“The Internet Gets a D Minus in America”
Would you be surprised to know the country that invented the Internet now ranks 20th in broadband access, as of 2006. That's down from 17th in 2005. The United States lags behind such economic power houses as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Finland, and Slovena. In the United States, for about $50 a month, you can be assured a download speed of about 1.5 Mbps. In Japan, you can get Internet service at speeds of 50 Mbps, for around $15 a month. And we continue to slide. Back in 1997, the telephone companies offered to fix this problem for us, taking $25 billion in tax write-offs over the past 10 years to make it happen. By the way, you know the average maximum download speed available to the home Internet consumer, in 1997? That's right, 1.5 Mbps. If knowledge is power and access to information is integral to knowledge, then how can we call ourselves a super power in this realm?
But wait, there's more. Did you hear the Internet was deregulated in August of last year? A little regulatory slight of hand. What does this mean? In a nutshell, accessibility to the Internet will now be determined not only by how much you're willing to pay to access it, but by how much companies such as Laura's Sewing Studio can afford to pay to make itself accessible to you. In other words, the day may come, in the not too distant future, when you'll stop visiting Laura's website not because there's no new designs or anything interesting, but because it's loads too slowly or is otherwise unavailable, regardless of whether you visit at 2pm or 2am.
Why should we care? In the late 1990's a funny thing happened. People again found individual self-expression. It hasn't always been eloquent, or even tasteful. Take note. The town squares are gone, as are the town papers. Before the Internet, if an individual wanted to discuss a controversial topic, such as, say, this one, she was pretty much confined to grumbling over a drink at the bar. Tried getting an independent article published in a paper lately? How about time on a “local” television or radio program?
The embroidery community, like other parts of the Internet, will undergo homogenization. Websites such as K-Lace, Sew Artfully Yours, and Laura's Sewing Studio will disappear, or at least be hard to find or access, leaving only sites owned and funded by larger organizations such as the sewing machine companies. As the pool of embroidery site owners shrinks, so too will the innovation and creativity that comes from individual expression. Will these companies survive and flourish? Perhaps, but not through the Internet. The Internet will transform into a variation of cable or satellite television, with five million channels of programmed content as defined by the five major program providers.
So what's a body to do? We could write our congressmen about how and when they plan on getting the $25 billion back, with interest. It would make a nice dent in the war effort. But that's an exercise in sand pounding. Alternatively, we could write them to inquire when we're going to retake the number one position in Internet broadband connectivity, and leave Slovena eating our dust. While we're at, we could ask about the restoration of net neutrality. Seven bills were introduced and defeated this past year that would have restore net neutrality. All were defeated. Go figure. We've had an election since then. Why not get it in their faces when they reconvene in February?
Women and minorities only won their civil rights when they stood together in solidarity to government, showing they were serious in their pursuits. Even then, it didn't happen overnight. If you cherish your freedom of expression and seek the free exchange of ideas, then I'm putting you on notice that you must fight for them and you must do it now. There's a new Congress in town. Let's put it through its paces and see if it's really fresh blood or just the same old nag.
If I've peeked your interest and you want to know more, here are a couple of places you can still reach with information on the issues facing the Internet.