|The front page of the Jan. 29, 1914, edition of the Bemidji Daily Pioneer.|
It’s not a secret that Internet prices in the United States are out of line with those in other developed countries. In fact, Americans pay more per megabyte than anyone else in the world with access to broadband.
This is on top of having our Netflix stream slower than elsewhere; in 2012 the average download speed for American connections was just 12th in the world.
(It should be noted here that the United States' speed problem is one of having some areas with great speeds, but low performers dragging the rest of the country down. For example, if Vermont and New Hampshire were countries, they would have the second and third-highest average download speeds in the world. California, home of Silicon Valley, also suffers from this diffusion on a micro scale, having fast service in urban cores while most of the state’s land area remains unserved or underserved.)
Wow. It must be completely unprecedented that the country where a revolutionary new telecommunications technology was invented trails the rest of the world in terms of costs and efficiency. Right?
Nope. A century ago, people were complaining that US telephone and telegraph rates were too high. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
One-hundred years ago today, the Bemidji Daily Pioneer in Minnesota ran a column one article by Illinois Congressman Clyde Tavenner noting several areas where the United States trailed significantly in terms of costs compared to what was then the "developed" world.
As examples, the United States ranked:
- Last of 16 countries in average cost to send a telegram (44 cents vs. 9 cents in top-ranked Luxembourg);
- Only 14th lowest in terms of costs per local phone call (2.1 cents vs. 0.4 cents in Norway);
- Last in average costs of a long-distance call (60 cents vs. 8 cents in Sweden for a call to a place 100 miles distant [in 15th place was Hungary, with 39 cents for that same call]).
The whole screed was apparently a call from the Congressman to nationalize the home phone service, then (as now -- what breakup?) dominated by American Telephone & Telegraph. Apparently, per Tavenner, Ma Bell was engaged in an "evident attempt to stave off government ownership by its willingness to submit to every government demand" (wire-tapping included?).
Tavenner was obviously a proponent of government ownership of the telephone system, noting that the one place where American service was superior than most of its contemporaries (other than Japan) was in its government-owned postal service.
"Our privately owner telegraphs and telephones fall far below the standard of efficiency and cheapness set by the European government service," Tavenner wrote.
The government never did buy AT&T, although it did cause it to break up in the 1980s -- before the telecommunications giant reformed like a melted T-1000.