Comcast's Broadband Market Domination Continues To Grow
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
We’ve noted for years how as US telcos have given up on upgrading their aging DSL lines, they’ve effectively helped cement a bigger monopoly for cable giants like Comcast and Spectrum in countless markets nationwide. A recent study estimated that 40 million Americans can’t get broadband at all — double FCC estimates. And FCC data indicates that in 44% of US markets, users have the choice of only one ISP at speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. More often than not, your only option for “real” broadband is probably going to be Comcast.
Even if you’re “lucky” enough to have the choice of two options, telcos and cablecos don’t go out of their way to actually compete. Combine this lack of competition with the Trump administration’s decision to effectively neuter FCC consumer protection authority, and these mono/duopolies have less incentive than ever to compete on price, improve terrible customer service, avoid net neutrality and privacy violations, or expand service into the many under-served corners of the US.
It’s a problem that’s slowly but surely getting worse. The latest data from Leichtman Research indicates that the nation’s eight biggest cable broadband providers added 3.14 million broadband subscribers in 2019, reaching a total of 67.98 million. In contrast, the nation’s top eight traditional phone companies, which offer a mix of fiber and DSL, lost a combined 619,605 subscribers to reach a historic low of 33.24 million subscribers last year:
AT&T, Verizon, Windstream, CenturyLink, and Frontier are all losing subscribers because they’ve largely given up on fixed residential broadband in countless markets. Most long ago shifted their focus to enterprise services, video advertising, or anything other than residential broadband, which has never been profitable enough, quickly enough for their liking. As a result, DSL lines aren’t being upgraded (or even repaired), service is no longer being seriously expanded, and consumers are heading to their only alternatives: either a capped and expensive cellular connection, or a capped and expensive cable broadband line.
Leichtman notes that at the end of 2019, cable broadband providers had a 67% fixed broadband market share versus 33% for US telcos. That 67% market share is the highest level since the third quarter of 2001. So despite all the talk about gigabit fiber, our breathless dedication to the “digital divide,” and the “race to 5G,” the biggest untold story in US broadband remains the fact that cable monopolies are growing bigger and more powerful at the same time we strip away all of the government’s consumer protection authority. What could possibly go wrong?
And while 5G is often bandied about as a panacea to this problem, the same issues that have plagued traditional broadband are going to be replicated with 5G: including high prices, regional mono/duopolies (this time over cell tower fiber backhaul), feckless, industry-captured regulators, and an unwillingness by carriers to spend the money needed to seriously deploy to under-served areas.
There’s some hope that low orbit satellites from the likes of Amazon and Space X could finally disrupt this broken-ass status quo, but having seen numerous disruptive efforts scuttled by the industry’s dominant and politically-powerful incumbents over the last few decades, genuine US telecom disruption at any meaningful scale is something you’ll need to see before you believe it.