The price of progress

Here’s a subject affecting millions of Americans that will never come up in tonight’s presidential debate: the cost and availability of high-speed telecommunications in the home.

Late on Tuesday, Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin proposed a change in the “intercarrier compensation” system, which is telecom carriers figure out how much to pay each other for using each other’s networks. It uses the “universal service fund,” which — back in the days when AT&T was broken up — wasn’t much of a big deal at $1 a month. Now it’s up $6.50 and Martin proposes it be raised to $8.50.

Part of Martin’s plan is to encourage rural carries to provide broadband service to rural America. The Associated Press story cited above says only about 10-percent of America doesn’t have access to high-speed service. Others, says there’s no real way to know, because the FCC has been adamant about not collecting the data that would tell them.

Says Scot Bradner of Network World:

The law also requires that the FCC figure out how U.S. broadband deployment compares with that in other countries in a systematic, apples-to-apples way. The results of this study will be useful at least to the degree that they may devolve a consistent agreement as to where this country sits. I’ve seen rankings that vary between No. 8 and 20 in the world — the number seems to heavily depend on the goals of the person.

Today, a story in a Muskegon, Michigan newspaper chronicles a typical effort to bring the Internet to a rural area: Long delays, poor service when there is some, and a price higher than imagined.

Even for people in metropolitan communities, and especially in a crumbling economy, the promise of high-speed Internet fades with rapidly escalating monthly costs of being connected.