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The President & the Executive Branch Discuss Why is European broadband faster and cheaper? Blame the government at the Political Forums; If you've stayed with friends who live in European cities, you've probably had an experience like this: You hop onto ...

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Old 01-07-2018, 08:25 PM
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Default Why is European broadband faster and cheaper? Blame the government

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If you've stayed with friends who live in European cities, you've probably had an experience like this: You hop onto their WiFi or wired internet connection and realize it's really fast. Way faster than the one that you have at home. It might even make your own DSL or cable connection feel as sluggish as dialup.
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You ask them how much they pay for broadband.

"Oh, forty Euros." That's about $56.

"A week?" you ask.

"No," they might say. "Per month. And that includes phone and TV."
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It's really that bad. The nation that invented the internet ranks 16th in the world when it comes to the speed and cost of our broadband connections. That's according to a study released last year by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission.
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It's not surprising that we lag behind such hacker havens as Sweden (number one worldwide, according to the study) and Finland (number seven), nor densely-populated Asian nations like Japan and South Korea (numbers three and four). But the U.S. also trails countries that are poor by European standards: Portugal is just ahead of us in 15th place; Italy is number 14. (The full rankings are on page 81 of the study.)
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By most measures, the U.S. has been losing ground. The UK, which traditionally lagged in international broadband rankings, is now number eleven, Germany, which has been slow to move to the most-recent DSL and fiber technologies, is number twelve.
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I wanted to find out why we're doing so badly. So earlier this year I went to the UK and Netherlands under the aegis of the Washington-based Center for Investigation and Information to learn why broadband in those countries is so much better than ours. The project was funded by the Ford Foundation. (In April, my colleagues and I produced the first version of the story for the weekly PBS newsmagazine Need to Know; you can see that report here. Later this year, we hope to produce additional reporting for two NPR programs.)
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We went to the Netherlands because it has one of the world's most advanced and fastest-growing fiber-optic networks. We visited homes there that get 100 mbps service in both directions -- they can upload as fast as they download -- as well as TV and phone for under $100 a month.
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We chose the UK because it's racing ahead in global rankings. Over the past decade, average speeds increased by 25 percent between 2009 and 2010, while prices have tumbled. Broadband service comparable to what we get here in the U.S. is available for less than $6 a month. And no, there isn't a zero missing there. Six bucks a month.
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So, what's the difference?

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Our reporting suggests a one-word answer: Government.
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Not government spending. The UK's administration hasn't invested a penny in broadband infrastructure, and most of the network in the Netherlands has been built with private capital. (The city government in Amsterdam took a minority stake in the fiber network there, but that's an investment that will pay dividends if the network is profitable -- and the private investors who own the majority share of the system plan to make sure that it will be.)
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The game-changer in these two European countries has been government regulators who have forced more competition in the market for broadband.
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The market in the UK used to be much like ours here in the U.S.: British homes had two options for broadband service: the incumbent telephone company British Telecom (BT), or a cable provider. Prices were high, service was slow, and, as I mentioned above, Britain was falling behind its European neighbors in international rankings of broadband service.
https://www.engadget.com/2011/06/28/...-the-governme/
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The solution, the British government decided, was more competition: If consumers had more options when it came to broadband service, regulators reasoned, prices would fall and speeds would increase. A duopoly of telephone and cable service wasn't enough. "You need to find the third lever," says Peter Black, who was the UK government's top broadband regulator from 2004 to 2008.
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Starting around 2000, the government required BT to allow other broadband providers to use its lines to deliver service. That's known as "local loop unbundling" -- other providers could lease the loops of copper that runs from the telephone company office to homes and back and set up their own servers and routers in BT facilities.
imagine that
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