Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Apples and oranges

Writing a puff piece in The New Republic about a woman named Susan Crawford, whose apparent claim to fame is a strong belief the telecom industry suffers from insufficient government intervention, John Judis offers this absurd passage:
Last year, Americans paid Comcast a monthly average of $153 for television, telephone, and Internet. According to a New America Foundation study, Parisians paid as little as $34.47 a month for the same bundled services, with Internet speeds five to 20 times faster than Comcast. 
A basic principle of social science is that, when comparing two things, to make sure they are the same or incredibly similar (perfect comparisons are often difficult or elusive). In common parlance, this is know as comparing "apples to apples" rather than apples to oranges. Judis, however, manages to offer up at least three oranges in those two sentences.

Judis's first mistake is to compare the costs of citizens of an entire country to those of a densely-populated city (indeed, Paris looks to be the most densely-populated large city in the developed world), which has far different economics for internet deployment -- wiring a city is much more cost-effective and efficient -- than more rural/less densely populated areas. Judis then compounds his error by comparing only users of one service to an entire city, where presumably more than one service provider exists. Why Comcast and not Verizon or RCN (both of which, in addition to Comcast, offer service in Washington DC)? 

More egregiously, Judis compares the *average cost* of Comcast users to the rock bottom cost in Paris, noting some that pay "as little as" $34.47 while saying nothing about averages. On the Bolt Bus from DC to New York, for example, riders can pay *as little as* $1 for a ticket, although the *average cost* is significantly higher.

Coincidentally, just as Judis bemoans the slow internet speeds Americans must endure compared to Parisians, RealClearTechnology recently released a ranking of the top ten countries by average internet speed which placed the US #8. France, meanwhile, does not appear on the list. Akamai, which provided the data for the ranking, says that average internet speeds in the US are 7,611 kilobytes per second, while France clocks in at 4,804 kbps. 

While such mistakes might be understandable coming from a fresh college graduate, Judis is a senior editor at TNR and contributing editor to The American Prospect, and should absolutely know better. Then again, how much can one expect from a guy who founded a publication called Socialist Revolution?

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