San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, a progressive and economically vibrant metropolis of 1.4 million people sprawled across south-central Texas. But the speed of its Internet service is no match for the Latvian capital, Riga, a city of 700,000 on the Baltic Sea.
Riga’s average Internet speed is at least two-and-a-half times that of San Antonio’s, according to Ookla, a research firm that measures broadband speeds around the globe. In other words, downloading a two-hour high-definition movie takes, on average, 35 minutes in San Antonio — and 13 in Riga.
And the cost of Riga’s service is about one-fourth that of San Antonio.
The United States, the country that invented the Internet, is falling dangerously behind in offering high-speed, affordable broadband service to businesses and consumers, according to technology experts and an array of recent studies.
In terms of Internet speed and cost, “ours seems completely out of whack with what we see in the rest of the world,” said Susan Crawford, a law professor at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, a former Obama administration technology adviser and a leading critic of American broadband.
The Obama administration effectively agrees. “While this country has made tremendous progress investing in and delivering high-speed broadband to an unprecedented number of Americans, significant areas for improvement remain,” said Tom Power, deputy chief technology officer for telecommunications at the White House.
The disagreement comes over how far behind the United States really is in what many people consider as basic a utility as water and electricity — and how much it will affect the nation’s technological competitiveness over the next decade. “There aren’t any countries ahead of us that have a comparable population distribution,” said Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who said that the United States was closing the gap.
But as the Obama administration warned in a report this year: “To create jobs and grow wages at home, and to compete in the global information economy, the delivery of fast, affordable and reliable broadband service to all corners of the United States must be a national imperative.”
The World Economic Forum ranked the United States 35th out of 148 countries in Internet bandwidth, a measure of available capacity in a country. Other studies rank the United States anywhere from 14th to 31st in average connection speed.
Generally, fast broadband is considered anything above 10 megabits a second.
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Massachusetts has joined a growing list of states demanding that its investor-owned utilities invest in the smart grid -- and find new models for how those investments should be valued. Consider it the latest move in a state-by-state reconfiguration of utility business models, aimed at creating new rules for sharing the costs and benefits of grid modernization between utility shareholders and customers.
Monday’s order (PDF) from the state’s Department of Public Utilities will require the state’s big utilities to submit a ten-year grid modernization plan (GMP) in the next six months. Advanced metering will be required as part of that plan -- a significant development in a state which has seen almost no smart meters deployed to date.
These upcoming smart meter plans will need to include technology and business cases, not just for core automated meter reading functions, but for a range of additional features like outage detection and restoration, smart appliance communication and control capability, and support of power quality and conservation voltage reduction.
The plans also must include a request for pre-authorization of investments, along with “a mechanism to allow for more timely cost recovery than is typically available” under state regulations. That’s where the state’s proposal for coming up with a new way to measure the costs and benefits of these deployments comes in.
Massachusetts has about 3.4 million electricity customers, all but about 400,000 of which are served by an investor-owned utility. Of those, nearly half are customers of the state’s two biggest utilities -- NSTAR, which serves much of the greater Boston area and Southeastern Massachusetts, and National Grid (NGG), which serves broad swaths of the state from the coast to the western border.
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