American Internet speeds: slower, more expensive

U.S. Politics and the Iron RangeAs this Mashable story citing a recent study shows, American internet speeds are slower and more expensive than in other countries. We pay more for an inferior internet product in the country that developed the internet. And this, of course, refers to people who live in major cities where there is more competition among high-speed technologies. Those like me and many of you pay more yet for speeds that are slower yet in small cities or the country.

This issue of rural internet connectivity is something I live with all the time. Last week I had to drive into town to do a video interview with Al Jazeera because the upload speed on my premium satellite internet package is, even when working properly, not fast enough for live TV. This week my online communication students encountered all kinds of difficulty with upload and download speeds, both in Hibbing proper and elsewhere. The speed of the internet here is fine for checking Facebook and sending e-mail, but when it comes to the kind of high-speed needs for doing professional things on the internet — meetings, broadcasts, video, audio and graphics — we’re streets behind. And even when we get workable speeds, we encounter bandwidth caps that limit development and use.

Folks, I don’t know how else to say this. Someday soon we’ll get our TV, phone, radio and countless other day-to-day amenities through something that develops from what we now call “the internet.” Don’t believe me? Watch anything on TV and see what the ads show. The phones. The tablets. The online services. That’s what people want. Small cities, towns and rural areas are going to get destroyed in the new economy if our leaders don’t work to address the connectivity gap. That’s not just an assertion. That’s not a threat. That is what is happening right now.

So if I ever seem a little snippy with the same old arguments about whether or not we should employ 300 people to mine copper, nickel and palladium at PolyMet, here’s why: None of it matters if everyone has to move to a big city to work in any field other than mining. Want a resource colony? Look at western North Dakota and try that on for size. Money, yes. Quality of life, no.

Pardon my tone. I’m reminded of one of those online memes that reads “If you want to see what a person is really like, give them slow internet and see how they react.”


  1. The problem is that we are essentially asking suburban taxpayers to subsidize rural Minnesota’s internet infrastructure. There are arguments that can be made that this is the right thing to do but it is easy enough to see why suburban legislators of both parties are going to be reluctant to embrace the idea. Additionally do we need to put out sufficient infrastructure that all of rural Minnesota has high speed internet available? That isn’t a small outlay. I’m currently on DSL which is better than satellite but by DSL standards isn’t overly fast, and lags well behind cable. No easy answers I’m afraid.

  2. This “internet” thing almost reminds me of another sector of the economy where Americans pay too much for inferior outcomes, compared to the rest of the developed world.

    As Aaron has mentioned many times, part of the issue is generational: the older cohort — particularly in rural areas — is less inclined to see high-speed connectivity as an economic imperative. And I’m sure there were homesteaders in the Tennessee Valley who weren’t too keen on electrification. It was a messy, disruptive process that simply had to happen, and due to similar economic constraints the utility companies weren’t about to pursue it on their own.

    To cite just one of the ramifications, I’d bet a lot of Range merchants would weep if they found out how much action they’re missing out on because their presence on the web is negligible to nonexistent. There is Supreme Court-level befuddlement* with the entire concept. “People are shopping for TVs and boats and such with those little gadgets they carry around?”

    What we have now (even in many large cities) is a hodgepodge of private companies who are quite happy with the status quo, thank you very much. Meanwhile, these companies’ rural customers watch the 21st century whiz past them. Maybe there aren’t any easy solutions, but that’s the type of situation that leadership is supposed to address.


    Best – – –

    – – – CJH

  3. Move

  4. David Gray says

    Telling Aaron to move is a bit like telling someone to move if they have a complaint about the roads. Roads and internet connectivity are both infrastructure issues. Certainly a much more useful thing to deal with than just more redistribution. The internet can help provide jobs and make rural living more economically viable. I’d rather have folks working than collecting.

  5. All have a choice where they choose to live and make a living…and what resources (including infrastructure) they wish to be close to. Yes, if you wish to become a movie producer, you can do so in Nashwauk, but LA or New York offer more resources…if you think you need them. If you wish to set up a spinal surgery practice in Hibbing go for it, but you might consider St. Mary’s in Duluth or HCMC in Mpls to further grow and expand your skills. Engaging in Electrical Engineering with Magnetation is fine, but more limited than what Barr Engineering in the cities, or IBM in Rochester or Xcel Energy in Mpls offers. You’re free to live in Balsam Township or Angora but if your livelihood depends on high-speed internet you might find greater success if you locate where it’s offered….say Grand Rapids, Hibbing or God forbid, the cities. i.e. – All successful logistics companies moved to, and located at, interstate freeway intersections and airport hubs for a reason. Move to your Happy Place.

  6. Taylor Johnson says

    I think you made Aaron’s point for him. Yes right now mining in viable and still is the engine for the area, but unless a company is directly tied to resources that lie in the ground do we want them to just move? This is an equal access issue, because of the large capital investment there is not a true competitive market for Internet so not unlike with utilities it would be nice if we could take a coop approach, especially in underserved areas.

  7. Equal access B.S. Next you’ll be demanding Coleraine run sewer and water lines to Arbo Township. There’s nothing stopping you from creating a “nice” coop though. Call a meeting of your neighbors.

  8. REA didn’t provide 230 KV, 3phase, 280 megawattt service to one and all, but only enough power to serve basic farm and rural homeowner needs…and certainly not to reliability levels experienced by city dwellers. Basic internet service is already provided to anyone who’s willing to install a phone line or satellite dish. Those who want 3phase internet should consider moving….or go Taylor’s route, form a coop and pay for it. It works.

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