The Land of Private-Sector Boondoggles

The New York Time Magazine this week carries a brief essay about how South Korea runs its internet. They don’t do what we do here in the proving ground of capitalist dictatorship. While we permit private profit ranchers to own our internet infrastructure, South Korea has its Ministry of Science lay and control the pipes.

The results are predictable:

Seoul is blanketed with free Wi-Fi that offers the world’s fastest Internet speeds — twice as fast as the average American’s. Back in 1995, the government began a 10-year plan to build out the country’s broadband infrastructure and, through a series of public programs, to teach Koreans what they could do with it. South Korea also eased regulations on service providers to ensure that consumers would have a multitude of choices — in marked contrast to America, where a handful of cable and telecommunications monopolies dominate the market. Such healthy competition in Korea keeps the cost of access low.

To maintain South Korea’s lead, the country’s Science Ministry recently announced a $1.5 billion initiative to upgrade Korea’s mobile infrastructure. By 2020, the government predicts, it will be 1,000 times faster — so fast you could download a feature-length movie in approximately one second. In the same time frame, the Federal Communications Commission hopes to wire most American homes with broadband Internet with speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, or roughly one-sixtieth of South Korea’s goal.

Here’s one telling result:

American mobile design is fetishistically minimalist. Silicon Valley applauds itself for good taste in this regard, but this aesthetic has sprung up partly in response to a deficiency: Americans have learned to strip out bandwidth-guzzling elements because they slow down loading times. Korean designers, lacking such bandwidth restraints, can stuff their apps full of all the information and widgets they like. On-screen real estate isn’t an issue, either, because Koreans prefer massive phones. While the “phablet” — the missing link between a phone and a tablet — is popular as a punch line in the United States, it’s been in high demand in South Korea for years.

This trans-Pacific gap in bandwidth is so pronounced that Korean developers often have to strip down their software if they want to take it stateside.

None of this, of course, enters into our pathetic debates over whether to place a few paltry regulations on our holders of licenses to steal. Despite such stark facts, even our reformers dutifully refrain from mentioning what a terrible idea it is to let capitalists own basic public facilities.