Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

What do you base that on?

The US is in the top 10 for global broadband speeds, according to Ookla and Akamai data. We’re not in the top 10 for any sort of government infrastructure (trains, roads, etc). Compare the US to say Germany or Sweden, and the only area of infrastructure where we can hold a candle is broadband.

In the NYT article detailing why it costs NYC 7x as much money per mile to build subway than other countries, leaders of subway projects in London and Paris pointed out how inefficient MTA projects are compared to theirs. Why would you expect government run broadband in the US to be better when our other government run services are so much worse?

Here in Maryland, our Comcast/Verizon duopoly is working pretty well. 60% of households have access to fiber. Most of the rest have access to gigabit cable, which in a few years will be symmetric gigabit. (I’ve got fiber from both Comcast and Verizon into my house.) Prices are comparable to Sweden or Switzerland for gigabit (places that also have high labor costs and don’t subsidize their fiber.) Municipal fiber fills the gap in rural areas.

The one gap is Baltimore, where Verizon doesn’t have FiOS. Should Baltimore build a municipal fiber network? I don’t think so. Baltimore recently celebrated hitting 75% on-time performance on their subway. MARC had 75% on-time performance this summer. My Metro commute is slower and less reliable than it would’ve been in 1985. They literally had to slow down the trains and run them less often because they botched the maintenance so bad. (And these are well-funded systems. We’re a heavily urbanized blue state.) Why on earth would I want to put those same people in charge of my broadband?

In rural areas it's quite a bit different.

Where I am in rural southern Missouri, I've got very few choices.

1. Mediacom - horrible customer service, decent speed when it works but sometimes unreliable. Data caps on all accounts.

2. Centurylink DSL - horribly slow and horribly small data caps.

3. TotalHighspeed - 3 megabits for $75/month via Wifi dish.

4. Verizon LTE - ~$100 for a 15 gigabyte per month data cap, then it's throttled to ~600kbit/s once 15 gigs is used.

Note that the only one that doesn't have explicit data caps and multi-year contracts is the tiny WISP with extremely slow service. Verizon and Mediacom both have 2 year contracts with cancellation fees. Centurylink has data caps so small that it isn't even worth considering. Most of these options are only available inside city limits, if you live far out of town your only option is Verizon or a Satellite provider with outrageous latency and data caps.

Government might not always do a good job providing service but I'd love to see literally any new competition enter the market.

My mother (who lives in Sweden) had fiber installed in her house (on a farm, far away from the nearest city and at least a 20 minute drive to the nearest village).

She paid ~$2000 for the installation. But then, interestingly, the company that owns the actual cables pay her rent for running the cables through her land and on to the next farm.

The company that handle the installation and maintenance of the infrastructure does not provide internet access themselves. Rather, the first thing that happened when she opened her browser was that she got to pick an ISP from a list of about 20-40 choices.

The speeds on offer ranges between 100mb to 10gb.

(I guided her to pick Bahnhof, who has an excellent record for protecting customer data and being critical against surveillance)

> Here in Maryland, our Comcast/Verizon duopoly is working pretty well. 60% of households have access to fiber.

Only 2 providers, especially in a heavily urbanized area, is not that many. How do your rates compare to other countries?

> our other government run services are so much worse?

Surely the answer is to improve the quality of government run services then, instead of accepting that the US is somehow intrinsically bad at providing them. In many cases, it's also a self-fulfilling prophecy: government services suck, so let's underfund/have low expectations of them, now they really do suck. For many functions government services are the only game in town, so it's in everyone's interest to have them be as efficient as possible.

You have to put the number in context. Maryland’s GDP per capita is 60% higher than France’s. Labor costs make up lion’s share of broadband deployment and maintenance, and those costs are very high here.

Gigabit fiber (1000/1000) from Verizon is about $80-90 per month (not a promo rate). With basic TV maybe $110. According to the Internet, the non-promo rate for 1000/300+TV from Orange in France is 48 euros per month, or $54. Equivalent to $90 here in MD.

In the UK, Hyperoptic is well regarded. It’s 60 pounds per month after the promo period for gigabit, or $80. That is about the same nominal cost, but in reality less affordable for your average UK person, given that Maryland’s per capita GDP is 50% higher than the UK’s.

It seems unfair to compare Maryland, a relatively wealthy state, to all of France, a nation with regional economic disparities. The Île-de-France region has a per-capita GDP about $10k higher than Maryland - but the price of internet service isn't correspondingly higher, that I can find.

Maryland ranges from quite wealthy near DC to quite poor in Baltimore, and very rural in much of the state. (It’s also more populous than Denmark or Norway, which gets compared to France all the time.) This data is a bit old, but it shows the Washington metro area (I think the fairest comparison to Paris) having a 50% higher GDP per capita than the Paris metro area: http://www.demographia.com/db-gdp-metro.pdf. Paris is comparable in income to second-tier US cities, like Cleveland.

And yet, $54/month won't buy you gigabit Internet in Cleveland (if that's the Paris-equivalent US city we're going with). Spectrum charges $70/month for a measly 100 Mbps (after the 1st year's promotional price. Just so we're comparing the apples to apples, Orange in Paris is EUR 22/month for the first year, then EUR 48/month afterward)

I wonder how the internet was in the banlieues until that guy started Free

Remarkable that this is being downvoted. It's a great illustration of the strong vs weak government debates.

What did jogjayr say that people find not contribute to the discussion? I believe they are right on point - why not make our government better? You can say it is inefficient and still want to make it better. Other governments somehow do a good job, as we can see with public infrastructure in Germany et al. Is it really a reasonable perspective to say "the US government has failed in the past, therefore it will always fail?" I don't think it is reasonable to make a claim like that in a country where "government" is a word that refers to a federal executive branch that refreshes every 4-8 years, two houses of federal legislative branches that cycle every 2 years, a federal judicial branch, a state level executive, legislative, and judicial branch, a county level judicial branch, a city level executive and legislative branch, and then elected bureaucratic offices at an even more granular local level.

To me, it seems obvious that these positions could be filled with competent people, they certainly have been in the past and they can be in the future. There is no "government" homogeneous entity in America and thus there's no way to unequivocally say "the guvmint of the USA is bad at infrastructure."

> What did jogjayr say that people find not contribute to the discussion? I believe they are right on point - why not make our government better?

It’s not a helpful point. The government (at least in a democracy) is a reflection of the people and their culture. Even to put it charitably, we’re a culture that puts many other things ahead of infrastructure. In France to build a train line, the government does a study, passes a law that preempts all other laws, and then the thing gets built. Here, any project is tied up in years of litigation before it can move forward.

Why is our metro service so bad? The WMATA union is completely broken. They had track inspectors falsify reports. Management fired them, the union sued, and they were hired back. But you can’t take on the WMATA union because then you’re a capitalist pig and now you’re mired in a larger national debate about unions versus right-to-work.

Or compare how Stockholm did fiber deployment. The municipal entity built out over more than a decade, wiring up profitable neighborhoods first in a demand driven way. Here, if you tried that it would explode in a shit show about “digital redlining.” (Which is not to minimize that problem—just pointing out that the legacy of actual redlining in America makes it politically impossible for us to adopt a policy that worked very well in Sweden.)

You can’t fix all that. And if you can’t fix it, there is a good reason to keep the government away from markets that are at least kinda working.

>You can’t fix all that. And if you can’t fix it, there is a good reason to keep the government away from markets that are at least kinda working.

Comcast and ATT have as disgusting a history with our infrastructure as the government. Throwing our arms up in the air with "the government can't do it" while simultaneously saying "oh well I guess trust profit driven companies with our data transmission" doesn't sound at all sustainable to me.

"You can't fix all that," so I guess I'll die? I'm not going to roll over and let Comcast have its way with me.

> Comcast and ATT have as disgusting a history with our infrastructure as the government

Except that’s not true, right? Comcast’s top speed has gone from 12-20 mbps in 2008 (last time I had Comcast service in Atlanta) to 1 gbps today. That involved a ton of investment—each new versions of DOCSIS require you to split nodes and move fiber closer to each subscriber to hit the required performance on the analog side. Over that time period, Comcast cable has improved way faster than almost every other aspect of computing besides iPhones. My MacBook from then (2 GHz Core 2 Duo) would still make a pretty serviceable machine. But I’d be pretty salty about a 20 mbps internet connection. (And stuff like Facebook, Gmail, and Google Search arguably have regressed, rather than improved, over that time period.)

Over that exact same time period, Metro had to disable driverless train operation, which was built into the system when it opened in the 1970s, because it had let the signaling equipment deteriorate too much for it to be reliable. They had to decrease train spacing from 6 minutes to 8 minutes, and increase the scheduled time between stops because track conditions (and human drivers) didn’t permit maintaining the more aggressive schedule.

From my point of view, I’m looking for ways to have Comcast take over Metro, not have WMATA take over my broadband.

I don't measure infrastructure by speed alone. So what they increased broadband speed. The Spaniards brought guns to the native Americans, then shot them. Doesn't make sense as a "thus it is good" argument.


Comcast blocked peer to peer. ATT blocked Skype and Google Voice. MetroPCS tried to block everyone but YouTube.

Great, you found a time a local government did a stupid. One local government, one instance. I can provide for you a storied history of big Telecom's attempts to wrestle control over a consumer's choices. Again, and again, and again, they try to take from us. We have no say in any of their decisions - we can't even vote with our wallets because they have functional monopolies. At least we can elect our government representatives. At least portions of the government support net neutrality (when literally no Telecom company actually does in practice).

Speed is the number one most important thing for broadband service, and it’s also the thing that requires lots of capital investment to provide. So massive investment and dramatically increasing speeds is a critical sign of a functioning broadband market in the US. (What you see in public infrastructure in the US is the opposite. Lack of investment leading to decay, and not only an inability to keep up with growing demand, but an inability to even maintain previous levels of service.)

The WMATA example is not “one instance.” I use it as an example just because it’s local to me. (You want to hear about my water service? It cost $30,000 for the city to hook us up to public water/sewer in 2015. We just had the chlorine levels tested and they’re squarely in the middle of the range for pool water.). And frankly Maryland is a wealthy blue state, with better public services than say Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, or Georgia, other places I’ve lived.

Transit is also an example of infrastructure that, like broadband, requires expensive maintenance and continual upgrades to handle increased demand. The NYC MTA is also in dire straits. When there’s only a handful of cities in the US with “real” subway systems to begin with, the #1 and #3 systems being in a state of emergency is a pretty significant data point.

But the problem isn’t unique to subway systems. US infrastructure, which is almost entirely managed by state and local governments, is a disaster across the board: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org (American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card giving US infrastructure a D+). Whether you’re talking about lead water pipes poisoning kids in Chicago, civil war era sewer systems dumping raw sewage into the Potomac, Baltimore’s subway that celebrates 75% on time performance, California HSR that ran out of money after construction barely started, etc., American state and local governments prove time and again that they cannot be trusted with infrastructure.

We are at an impasse.

>Speed is the number one most important thing for broadband service

Safety and security take precedence over speed, for me. I don't trust corporate entities that I have no decision making power over with my data, especially because they have already demonstrated what their goal is - extract maximum capital from me by any and all means necessary.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact