access today have just two choices: the local monopoly phone company or the local monopoly cable provider. AT&T and Verizon dominate the wireless Internet access market and also control the critical infrastructure that smaller and increasingly irrelevant competitors like Sprint need. We have no choice but to do business with these dominant companies. If we think they're ripping us off, we can't vote with our feet -- as there's nowhere else to go.

This concentration of gatekeeper power has very real -- and very negative -- consequences. Americans pay far more for far less than people in developed countries whose policymakers have promoted competition instead of profits. Crawford rightly notes that it's time our leaders in Washington, D.C., did the same.

The internet is more than a cloud; it's people, technology and physical infrastructure. As with any infrastructure, the Internet needs protection and maintenance to survive. Otherwise the wires and signals that send digital communications would cease to function. The online community also needs protections -- to prevent our ideas from being blocked, our identities from being hijacked and our wallets from being picked.

To connect every American to a world-class Internet, we need to confront the market power of phone and cable companies and open the way for alternatives, such as the municipal broadband networks communities are building across the country. We need to do this not just to benefit Internet users but to regain America's global standing in an increasingly networked world.

The good news is that in 2012 Internet users rose up en masse to protect these rights and keep the network open. When the entertainment industry tried to push an Internet-crippling copyright bill, more than 15 million people urged Congress to stop it. When governments used a U.N. telecommunications conference to propose new powers to censor the Web, Internet freedom advocates worldwide joined forces to scuttle the plan.

Politicians need to follow the lead of the netroots -- to stop listening only to the corporate lobbyists from AT&T, Comcast and the like and start representing Internet users, who demand more open and affordable access in a marketplace with real consumer choice.

This approach seems obvious. But too often in Washington simple solutions are pushed aside in favor of a blind adherence to a cashed fueled philosophy of deregulation and profits above all else.

Crawford warns of dire consequences should policymakers follow the lead of corporate lobbyists alone. Tens of millions of children will not have the tools they need to succeed in the modern world. Millions of good paying middle class American jobs will never be created. Tomorrow's innovative companies will not be created on our shores, but will be started in the garages of the countries whose leaders recognize the importance of public interest infrastructure policies and the need to protect our Internet freedoms.

As we celebrate 30 years of the modern Internet, we need to look to the future and figure out ways to make it better. There is a role for activism and advocacy, but also one for our government to promote the public interest by ensuring that every American can participate in a free and fair communications market.

Crawford's book is our call to action.
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on January 12, 2013
Although I was generally aware of the issues covered in the book, Crawford does an excellent job of painting a thorough picture of the extent to which our federal and state regulators are failing America's future by capitulating to Big Telco. With all of the other issues our nation is currently facing, it's easy to bump national broadband Internet access down the list. But we do so at the peril of our nation's innovation economy which increasingly relies on world-class broadband access. Data shows we're already behind most other developed nations in terms of paying the highest prices for the lowest access speeds, which is pretty sad for a nation which led the creation of the Internet in the first place. Our position will continue to slip as long as the FCC fails to regulate broadband Internet access as a common-carrier utility and state legislatures impede municipal fiber network deployment.
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HALL OF FAMEon January 11, 2013
As the new Millennium began, America led the world in adoption of Internet access; ten years later we'd fallen far behind most industrialized nations in terms of speed and prices charged. Most Americans receive Internet via slow copper wires, and nearly 30% aren't connected at all. Only 7% of Americans are connected to optical fiber, vs. nearly half for South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong; meanwhile, our service costs about 6X that in Hong Kong and 5X that in Stockholm. Crawford's book tells the story of how the Comcast-NBCU merger occurred (paid $13.8 billion), helping this oligopoly situation.

Comcast is the communications equivalent of Standard Oil in the Rockefeller era. Even before its merger with NBC Universal it was the nation's largest cable operator and the owner of many cable content properties - including 11 regional sports networks. It had almost 16 million subscribers. NBC Universal owned some of the most popular cable networks and one of the largest broadcast networks. The merged company would control 20% of all television viewing in the U.S. Mobile wireless is too slow to compete.

A similar situation happened in the 1880s when 15 holding companies controlled 85% of electricity distribution, and the FTC found they routinely gouged consumers. In response, thousands of communities formed their own electrical utilities, more than 2,000 U.S. communities such as L.A., San Antonio, and Seattle, provide their own power, and electricity is a regulated public utility. Only a few cities provide their own Internet service (eg. Chattanooga, TN and Lafayette, LA) , there's no regulation of Internet rates and service, and the leaders reap 95% profit rates.

New entrant Google is now offering 700 MB service in Kansas City for $70/month, Comcast sells 100-megabit service for $200/month. Using a standard cable connection, backing up 5 GB of data takes 90 minutes; with a gigabyte connection, it can be done in less than a minute. Cable wire is 20X faster than 4G wireless. With a fully fiber-based network video conferencing would become routine and every household could see 3D and Super HD images. Bringing fiber to all Americans would cost an estimated $50 - $90 billion, per Corning Glass.

Bottom-Line: American homes and businesses are being gouged by an oligopoly of Internet providers.
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on January 10, 2013
Having followed Crawford's coverage of this vexing roadblock to American excellence for the last few years, this book does not disappoint.

She accurately pinpoints the causes and characters behind the United States' lag of the developed world in the broadband space. That lag is one entirely of the telecom industry's own making (that is of course aided and abetted by Congress), and which restricts the platform for growth and participation by the wider American workforce. As someone who resides in an area with limited, expensive and unreliable broadband service, I am intimately familiar with the stranglehold the lack of adequate and affordable broadband has on our regional economy, and on the vitality of our population. When you multiply this situation which is repeated in rural areas around the country - and compare our levels of adoption with other nations - it becomes clear how this critical avenue for national productivity growth is being throttled by the interests of one industry. Why should we inhibit the productivity of all other industries and small business in favor of one sector?

I truly hope both the essence and details of Crawford's message gets to our politicians - including newly-engaged legislators like Elizabeth Warren - and our country embraces the broadband policy changes needed to enable the American economy to fire on all cylinders.
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on January 10, 2013
Susan Crawford does a good job of laying out some of the key failures in American regulatory policy which have led us to the near-duopoly position for broadband access for most consumers. This outcome retards speeds, results in usage caps which protect the pay-tv business, and results in some of the highest prices in the world. For those who are concerned about innovation in the broadband access space, Susan's book is a must-read.
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on February 11, 2013
Just a note to the paid consultants who have been discovered due to the spike of one star reviews from brand new accounts, I'm buying the book thanks to you. The fact that you guys are being paid to do this tells me that the author is onto something. Just wanted you to know that we're on to you and your strategy is backfiring.

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on December 28, 2012
As you drive from east to west across the US, there is a meridian in the breadbasket, somewhere in the eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas, where gelatin salads start to appear in the supermarket deli cases. In the prairies it is not only acceptable but fashionable to serve molded, multicolored Jell-O with grapes, pineapple, and heaven knows what else arranged inside it. Once you get over the Continental Divide the fashion fades out. It's not a thing on either coast.

How did this get started? It's not an ethnic fashion. The folks who settled the Great Plains were Norwegians and Swedes and Germans, and gelatin is not an ethnic treat anywhere in Europe. Or anywhere else, as far as I know!

No, it's because there was a time when only rich folks could make Jello on their farms in the summer. People who were rich enough to have their farms electrified. Once Jell-O got imprinted as a luxury item, it remained fashionable even when everybody could have it.

You see, electricity itself was a luxury in the early 20th century, and gelatin salads were a proxy for being rich enough to have electric power delivered to your place. In her brilliantly troubling new book Captive Audience, she quotes this 1905 dismissal of government interference with the electricity market.

"The ownership and operation of municipal light plants stands upon a different basis from that of the ownership of water works, which it is so often compared. Water is a necessity to the health and life of every individual member of a community ... It must be supplied in order to preserve the public health, whether it can be done proitably or not, and must be furnished, not to a few individuals, but to every individual. Electric lights are different. Electricity is not in any sense a necessity, and under no conditions is it universally used by the people of a community. It is but a luxury enjoyed by a small proportion of the members of any municipality, and yet if the plant be owned and operated by the city, the burden of such ownership and operation must be borne by all the people through taxation."

This is exactly the argument being used today against government involvement in broadband. It is why children even in such hardly remote locales as western Massachusetts have to go to public libraries to do their homework. Comcast and Verizon just don't find it profitable to run cables and fibers into rural locales.

Those profits are maximized by managing scarcity. with the cooperation of a deregulatory-minded Congress, always hungry for campaign contributions from big corporations. As a result, what the FCC laughably calls its broadband plan of 2010 would have every American household getting 4 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload by 2020 --- with 100 million households getting up to 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload. The South Korean plan, by contrast, is for every household to get 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) right now!

I recommend this book to everyone. It explains why my ophthalmologist can't send my retinal scans from his Boston to his Cambridge office electronically (that example explains why symmetric channels, with comparable upload and download speeds, are essential for economic development). Why the backup service Mozy will use postal mail to send you your backed up files on disk if your computer crashes -- the files were uploaded incrementally but to download them all at once would take a week or more.

The US is going to be a second-rate economy if we don't wake up to the simple fact that some regulation in communication technologies is needed to create universal service, and ensuring that service is one of the functions of government. Broadband Internet service is like electricity really turned out to be, and not as the privately owned electric utilities wanted the public to see it at the turn of the 20th century.
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on February 4, 2013
This book is an excellent review of US communications policy and how we got where we are. I advise foreign governments on telecom policy as part of my work and I try to avoid using US practice as an example because it seems arrogant: "Do as we do!" More to the point, this is an excellent lesson of what NOT to do. The audience is captive to monopoly power because the regulator and Congress are captive to big money and its free market religion.
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on February 11, 2013
When you have broadband corporations taking government subsidies to improve our internet and have yet to do so as we fall behind on the global scale for internet speeds, you have to read this book. In the same way our roads are used to help businesses, we too should regulate and support high speed internet to all Americans.
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on February 9, 2013
This book really opened my eyes to what's going on. I recommend it to anyone who's concerned about corporate power in the telecommunications industry in the U.S.
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