From headlines about censorship in China to reports about the social media shutdowns in Egypt, current media debates over the internet seem divided between the free world and repressive regimes. Beneath this coverage is the unstated narrative that the U.S. must promote free access to the internet in authoritarian regimes across the world.
But how well does America provide internet access to its own citizens?
The U.S. woefully lags behind other developed countries in terms of nationwide broadband access and download speeds. The FCC’s 2010 broadband survey found that nearly one-third of Americans are not connected to high-speed broadband services. Out of the 29 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. ranks 12thin terms of broadband penetration – behind the UK, South Korea, Iceland, and plenty of others. Moreover, Olympia, Washington had the highest download speeds of any U.S. city with 21Mbps, a figure easily topped by Helsinki, Paris, Berlin, and Seoul (35.8Mbps).
Before preaching internet freedom in Cairo, Egypt, the U.S. should prioritize the free flow of information in small towns like Cairo, Pennsylvania. Our inability to pass laws to keep up with the speed at which new technologies are being developed undermines our credibility across the world.
Although President Barack Obama has spoken publicly about the need for public investments in broadband technology, change has not come fast enough. Causes like health care and debt reform receive more attention, but the fight for net neutrality and an open and free internet is a seminal battle ahead – one that so far we are losing.
Photo Credit: Jake Horowitz