Austin Begins To Show Us What Broadband Competition Was Supposed To Look Like

from the unfamiliar-territory dept

As we’ve stated more than a few times, so many of the problems that plague Internet and telecom markets could be remedied if we simply had healthy competition between broadband operators. Net neutrality, for example, would rarely be a problem in a market where broadband ISPs were seriously afraid that their subscribers could actually leave. However, what most markets usually have is “wink wink, nod nod” non price competition between two incumbent operators (if you’re lucky), with little to no incentive to excel on price or service — or even upgrade the network or improve customer service.

While Google Fiber may never be a nationwide broadband presence, the company’s entry into a handful of markets has at least given us a hopeful glimpse at what healthy broadband competition should actually look like. In Austin, for example, Google Fiber expects to start connecting users later this year, offering symmetrical 1 Gbps connections for just $70 a month. They also offer a free (what a concept) 5 Mbps tier if you pay a one-time $300 connection fee. Google’s market entry in turn prompted AT&T to promise $70 1 Gbps connections in order to save face. More recently, a cable operator by the name of Grande Communications joined the fun, promising 1 Gbps lines for $65. Even Time Warner Cable, not known for aggressive or even pro-active deployments, is now offering 300 Mbps in Austin.

The result is a market that in fairly short order should show us what actual broadband competition in the United States was supposed to look like:

“Grande’s entry suggests it isn’t only large, national businesses that can compete when it comes to offering high-speed broadband. Austin is fast becoming the site of an arms race among broadband providers at a time when many U.S. communities are dominated by one or perhaps two companies. But there’s a good reason for that: The city is already known for its forward thinking. Thanks in part to conferences like SXSW, university students and big health-care centers, Austin has become “a mecca for creative and entrepreneurial people,” according to Google.”

Granted this isn’t all sunshine and roses. It should be noted that at the moment nobody in Austin is actually signed up for a 1 Gbps connection yet. This being AT&T, their version of competition (since it’s so unfamiliar to them) is also a little, uh, creative. The company will only offer you that 1 Gbps line for $70 if you agree to be snooped upon by AT&T’s “Internet Preferences” deep packet inspection technology, which monitors and monetizes all of your browsing data. Otherwise you’ll pay $100 a month, which AT&T amusingly insists is a “$30 savings.” AT&T’s 1 Gbps connections are also actually 300 Mbps connections until upgrades are finished later this year, and they’re mostly being aimed at higher-end developments under the pretense of a broader deployment.

That leads me to the fact that while Google Fiber has resulted in some real competition in the very-limited number of locations they operate, they’ve also spawned a new phenomenon I’ve affectionately labeled “fiber to the press release.” That’s where a company proudly crows that they’re offering 1 Gbps lines in a press statement, without actually saying where, when or to how many users. Our press being as they are, nobody bothers to actually ask those questions. This effectively has resulted in several companies proclaiming they’re investing in cutting edge networks without actually, uh, doing much of that. The announcements are a bit theatrical in nature but tend to be entirely ambiguous when it comes to hard data (the branding for these phantom services, however, is usually lovely).

At the same time the 1 Gbps mark seems to have captured the nation’s imagination, even if most people have no idea what to do with that much speed (which is a good thing). Still, Austin’s going to see more robust broadband competition than 90% of the nation, and it’s all thanks to a search engine that was pissed off about the state of broadband competition and decided to do something about it. Hopefully there are a few more deep-pocketed dreamers out there that are unwilling to settle, because the country needs a lot more help lighting a fire under all-too-comfortable mono/duopolies.

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Companies: at&t, google, time warner cable

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Comments on “Austin Begins To Show Us What Broadband Competition Was Supposed To Look Like”

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ECA (profile) says:


There is a Strange law that was placed in Oregon..

That If a company/person was not using a piece of property to its BEST ECONOMIC ability, that they could take it, and MAKE more money with it..
Dont know if its still in use, as many wanted to take the Governors mansion and convert it to business venture..

fOR some reason(i WONT POINT FINGERS) to many companies are NOT competing..
Is there NO competition?
HOW does 1 company take over WHOLE in the OLD phone companies..
Wouldnt it ne interesting, that IF’ another company WANTED to come into an area, and SOMEONE had already installed the infrastructure, that THEY COULD JUMP ONLINE with that SAME infrastructure?
YES, its mean, and would upset companies..THEY had installed MILLIONS into an area, and an UPSTART takes over parts of it..for little or nothing.
But ISNT that whats KINDA happening now..Companies selling themselves BACK and forth, and we PAY for the bills they MADE in the purchase prices?? with no improvements on OLD CRAP??
To them its a tax deduction, and to US its a higher BILL..

charliebrown (profile) says:

Dear Google Fiber, Please come to Australia and help rescue us from our incompetent government who thinks that a 0.025Gbps connection (delayed by two years) if an adequate connection speed! Our previous government offerd us between 0.1Gbps and 1Gbps connection starting to be rolled out two years ago but there was an election where (aparrently) 52% of the people voted to keep the government in so, you know, we had to change…. Help us, Google, you may be our only hope!

rasz says:

EU, using development grants, is co financing Polish fiber networks in the south. 1Gbit FTTH at $23. They are connecting people living close to the fiber, including small villages/lone houses in the forest.

In the capital I pay ~$25 for 60Mbit + TV (~100 channels) + landline + cellular (240 minutes free between the two).

US “broadband” is funny.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Heh, Brazil is very far from a good example but I currently pay $15 for 35/15 (down/up) Mbps that keeps a steady 44/20Mbps when I’m (ab)using it. Sure it’s not even close to the 1Gbps values but the same is true for the rest of the US. And we are talking about Brazil, hardly a good infra-structure example (ie: a really bad example). If it can be done here it can surely be done in the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Damn! How bad are they fucking you over? Plus, now that I think about it we DO have minimal competition here. The Lewiston/Auburn area is served by at least 4 ISPs, 2 nationwide, 2 local/state. TWC and Fairpoint (DSL) make the nationwide providers and only TWC has speed sadly (TWC maxes at 50/5 and Fairpoint maxes at 15/2). Oxford Networks is headquarter in Lewiston (even though Oxford County with Oxford city is only 30 minutes away) plus another local ISP from the Portland area (don’t know the name).

All I can say is it seems competition works in driving down costs and while still providing more. Go figure…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Shit son! Well that sucks for you… Sadly it’s only going to get worse here. Oxford Networks stopped expanding its residential network (meaning my area will NEVER get their service) and that other local ISP is tiny, so small I cant even find their name after trying… Couple that with the fact Fairpoint isn’t really a competitor (very slow speeds and you HAVE to pay for an active phone line) TWC is technically the only player for me.

But 5 minutes down the road and its a different story. Hopefully that alone is enough to keep them in line lest the other ISPs take over their fringe areas.

Togashi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Are you paying $65 for 60 Mbit internet, 100 channels of cable, landline and cellular service together? If so, you’re getting a hell of a deal compared to most people in the US. With no cable or landline, I’m paying $75 total ($45 and $30, respectively) for 15 Mbit internet and cellular service.

You’re not getting ripped off because you’re paying 2-3x as much, you’re getting ripped off because you’re paying 2-3x as much for 1/4 the service.

Anonymous Coward says:

Want Competition AND Net Neutrality?

Have your municipality government invest in and own the broadband themselves, with the stipulation that anyone who wants to connect must abide by Net Neutrality rules. That way, the ISPs re-align to act as hardware hookups who compete to see who can make the best use of a publicly-owned network

Anonymous Coward says:

isn’t it a shame that when this non-deals are put out, nothing is ever done about it, such as misrepresentation accusations? it’s also a shame that those sitting in Congress are still allowed to be backed by companies that out and out lie to consumers and do not compete in the true or real sense of the word. why do consumers not complain about this practice? the only way to get competition and good services is to play one company against another (or more). giving a monopoly does the exact opposite, creating a pool of stagnant water! how ridiculous is that??

Gabriel J. Michael (profile) says:

Don't forget satellite!

“Austin is fast becoming the site of an arms race among broadband providers at a time when many U.S. communities are dominated by one or perhaps two companies.”

They forgot about satellite internet, a broadband option for everyone in America! Unless you need low latency, or you live in an apartment building, or you don’t have line of sight… or it’s raining.

Three providers – now that’s real competition!

kitsune361 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Grande doesn’t cap. That’s actually one of their selling points.

I’ve lived through dial-up, Southwestern Bell DSL (now AT&T, which they are trying SO hard to finish killing) and Time-Warner before switching to Grande. Paying about $50/mo for 50mbps. Service has been rock solid, through two moves.

I just hope with their aggressive expansion and attempt to crack the Austin market they stay the good regional ISP they’ve been thus far.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They’d probably charge you extra for ‘violations of the terms of the contract’.

Seriously though, anyone who was willing to sign up for the spy tier needs to be quarantined and put through a battery of tests, as they’ve somehow managed to make it through life without a functioning brain, and something like that really needs to be investigated and studied(as a bonus, they’ve already indicated that they don’t mind extensive and invasive surveillance, so they probably wouldn’t care as long as you gave them $10-20 every so often).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Overkill currently is the thing though, faster speeds open up new opportunities and possibilities that would be impossible at current, slower speeds.

As an example, on a slow 56K connection, sites/services like youtube, Netflix and other steaming sites would be all but impossible, whereas today they’re insanely popular and just getting more so, so even if you can’t think of what a 1G connection could be used for currently, you can be assured that something would pop up to take advantage of it in time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not a fan of AT&T but from their site the “deep packet inspection” Internet Preferences thing is APPARENTLY only looking at http traffic:

“With AT&T Internet Preferences, what types of information are you collecting?

The web pages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter.

We will not collect information from secure (https) or otherwise encrypted sites, such as when you enter your credit card to buy something online or do online banking on a secure site.”

That’s not what I call “deep packet inspection”. You probably get that for free (barring encrypted traffic) whatever you pay 🙂

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Technically, unless your browser is using a proxy belonging to AT&T, then the only way they can get all the information you cite there is by DPI.

Deep packet inspection means looking at the payload of a data packet, rather than just the headers. To perform the sole function of the internet — routing data between systems — the only thing that is required is to look at the headers. Those headers do not contain links, ads, search terms, or anything of the sort.

OPXYZ (profile) says:

I live in Austin and there were other immediate bonuses to this competition not even covered in this article. Almost immediatley after the Google announcement that they were coming to town my internet noticeably jumped up in speed to about 25% faster. Prices being advertised have plummeted as well. This is without Google actually even being here yet. Hopefully it will only get better when they are actually here. Not that it matters for me personally I will be immediatley be switching to Google Fiber.

New Mexico Mark says:

Paraphrase of performance review

(For AT&T / Comcast / TWC — and for that matter, Microsoft, Sony, broadcast media, and a few others)

“Capable of moderate competitiveness and customer service when under constant regulatory scrutiny or cornered like a rat in a trap by real competition.”

I don’t waste a lot of ponders fuming about how bad things are when competition is eliminated, but neither will I forget if/when I have a choice again.

So go ahead… Think no farther ahead than this quarter’s profits. Your demise will be cause for celebration.

Clownius says:

Re: Re:

Wow you really know nothing at all about Fibre or broadband do you.

1Gbps symmetrical means 1Gbps each way not split and a single Fibre can handle both upload and download. Heck a single Fibre can handle hundreds of times that speed depending on the equipment at the ends. There would be no good reason to use two unless your looking to have redundant links.

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