Comcast’s And Charter’s Broadband Monopoly Continues To Grow

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

Fun fact: about 2,950,000 new subscribers signed up for broadband last year, and roughly 95 percent of them signed up with the biggest cable companies (primarily Comcast and Charter). These two cable giants’ market share continues to grow not really because they’re good — but because they’re the only option countless Americans have if they want modern-era broadband speeds.

We’ve long noted how most U.S. telcos spent the better part of the last fifteen years refusing to meaningfully upgrade (or sometimes even repair) their broadband networks. As a result, if you want a modern (100-200 Mbps, low latency, no weird restrictions) connection in America, your choice is increasingly: Comcast (unless your town is building its own broadband network).

That’s the textbook definition of market failure and monopolization (shielded by regulatory capture), but in clinical analysis of market share such concepts wind up not being mentioned at all. Take this PC Magazine analysis of the latest broadband market share data from Leichtman Research:

Cable accounted for almost all of 2020’s growth, 2.8 million and change, and most of that came from sign-ups at the two biggest internet providers in America. Comcast added 1.33 million subscribers for its Xfinity service to reach 31.9 million total, and Charter’s Spectrum service took in 1.2 million new subscribers to hit 30 million.

Analysis like this is always so sterile, lacking any context of the impact of this consolidation. As Comcast dominates a market, it exploits the lack of competition not only to routinely raise rates (even during a pandemic, as it turns out) but to also impose all manner of arbitrary usage restrictions and obnoxious, unnecessary fees, allowing it to drive up the advertised price even further.

In a bid to justify market failure, monopolization, and the corruption and regulatory capture that protects it, policymakers will often point to some looming technological innovation just over the horizon that will make all of this better without intervention. In the early 2000s it was broadband over powerline (BPL), which failed due to interference issues. Now it’s technologies like Starlink and fifth-generation (5G) wireless.

But we’ve noted repeatedly in lengthy posts how both Starlink and 5G won’t be some magical panacea. Starlink has a usage ceiling of only around 800,000 subscribers (in a country where 20-42 million lack access and another 83 million live under a monopoly). 5G can help fix some coverage gaps, but cost, reliability, and network restrictions usually don’t make it a suitable replacement for something like fiber.

As somebody who’s been covering telecom for a long time, something that has always stood out to me is how unwilling regulators, lawmakers, analysts, and even reporters are to call a duck a duck. In this case, the duck is monopolization and market failure. And it’s pretty hard to fix something you’re not even willing to describe accurately in analysis, news coverage, or pretty political speeches.

The problem (market failure and monopolization shielded by corruption and regulatory capture) is always ambiguously referred to as something else — usually using terms that eliminate any responsibility and causality. For example, the problem is most commonly referred to as the “digital divide” — a term that begs you to believe that the problem just fell from the sky, and wasn’t a conscious, multi-decade policy choice by heavily lobbied U.S. lawmakers.

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Companies: charter, comcast

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Comments on “Comcast’s And Charter’s Broadband Monopoly Continues To Grow”

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Anonymous Hero says:

As a result, if you want a modern (100-200 Mbps, low latency, no weird restrictions) connection in America, your choice is increasingly: Comcast

Low latency my ass.

$ ping
PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=115 time=94.7 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=115 time=57.4 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=115 time=266 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=115 time=156 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=115 time=110 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=115 time=107 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=115 time=176 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=115 time=174 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=115 time=169 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=10 ttl=115 time=227 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=11 ttl=115 time=321 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=12 ttl=115 time=1849 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=13 ttl=115 time=833 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=14 ttl=115 time=1349 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=15 ttl=115 time=478 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=16 ttl=115 time=171 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=17 ttl=115 time=44.3 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=18 ttl=115 time=146 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=19 ttl=115 time=96.3 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=20 ttl=115 time=47.9 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=21 ttl=115 time=155 ms
— ping statistics —
21 packets transmitted, 21 received, 0% packet loss, time 20048ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 44.328/334.627/1848.799/451.066 ms, pipe 2

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Comcast Speed test inconsistency?

recently switched to Comcast from Verizon.

One thing that’s really odd to me is how wildly different Comcast’s speed test results are vs independent ones like SpeakEasy or even Google’s

like it says 4-5x faster under Comcast’s. Which I assume is complete BS.

But just unusual how blatant it seems to lie about it.

TaboToka (profile) says:


how unwilling regulators, lawmakers, analysts, and even reporters are to call a duck a duck. In this case, the duck is monopolization and market failure.

Simple. Only a fraction of a fraction of a percent of all of the above understand how technology works and why monopolization of service is a real problem.

The vast majority of lawmakers, analysts and reporters devolve to Bikeshedding.

I would expect regulators to understand the issues, but they could easily be constrained from doing a proper job by stupid legislation

JT Donohue says:

Unregulated monopoly

Tried for three months to get items off billing and every call an upsell!
Finally registered a complaint online to the FCC and amazingly got a call and unbelievable reaction to complaint from Comcast. Yet they told me it is a rarity for this to happen. Told rep take a “surf” outside and see what the people say! Even wrote to POTUS because CEO is his good friend. No reply. See Blue or Red doesn’t matter

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