In many ways, the internet has revolutionized the potential for small businesses anywhere to serve customers everywhere. It may seem a bit perplexing, therefore, to realize that most U.S. cities (and the businesses in them) lag far behind cities outside the U.S. when it comes to high speed low cost internet access.

The recently released policy paper from the Open Technology Institute, The Cost of Connectivity, 2014, compares the cost and speeds of broadband offerings in 24 cities across the world and finds the U.S. coming up slow.

What most of us in the U.S. call “broadband” access is closer to AOL dialup days than to the speeds many cities (and the businesses in them) have access to around the world. Those cities have the type of speed available only through fiber-based networks; speeds that are up to 100x faster than that available to the typical U.S. internet user.

As we’ve shared before, only a few American cities already have “giga-speed” internet access. Google Fiber (notably, Kansas City on the chart below) and AT&T (and to a lesser extent, other cable companies and telcos) are picking up the pace of competition and expanding into more cities. And some cities, like Chattanooga, Tenn., refused to wait on fiber providers to come to them; they created a city-owned fiber network using the model (and some infrastructure) of other public utilities. (It’s why they rank so highly on the chart below.)


If competition between the major telcos and cable companies doesn’t drive the expansion of fiber networks, then it may be up to municipalities to take matters into their own hands–like Chattanooga. That Tennessee city saw giga-speed internet as a competitive advantage for attracting technology companies — not just from around the U.S., but from around the world.

While the U.S. has led the world in technology development related to the internet, it can still fumble the future if more cities and businesses don’t have access to the internet that is low cost and high speed rather than high cost and low speed.

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