When I called up Nick Russo, Policy Program Associate at New America's Open Technology Institute, I told him I had trouble viewing the report he co-wrote, "The Cost of Connectivity 2014." For the third year in a row, it documents that most U.S. cities have far slower Internet speeds than major cities in Europe and Asia. When I clicked to download the study, my Time Warner Cable Internet cut out, as it's wont to do - several times a day.
"I feel your pain," Russo told me from his Washington, D.C. office. "We're in the same boat over here."
Russo told me I would probably have better luck accessing the Internet in American cities that have invested in publicly-owned fiber optic networks, like Bristol, Virginia, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
"You pay $300 dollars for 500 megabits in L.A. and you pay $70 for 1000 megabits per second in Chattanooga," Russo said. He thinks Internet access in Los Angeles is pricey and slow because there's a lack of competition among providers; and L.A. is hardly alone among major U.S. cities with subpar data speeds. Russo predicts there will be even less choice for customers nationwide if Time Warner and Comcast complete their $45 billion merger.
"Probably it will just perpetuate a lot of the issues we see today," he said.
In an August letter written to the FCC, Mayor Eric Garcetti warned that the merger could shut out smaller and competing content providers.
"The combined Comcast will be in a position to create specialized and favored pathways for its own content outside the public Internet, and use its last mile control to limit access by competitors who provide content using streaming technologies," Garcetti wrote. "That sort of control could have a significant impact on the development of the digital economy."
Garcetti recommended that the FCC track Comcast's internet speeds if the merger goes through, using Chattanooga as a yardstick.
The Open Technology Institute report did note some improvements in L.A., but they tended to be for the most expensive plans that fewer people use.
"AT&T has nearly doubled the speeds of its 2012 offerings in Los Angeles, CA while prices remained relatively constant at about $64," the report said. "Time Warner Cable began upgrading its highest speed offerings in Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY, to 300 Mbps for a price of $64.99 — an improvement by a factor of ten."