MORE ON THE MOST EXPENSIVE INTERNET IN AMERICA
That's New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking candidly during a recent interview at D10 in California. The topic of conversation? Widespread WiFi, and whether or not the government should be the one thinking about its future ubiquity. More specifically, if WiFi hotspots should be treated like "roads or water supply," as aptly stated by AllThingsD's Kara Swisher.
This obviously isn't the first time such an idea has crossed the minds of those connected to Washington, D.C. Muni-Fi (municipal wireless networks) projects were all the rage a few years back, but one spectacular failure after another swiftly extinguished that momentum. In more modern times, America (as well as other nations) has sought to solve the "rural broadband" problem, bringing high(er)-speed internet connections to places with a higher bovine population than human.
But bringing broadband to places like rural North Dakota seems like an easy chore to a small, but passionate, group of 60,000 sitting some 4,770 miles from San Diego, California. American Samoa may be an unincorporated US territory located closer to pure bliss than the hustle and bustle of Wall Street, but it's no doubt being taken into consideration in recent mapping projects aiming to pinpoint the areas most lacking in terms of digital infrastructure. Unbeknownst to most mainlanders, this fragile island chain is home to the most expensive internet in America, and the political issues surrounding it are astonishing. Head on past the break to learn more on what I discovered.
I recently traveled to Pago Pago, with unlocked smartphone in hand, after a brief (and stunningly beautiful) flight from neighboring Samoa. [For more on my time there, feel free to dive into this report.] At the time, I was floored at how modern the digital infrastructure felt. I checked into a hotel with gratis broadband internet in every room, and within 20 minutes, I had a Bluesky SIM card in my Galaxy S II sucking down HSPA+ at (comparatively) affordable rates. It was around $25 for half-a-gig of data, with no peak-use limitations as I saw in Samoa.
As it turns out, however, full-time residents have a much tougher time securing fast, reliable access. A source connected to the American Samoa government, who requested to remain unnamed due to the sensitivity of the subject, was kind enough to answer a wealth of questions on the matter, as was One Economy's Daniel Calarco. For those unaware, Calarco's organization is mapping the broadband infrastructure and creating a report about barriers to internet adoption in American Samoa for the US Department of Commerce. Before diving in too deep, it's important to get a better understanding of the island group itself. Home to fewer than 60,000 residents total, there are only two flights per week to Honolulu, and outside of daily flights to neighboring Samoa (APW), there really aren't any other options for access -- for common tourists, anyway. Put simply, this place is remote. Not Pitcairn Island remote, but remote nonetheless.