France Connects!

Nativists in America reveled in the use of the term Freedom Fries to replace French Fries. But the French were right about the Iraq war and one doesn’t hear Freedom Fries used much anymore. The world of the internet has also seen France vindicated: In 2001, France had less than a quarter of the broadband internet penetration of the U.S., but today it exceeds ours and is three times faster to boot. Not only that, access is cheaper in France and it leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.

My eyes were opened to this French internet resurgence, and also that in a number of other countries, when I read Paul Krugman’s article today, The French Connections, in Times Select ($), and then found further information in the Business Week article, Vive la High-Speed Internet!.

So why has America fallen behind? This is the way Paul Krugman phrased it:

Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.

The Business Week article describes how France outstrips the U.S. in infrastructure and turned into such a hotbed of broadband competition. To quote from the article: “The surge [not the Bush Iraq variety!] can be traced [to] government actions at the start of the decade that have proved far more effective at stimulating broadband competition than the policies of the FCC.” Further, from the Business Week article,

By comparison, “the U.S. is living on borrowed time,” says Peter Cowhey, a former official with the U.S. Federal Communication Commission and now professor of telecom policy at the University of California, San Diego. The next generation of information services will require very fast and cheap connections, he says, and while the U.S. is still ahead in software and Web innovation, it is falling behind in network infrastructure. That gives a potential leg up to the European and Asian countries that have rolled out better broadband services.

So what can we do? One thing would be to rehire Reed Hundt as chair of the FCC; he was chair during the Clinton administration. But that will have to wait until Bush leaves office of course.

  1. Áine’s avatar

    I also think that one of the main problems to rolling out high speed internet access to all in the US is the fact that corporations look at their short-term bottom line, rather than the long term stability of their businesses. Where I live (Area Code 906), I’m lucky to have 3Mbps cable, but a short distance away, my sister only has 26K dial-up access. Her speed is so slow due to very old phone lines and a lack of _any_ broadband provider in her area. The excuse we always hear is that due to our rural location, it wouldn’t be “cost-effective” to provide better access here.

    The same is true for mobile/cellphone services where we live. Africa has more connectivity than we do!

  2. Mardé’s avatar

    Thanks for your comment, Áine. I think you’re right. Corporations here in the US, many of them, look at their short-term bottom line for what they think are competitive reasons, but in fact they’re hurting themselves, and us too, in the long run.

    I looked up area code 906 and see that it’s way up there, in northern Michigan squeezed between two of the great lakes. Well, I’m lucky here in Western Maine. Even though it’s pretty rural, we have Fairpoint Communications that has a niche in DSL for rural regions. Maybe Fairpoint will expand out your way. They’re in rural areas in Illinois and Ohio.

    It’s interesting that Africa has more connectivity than you do. Hopefully things will improve for you. Thanks again for your comment and the best of luck.

  3. barbara’s avatar

    Hi Mard,
    Interesting article :)
    We have been on high speed since a few years, through one of those boxes, the Livebox of France Telecom. Not the cheapest, but rather reliable.
    Yes, the TV through the net and internet telephone are popular. We don’t have either; just the net connection.
    But as for that Livebox, we are pretty satisfied.Not the cheapest, but fairly reliable. Theres a lot of competition through other companies.

    A friend of our’s took one with the works with a cheaper price. She ended up with bad telephone service and TV programs that would just “cut”. It took her a long time before being able to cancel her contract.

    Although it seems to me that most of the larger French cities and their burbs are well covered by high speed connections. Yet, some small villages or country areas might not have it yet.

    You take care and see you soon.

  4. Mardé’s avatar

    Hi Barbara, Thanks for that realistic appraisal of the “French Connections” from someone — yourself! — who actually is in France! Yes, no system is perfect, and it appears from what you say that France has connection problems in rural areas too, just like in the USA, and one must beware about getting conned into “cheap” service for a cheap price. Thanks and take care, Mardé.

  5. Convertisseur’s avatar


    being myself French, I would agree with Barbara. Things are getting fast today, and coverage is really improving day by day. There is an interesting map related to the major french ISP DSL coverage.
    Check here:



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