Hoping Google Fiber Continues to Put Fear of God into Cable Cabal

Broadband slow speedsSeveral years ago I switched my home ISP from Comcast to AT&T DSL because of an attractive promotion and the promise of lower monthly bills for similar speeds. At the time Comcast and AT&T were the only two choices in my area.

AT&T was supposed to deliver 6 Mbps, which was comparable to what we were getting from Comcast. After completing the switch, we found out that the 6 Mbps speed in fact wasn’t available in our area (the salespeople didn’t know that apparently). We had to settle for 3 Mbps, which was almost never delivered (fine print: “up to 3 Mbps”).

As a practical matter what we received was 1 to 2 Mbps on average, generally at the low end of that range. The screenshot, above right, was taken on a particularly bad day.

I made repeated attempts to address the problem with AT&T, which kept suggesting it was my equipment and not their network. It was incredibly frustrating — even rage-inducing. AT&T delivered consistently poor service. We attempted to upgrade to U-verse; however it never happened. (Once again we were sold but later told it wasn’t available in our area). Frankly, because of laziness, we lived with the terrible speed for about six years.

Earlier this year my teenage daughter started prodding me to upgrade our internet. So I “went back in” and investigated all the options. I desperately wanted to avoid both AT&T and Comcast; I could not. To my surprise (but not entirely) Comcast and AT&T were still my only choices. Reluctantly I’m back with Comcast though the speeds are much faster now.

What I’ve described above is a kind of metaphor for the sorry state of broadband in the US today. As the NY Times points out the cost of broadband in the US is higher and the speeds are much slower on average than in much of the developed world:

The United States, the country that invented the Internet, is falling dangerously behind in offering high-speed, affordable broadband service to businesses and consumers, according to technology experts and an array of recent studies.

Cable companies (and telcos that provide TV services) are capable of offering gigabit-speeds at reasonable cost but have little motivation to do so. With Comcast, for example, costs are sometimes reduced in the form of teaser rates that last for six months and then shoot up to 2x to 3x the initial pricing.

Cable companies offer various explanations or excuses (e.g., “there isn’t demand“) for why speeds aren’t faster and costs lower. The truth is that these companies have no market or regulatory incentive to offer faster, cheaper internet — regardless of whether that hurts long-term US competitiveness. If there’s an apparent lack of demand for higher speeds it’s only because they’re so expensive, not because consumers are content with sluggish connectivity.

In those places where Google Fiber has entered the market, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and TimeWarner have felt pressure and improved services, speeds and in some cases pricing for consumers. They’re scared by the competition. Cable TV is slowly but surely losing subscribers — live sports is the main thing that stands between cable TV and the abyss — and the internet is now the key and most profitable service in many markets.

Google Fiber’s progress is slow as the company negotiates “right of ways” and digs up streets in Kansas City, Provo and Austin, its only three markets. But absent a credible threat such as Google Fiber the likes of Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and TimeWarner aren’t going to change their practices or pricing any time soon. And given their clout in Washington there’s little reason to believe the FCC or legislators will push for improvements.

If Google’s ultimate objective is to speed up the consumer internet it should pre-announce new cities. Even months or years before its actual market entry, the prospect of Google Fiber could still represent a big-enough threat to get the cable cabal off its collective posterior and into preemptive action.

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5 Responses to “Hoping Google Fiber Continues to Put Fear of God into Cable Cabal”

  1. Roy in VT says at

    Better than hoping that one mega-corp. will save you from other mega-corps (they all gravitate toward the same disappointing mean over years anyway), try pushing for municipal fiber instead.  In my city, we have Comcast, FairPoint, a couple of smaller options… none are satisfactory.

    And, we have Burlington Telecom, a municipally owned and operated triple-play telecom.  It brings fiber to the home… up to 1Gigabit interest service… up and down.  It’s incredible.  And the customer service is top notch… and within a mile or two of every customer in this small city.  When you call, you get a neighbor helping solve your problem.  I’ve been a very happy customer for seven years.

    BT had some political mis-management during it’s rollout and the associated repercussions continue to echo.  Sadly, much of the trouble was brought on by Comcast and Fairpoint erecting hurdles at the state gov’t level.

    Nationally, states are passing laws to BAR municipalities from building their own fiber networks to serve their citizens, stimulate their economies, help their schools and hospitals, etc.  These laws are corporate welfare at citizen and community cost… terrible policy.

    Here’s a good resource on the topic:  http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/broadband/

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes, I agree municipal WiFi would be great. That movement in CA stalled out several years ago (see, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Municipal_Wireless). Perhaps it can be resurrected. However as you say the vested interests will try and block that competition — much like private insurance carriers try to block single payer health care initiatives.

    Thus I operate under the assumption that on a national level only a Google Fiber-like effort can sufficiently scare the Comcasts of the world. However in isolated smaller cities municipal WiFi may be possible as an alternative.

  3. Tom says at

    I have a different take on what Google should do.

    Rather than pre-announce cities, I think they should do a single, trendy neighborhood in each of the top 25 markets. And those neighborhoods should be chosen by some kind of local competition — maybe the neighborhood that contributes more to a charity in a 30 day period gets subsidized 1,000 Mbps Google Fiber for the next twenty years.

    People in those cities will be instantly divided into “Haves” and “Have Nots”, real estate values will be affected, etc. And the result will be tremendous LOCAL rage, which will be focused at the local pols who signed the sweetheart deals with the cable companies that keep both the city governments & the cable carriers fat & lazy.

    Yes, Google Fiber in a SINGLE, trendy neighborhood in each metropolis — THAT would have the disruptive effect that Google is trying to have (but can’t get quickly enough.)

  4. Cody Baird says at

    I have been planning my move to Austin from Salt Lake City for the past 6 months.  I spend a week in Austin each month to meet clients.  I also spend a couple days looking at properties and getting familiar with the area.  It’s funny to admit that one of my considerations has been Fiber.  I laugh as I write this.  I typically prefer to live in the suburbs, away from the hustle and bustle.  I wish I knew exactly which areas or zip codes that will be covered.  It would make house hunting easier.  I was raised in a small farming community – population 1000.  My parents still live in Fountain Green, UT and would think I was crazy if I tried to explain this.  It is very interesting how technology continues to deeply influence our lives.

  5. Greg says at

    Cody: Good luck with your house hunting.

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