BILL MOYERS: In here you call it the digital divide. Describe that to me.

SUSAN CRAWFORD: Well, here's the problem. For 19 million Americans, many in rural areas, you can't get access to a high speed connection at any price, it's just not there. For a third of Americans, they don't subscribe often because it's too expensive. So the rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out. And this means that we're creating yet again two Americas and deepening inequality through this communications inequality.

BILL MOYERS: So is this why, according to numbers released by the Department of Commerce, only four out of ten households with annual household incomes below $25,000 reported having wired internet access at home compared with 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000? These companies are not providing cheap enough access to the poor folks in this country?

SUSAN CRAWFORD: These are good American companies. Their profit motives though don't line up with our social needs to make sure that everybody gets access. They're not in the business of making sure that everybody has reasonably priced internet access. That's how a utility functions. That's the way we need to treat this commodity. They're in the business right now of finding rich neighborhoods and harvesting, just making more and more money from the same number of people. They're doing really well at that. Comcast is now a $100 billion company. They're bigger than McDonald's, they're bigger than Home Depot. But they're not providing this deep social need of connection that every other country is taking seriously.

BILL MOYERS: And you make the point that the United States itself is beginning to experience this digital divide in the world.

SUSAN CRAWFORD: It's fair to say that the U.S. at the best is in the middle of the pack when it comes to both the speed and cost of high speed internet access connections. So in Hong Kong right now you can get a 500 megabit symmetric connection that's unimaginably fast from our standpoint for about 25 bucks a month. In Seoul, for $30 you get three choices of different providers of fiber in your apartment. And they come in and install in a day because competition's so fierce. In New York City there's only one choice, and it's 200 bucks a month for a similar service.

How Big Telecom Increases Our Digital Divide

America has a wide digital divide — high-speed Internet access is available only to those who can afford it, at prices much higher and speeds much slower in the U.S. than they are around the world.

But neither has to be the case, says Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation, and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. In this excerpt, Crawford and Bill discuss how our government has allowed a few powerful media conglomerates to put profit ahead of the public interest — rigging the rules, raising prices and stifling competition.

“The rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out, and this means that we’re creating, yet again, two Americas, and deepening inequality through this communications inequality,” Crawford tells Bill.

Watch Bill’s full conversation with Susan Crawford.

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