The United States does not have the “freest” Internet in the world, according to the annual Freedom House transparency and access report, Freedom on the Net. Slow and gentrified broadband access and occasional government intrusion stunted the U.S. to the #2 spot, with the tiny Eastern European technological powerhouse, Estonia, taking the gold medal. With online voting, access to electronic medical records, and widespread broadband access, Estonia is the envy of the digital world.
“Although the United States is one of the most connected countries in the world, it has fallen behind many other developed nations in terms of Internet speed, cost, and broadband availability,” explains the U.S. report. The U.S. lags behind Japan, South Korea, Norway and Sweden in access to blistering fast Internet (average peak speeds in Hong Kong — 49 Mbps — are nearly twice that of the U.S. — 28 Mbps).
The United States Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have allocated nearly half a billion dollars to connect rural farmers to the same Bittorrent-friendly speeds that allow the rest of the country to pirate Game of Thrones.
Other reasons for America’s less-than-superlative results include:
- A relative oligopoly from AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon, who control 50 percent of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) market
- Homeland Security’s penchant for secretly shutting down Internet sites, such as hip-hop blogs that were wrongly believed to be pirating Chris Brown’s Deuces.
- In 2011 San Francisco suspended cell phone service to preempt a protest of a shooting by a metro policy officer and, most recently, Twitter was forced to disclose the secret tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protestor.
Estonians, in addition to having widespread public WiFi and more than 200 ISPs, enjoy access to some of the most advanced public services on the planet:
- Estonians can vote online (last election, 25 percent voted online — more than Sweden, Latvia and Switzerland, which also permit online voting).
- Estonians have access to their medical records online. The U.S. has a similar program for federal healthcare recipients with Blue Button and is attempting to broaden it to private insurers.
- School children and their parents can access their test scores, daily activity, and homework online.
- Reportedly, it can take as little as 18 minutes to set up a business online.
The full report, which is largely about the most egregious violations of Internet freedom, can be seen here