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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  • Grouse Feather

    All public utilities should be nationalized and publicly owned.

  • Brett Glass

    Unfortunately, lawyer/lobbyist Susan Crawford is not an advocate for the public interest but rather is lobbying for the corporate interests of Google, a company which itself harms consumers by attempting to appropriate their personal data and by exploiting multiple Internet monopolies.

    As the owner of a small, rural Internet service provider who is close to my customers and strives them to give them the best service possible even if I lose money (which I do, some months), I would like the opportunity to speak to Bill’s audience and to debunk the falsehoods in Susan Crawford’s book, which she has been repeating in interviews such as the one she has had with Bill. Contrary to what Crawford says, there is indeed competition for Internet services — my company is an example. And I am only one of more than 3,000 small competitive Internet service providers — collectively known as WISPs, because we use wireless to provide our service — who cover roughly 80% of the US population and compete directly with the telephone and cable companies. Our service is not only comparable to theirs; it is often far more reliable, faster, and more economical. I was the world’s first, but as I mention there are thousands of others like me in the US alone. We are an option virtually everywhere there is cable — and in many places where neither cable nor telephone companies provide broadband as well.

    Why, then, does Ms. Crawford deny our existence (as she did in a recent Congressional hearing)? Because acknowledging the existence of competition would completely destroy her argument for extreme regulation of the Internet — regulation which, not coincidentally, would favor her corporate patron Google. Crawford’s story sounds compelling until one learns that it is, fundamentally, founded on this false premise.

    Bill should have a WISP on the show to talk about what we do — if not concurrently with Crawford, then in a subsequent installment. It is important that a person who presents falsehoods on behalf of a corporate monopolist — while falsely claiming to have the public interest at heart — not go unchallenged.

  • David Collado

    Please point me to a single credible source of Crawford’s patronage to Google. And please point me to some evidence, any evidence, that your WISP comes anywhere near the speeds of fiber. The competition Crawford refers to in the book is not just for any basic Internet connection. It’s for broadband access on par with the countries leading the world in this area, which basically means cable or fiber, actually only fiber if you have an inkling of vision in you. So with all due respect, your work is extremely valuable in providing what you can for your rural customers. I assure you Crawford would agree as she advocates for any and all solutions to providing rural Internet access. But the nation’s access to world-class broadband (fiber) should not, under any circumstances, be dictated by two or three megacorps and their lobbyists. Our economic future depends on our ability to keep pace with the most technologically advanced nations on the planet. If you don’t think maximum access to maximum data transmissions at maximum speeds is part of that equation, you are mistaken, sir.

  • edge

    Symmetric connections should be standard. I pay a lot for 17mb down but still only get at most 7mb up and I am small business owner trying to make a living. If I had a symmetric fiber connection at the speeds of Hong Kong or Korea I would be so much more efficient and save so much time. However, if my business were generating the kind of revenues needed to afford such a connection I would nearly be out of bandwidth at the time of purchase. That is to say the business model of the providers is calculated to provide each level of service with just enough to head room to quickly necessitate an upgrade. The only thing symmetric about the service is the cost as a percentage of your revenues. So as you generate more revenue they collect it.

  • Tracy Lopez-Hasuga

    Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as planned. It’s a shame because it had so much potential.

  • Jane Kraemer

    There is a wide divide in this country because not everyone has equal internet access? Access to medical care, education, housing, and even heat are luxuries for many people in this country. And you are worried about media conglomerates “rigging the rules, raising prices, and stifling competition?” I’m more concerned about “healthcare” corporations, insurance companies, drug companies, oil companies, banks, so-called educators, and retailers doing this. Unfortunately our government rewards these entities for these practices by providing them with huge tax breaks, government subsidies, and bailouts, and a blind eye when it comes to justice for the public.

  • Kim Forbes-Gayton

    I angrily weighed in on this to my Federal representatives. I thank Ms. Crawford for her editorial on this in the New York Times. I have had enough with every other less rich nation having better faster internet than the United States!

  • mountaindaisy

    I seem to recall Obama Campaign Promises involving high speed internet connections for all. That was 4 years ago. Haven’t heard another word from him. He has become a disaster.

  • Aaron Tant

    So, if Crawford’s dream comes true, everyone will get access to broadband, but one of three things will happen as a result: higher prices for all, slower speeds than currently experienced, or data caps… or a combination of the three. Nationalization is never the answer.

  • Edward Weatherby

    First…Bill Moyers you are an idiot and out of touch with what is going on in this century…There is NO DIGITAL DIVIDE…get over it….If you really were an investigative reporter or your minions could actually do their job they would find this simple fact…PEOPLE today , especially youth and every single minority in the US do NOT connect to the internet in the conventional method..THEY do connect via their smart phone…As a matter of fact the smart phone adoption amongst minorities is GREATER than those of Caucasian decent…So what say you now…..I am Caucasian and now what…? get with the program and report FACT not emotional crap to push an old tired agenda