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June 27, 2010 10:57 PM

France Kicking US's Broadband Butt

Over the weekend during my travels through Paris with my wife I had a chance to visit with Michael Curri of SNG Networks at his home.

While there he highlighted something that while I knew as a data point hit me much harder seeing in person firsthand, namely that France is kicking the US's broadband butt.

Upon returning from a wonderful bike ride through a neighboring park, he excitedly fired up his computer to run a broadband speed test.

The first time he ran it it only came up at about 14Mbps downstream and 4Mbps up. Naturally I had to rib him that this all seemed to be much ado about nothing. But he'd pulled a fast one on me, as this first test was being run over his old cable connection. Then he switched to his newly installed fiber.

BOOM! The speedometer on SpeedTest.net, which only goes up to 50Mbps, was redlining, ultimately peaking at over 90Mbps down and almost hitting 80Mbps up.

Impressive as that is, what really floored me is the price he's paying: 30 Euros, or roughly $40/month.

I've been touting the speed and value customers can get in Lafayette (50Mbps symmetrical for less than $60/month) and have received astonished looks across the US from app developers to business leaders, and yet in Paris you can get 100Mbps for $40/month.

But wait, there's more! That same 30 Euros also gets you your phone and TV service. Now, I forgot to ask, but I'm assuming that these phone and TV packages are pretty basic. Even still, that's an unbelievable difference in the value customers receive for their dollars.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it wasn't as though this was necessarily news to me, and yet seeing it in person had a deeply profound impact on me.

I currently live in Washington, DC and I'm paying $70/month just for ho-hum cable broadband service roughly equivalent to Michael's first speed test.

How are we OK with this as a nation? Many in broadband policy circles try to claim that there is no bandwidth crisis in the US, but how can that be the case if consumers and innovators in France are getting ten times the capacity for half the cost?

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: what if a hundred years ago we had this same dynamic in the cost/capacity of electricity? What would that have meant for our economy in the industrial economy? Do we really think we'd have been the world's economic leader if this was the case?

These aren't academic questions. These are the real-world challenges we face today that if we don't find ways to resolve them significantly and soon we risk losing our position as a global economic leader.

We can't let these issues get swept under the rug. If you look at the US in a bubble things may look fine, but as soon as you look up and take into consideration where the rest of the world is you can't deny that we're facing a bandwidth crisis.

If we as a nation don't take our heads out of the sand and recognize that countries like France are kicking our broadband butt, then they will be the ones to realize the full benefits of the digital economy while America's leadership continues to erode away.

I, for one, refuse to accept that our great nation is content with this reality. And I hope everyone reading this article not only feels the same way but pledges to work tirelessly to insure that we don't allow our country to fall victim to the curse of lowered expectations.

That's why I ask that we all continue to raise these issues to policymakers, the press, and beyond. America needs to know that France and countries like it are kicking our broadband butt, and that the time is now or never to do something about it.

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