American internet service falls short compared to Europe

Ethernet Plug

More than a quarter of Americans do not have internet at home, in part, because of the high cost of broadband and the lack of competition, according to The Center for Public Integrity.

A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Internet prices in five U.S. cities and five comparable French cities found that prices in the U.S. were as much as 3 1/2 times higher than those in France for similar service.

They found French customers had more choice among internet providers than in the U.S. where a customer’s options might be limited to one or two internet providers.

One of their pairs of cities compared internet access in Pittsburgh to Nimes, France. Pittsburgh has two internet providers, Verizon and Comcast, while Nimes has eight providers.

French internet provider SFR has a 70 megabit per second (Mbps) plan in Nimes that costs the U.S. equivalent of $35.28 per month. A comparable 75 Mbps plan in Pittsburgh from Verizon costs $74.99 per month, more than twice as much. In fact, the most expensive plan in Nimes is still less expensive than the least expensive and slowest plan in Pittsburgh.

The comparisons by The Center were chosen among cities that have a similar number of residents and population density, which indicates the cost of providing internet service to those areas would be similar, according to the story.

The findings “are not surprising, unfortunately,” said Danielle Kehl, a policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute in Washington, D.C., and one of the authors of a study that also found U.S. broadband prices are higher than those in most other foreign cities.

For many, the high cost of internet service (and a computer) is the reason they’re not online, according to the Obama administration’s 2010 National Broadband Plan.

The Center also found that U.S. broadband companies appear to not want to compete with each other, which doesn’t help lower prices for consumers.

Consider the Seattle, Washington, metropolitan area, which includes Bellevue, Tacoma and Redmond. The area boasts three providers who offer residents Internet service of more than 10 megabits per second: Comcast, CenturyLink and Frontier Communications.

But no Seattle resident has a choice of all three.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.