Comcast: U.S. The Global Leader on Broadband
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.
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.