Have you heard “The Last Mile,” the latest episode of NPR’s Planet Money? If not, go listen — it’s only 15 minutes.
This episode is about the internet, internet companies, and internet service. I’m sure we all have stories. 🙂 In the episode, they compare how internet companies work in the United States and the United Kingdom. Interestingly, there’s more local competition in the UK.
Basically, it boils down to this: In many parts of the US, there’s no competition for broadband internet service. One company owns the line to your house, and that company provides your internet service. Period. In the UK, many different internet companies offer internet service over the same lines. You have plenty of choices, and if one service disappoints you can try another.
Now, that may make the UK sound like a fantasy land for internet service. However, I zeroed in on the one downside they mentioned: In the UK, there’s less motivation for investment in infrastructure and innovation. If all the companies rent the same lines, who is going to spend the money to lay new cables or fiber and bring better, faster internet service to you? That may not be a concern if you live in London, but North Wales is like the end of the world in that sense.
Last I checked, my download speed was about 2.5 Mbps download/.3 Mbps upload. On a good day. I asked around, and it’s pretty much the same around here, no matter what company you use. It has nothing to do with my internet company or plan — theoretically, I could get up to about 15 Mbps download speed with my current plan and company. But the lines don’t support that kind of speed. We need an infrastructure upgrade, and no one seems to be in a hurry to bring it our way.
It’s times like this that I miss my speedy German internet service. Or even … if you can believe it … Time Warner Cable.