Internet access in America sucks.

We’re far behind many developed nations when it comes to Internet access, both in speed:

The United States ranks 28th in the world in average Internet connection speed and is not making significant progress in building a faster network, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The report by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said the average download speed in South Korea is 20.4 megabits per second (mbps) — four times faster than the US average of 5.1 mbps.

And in price:

Broadband users in 30 of the world’s most developed countries are getting greatly differing speeds and prices, according to a report.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says 60% of its member countries’ net users are on broadband.

The report said countries that had switched to fibre networks had the best speeds at the lowest prices.

In Japan net users have 100Mbps lines, 10 times higher than the OECD average.

Japan’s price for broadband per megabit per second is the lowest in the OECD at $0.22 (11p), said the report. The most expensive is Turkey at $81.13 (£40.56).

In the US, the cheapest megabit per second broadband connection is $3.18 (£1.59) while in the UK it is $3.62 (£1.81).

Why? Many reasons: Lack of government investment, private providers who would rather compete with each other than expand capacity, the "digital divide" in internet use between low and high-income people are just a few. But net neutrality isn’t (and won’t be) one of them.

Telecom and cable companies are arguing that enshrining net neutrality as the official law of the land – it’s how the internet operates now, though it’s unofficial – will slow broadband growth. It’s a bogus claim, and Google is out to prove them wrong.

Google announced to great fanfare that it was looking to start selling as a proof-of-concept ultra-high-speed broadband service. Unsurprisingly, cities around the country are lining up to be the test subjects:

Jared Starkey is going all out for Google broadband. The day after Google (GOOG) said it would provide high-speed Internet access to as many as 500,000 people around the U.S., Starkey set up a Facebook page to lobby Google to bring the service to his hometown, Topeka, Kan. Since then, Starkey has passed out bright-orange necklaces made of the kind of fiber-optic cable used to deliver fast Web connections and rallied 100 people to show up at a downtown redevelopment meeting wearing T-shirts that play on Google’s motto for the broadband plan. "I’ve been talking to absolutely everybody about this," says Starkey, owner of a small Web-design company.

Broadband-starved cities and towns across the country are going to great lengths to grab the attention of Mountain View (Calif.)-based Google, which in February said it will set up a network that can deliver speeds of 1 gigabit per second, about 20 times faster than the speediest ones sold by Verizon Communications (VZ). Google will spend "hundreds of millions" on the effort, Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington telecom and media counsel, said in a recent interview with Bloomberg News.

Google’s service is targeted to be fast (double the top speeds sold now) and cheap. In other words, it’s specifically designed to show the telecom companies that would prefer to overcharge Americans for slow service that fast and cheap can be done in America, and it can be net neutral, too:

In an interview, Richard S. Whitt, Google’s Washington telecommunications and media counsel, said Google was not entering the broadband or Internet service provider business, but rather was using the test to push the industry into offering faster Internet access at lower cost. “This is a business model nudge and an innovation nudge.”

Good for Google. I, for one, would rather buy my internet service from them than from Verizon or AT&T. And their stance on net neutrality makes this whole thing a bit sweeter. But most importantly, I hope Google convinces the telecoms and cable companies that they have to actually invest in good quality broadband for this country if they want to keep their customers. Government can help, but at a basic level, until we’re willing to make the internet a public utility (not a bad idea, actually) broadband providers need to step up.

On March 26th, we’ll find out the lucky cities and towns who will be getting Google Broadband. If I’m lucky, DC will get chosen.