Editor’s note: Mark Johnson is chief technology officer of MCNC and former interim executive director of U.S. UCAN.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Maybe we don’t have it so bad after all.
We have all seen the statistics showing that the United States is lagging horribly in Internet speeds and availability. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows U.S. broadband penetration is 15th among developed countries, most of those in Europe.
On a recent trip to Europe I was able to sample Internet service in a wide variety of locations ranging from big cities like London and Paris to places like Gimmelwald, Switzerland, with a population 150. I was expecting to be able to stay connected easily while away from home.
Before leaving I checked with my smartphone provider to arrange international calling, text messages, and a data plan. I quickly determined that international data, at least on my device, was prohibitively expensive. I signed up for calling and text messages but decided to turn off data. I wasn’t too concerned about going this route because I assumed there would be plenty of time to keep current on email and news via Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Europe.
I expected to find great Wi-Fi access everywhere I went; this turned out to be a bad assumption.
In Europe, cellular data was not an affordable option for me. It also turned out that Wi-Fi was either not available or free in restaurants or coffee shops. The one exception was a restaurant in Switzerland that was accessible only by a rather frightening cable car ride up to the top of Schilthorn at 10,000 feet – yes, Wi-Fi was free and fast there.
I expect to be able to get Internet in hotels when I’m in the United States. It’s usually free in moderately-priced establishments and typically an extra cost in some expensive hotels. I discovered that Internet was “available” everywhere we stayed at in Europe but was more often than not so slow it was unusable. Mostly we stayed in bed-and breakfast-style lodging, except in Paris where we rented an apartment and found that the included Internet was very fast.
I have worked in the Internet industry for many years and expect to be online all the time. My general expectation is to have access to cellular data whenever I need/want it and to also have the ability to bump up my capacity by switching to Wi-Fi hotspots in restaurants, coffee shops, and other public spaces to save money.
My ultimate conclusion is that the U.S., and especially North Carolina, are doing pretty well in terms of general capacity and availability for Internet connectivity.