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Comcast: U.S. The Global Leader on Broadband
Everything's Great, And You Don't Need 1 Gbps
by Karl Bode 10:58AM Friday May 31 2013
You can go to pretty much any broadband statistic warehouse (from Akamai and the FCC to the OECD and OOkla's Net Index) and find that the United States is indisputably and utterly mediocre in nearly every single meaningful broadband metric, whether it's price, availability or speed. There's no debate here. We, as a nation, are utterly average when it comes to broadband. Fortunately, if you're a lobbyist, you don't have to remain grounded in the reality you and I are forced to inhabit.

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In an editorial in the Philadelphia inquirer last week, Comcast's top lobbyist and policy man David Cohen proudly proclaimed that the U.S. is "the leader" globally in broadband. After cherry picking and massaging statistics to an almost painful degree, Cohen takes a little shot at Google Fiber, insisting that users don't really need 1 Gbps:
For some, the discussion about the broadband Internet seems to begin and end on the issue of "gigabit" access. To be sure, a one-gig connection has value, especially for those who have invested in "inside" networks and equipment to handle that 1-gigabit firehose of data.

The issue with such speed is really more about demand than supply. Our business customers can already order 10-gig connections. Most websites can't deliver content as fast as current networks move, and most U.S. homes have routers that can't support the speed already available to the home. As consumer demand grows for faster speeds, a competitive marketplace of wired and wireless broadband providers will be ready to serve it.
Granted the "competitive marketplace" Cohen is paid to hallucinate doesn't exist for most users who, if lucky, only have the choice of one or two costly broadband providers. There's tens of millions of users stuck on aging copper DSL lines nobody wants to upgrade and likely won't be upgraded anytime in the next ten years. AT&T and Verizon are abandoning huge swaths of DSL territory creating a stronger cable monopoly and higher prices. Broadband gaps are increasing and prices are soaring for many. Mr. Cohen may be hailed as a great lobbyist, but he's a piss-poor liar.

Meanwhile, like Time Warner Cable, Comcast has chosen to respond to Google Fiber's entry into the market by insisting that nobody needs those kinds of speeds. By focusing on whether you need 1 Gbps, companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast hope to steer the conversation away from how a lack of competition allows them to offer slow speeds and ever-higher prices (or the fact they're being outclassed in their own industry by a search engine).

Judging from the comments I've seen from users ("well shucks, I guess he's right...I don't need 1 Gbps! Silly me!"), that debate strategy works pretty well. It shouldn't. Smart consumers should realize it's a misdirection ploy, and remain focused on what guys like Cohen hope you'll ignore: a lack of competition resulting in high prices, predatory behavior, obnoxious new fees, slow service, and the worst customer support across any industry in the United States. Besides, these same companies were saying you didn't need 50 or 100 Mbps just a few years ago.

As for Cohen's un-sourced and heavily-massaged statistics, Susan Crawford deflates them rather completely in a blog post:
Very few Americans – just 12 million connections – are experiencing speeds that exceed 25 Mbps, even though other countries are adopting policies that will drive universal adoption of at least 100 Mbps (and in some places speeds ten times faster than that). Speeds in America are abysmal, and we pay more per Mbps than every other developed nation save Mexico, Greece, New Zealand, and Chile.
If the United States leads in anything in the broadband sector -- it's the use of denial and distortion by those with a vested interest in protecting the status quo. If you can convince people that everything is fine, nobody tries to fix things and your profit margins as a predatory, lumbering duopoly benefiting from regulatory capture remain high. You can legitimately argue that things are improving in many regions -- but to insist the United States is the global broadband leader is an obnoxious level of hubris, even for Comcast.

Google Fiber and the myriad of other 1 Gbps options springing up nationwide (usually despite larger carriers, not thanks to them) continues to be a welcome kick in the crotch to that kind of arrogance.

76 comments .. click to read

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3 recommendations

Want vs Need vs Price vs Time

It becomes so very apparent to me that the majority of people who post on these boards have never worked a single day in the telcom industry...
The arguments about 1Gbps not being needed nor supported by most websites and services is totally valid. The only reason it's available to business' is because that pipe is them divided into thousands of connections feeding who knows how many devices.
Good fibre is doing nothing earth shattering here... Sure the connection is fast and cheap (which is ALL anybody is interested in on this site, not considering any of the logistics behind delivering that service), but it's available in what, 4 cities in the US? Google is going out of their way to pick cities where the infrastructure is mostly in place to make it as cheap as possible. and has nobody stopped to think that the reason they can offer this service so cheap (and at all) is BECAUSE they cherry pick a few very small markets (no widespread availability AT ALL), and it's being completely subsidized by Google's other divisions? I guarantee you that google is losing money on every google fibre customers they connect.
As for the monopoly, please stop your whining long enough to realize that nobody is stopping companies from building their own backbone, and plowing new drop cables into millions upon millions of homes... Shockingly though, nobody is doing this? How could that be? Perhaps because the cost of deploying and maintaining (and upgrading at the pace that everyone here is demanding) costs hundreds of millions and into the billions of dollars? Not to mention that network upgrades take time to design, build and implement...

So next time you start complaining that your broadband is soooooooo bad, please stop and think about it. The costs, time, and everything else involved to get 1Gbps to the majority of users in north America are astronomical, and generally not needed or cost justifiable so your ping and speed tests along with your torrents are a few seconds faster.

End rant *breathe*

Minneapolis, MN

2 recommendations

He's right

He's right. That might change in coming years, but as for today 1Gbps is little more than a gimmick as it relates to residential users.

Let's face it- 95% of you pining for 1Gpbs have little or no actual use for it other than bragging rights.

What is the non-commercial home user going to do with 1Gb that they couldn't do just as well with 100Mb?

Will websites load faster? No.
Will Netflix play in higher quality? No.
Will game latency be any lower? No.
Will large files download any faster? Not unless the server also has 1Gb of unused throughput to spare, and it probably doesn't.

Without running a speed test most home users would never know the difference between 40M and 400M.

Perhaps the day will come where 1Gbps becomes useful for non-commercial residential broadband, but we're nowhere near that time yet.


Littleton, CO

2 recommendations

Just cherry picking

Yes it's available.. it's not available to every many woman and child in these other countries. There is always legacy just like the united states. Hong Kong is not a "country" it's a city using it's comparison in this fashion is like doing a counter article that the US leads because google in a single city.

I won't lie and say nobody needs 1gbps but in reality today it's still not a huge factor for the majority of the population. It will be, It will be sooner than later but today it is not. Obviously people can point to exceptions you always can but just as not everyone needs a 3500 truck, not everyone needs a gig. I think there is some twisting on both sides here.

At the same time please don't take this as I'm indicating that everything is fine please move along. I'm just pointing out that you can pick details apart from both sides of this argument.