Longtime Domain Registrar Tucows Buys A Small ISP, Wants To Refocus Broadband Industry On Giving A Damn About The Consumer

from the baby-steps dept

As we've been noting, Google's arrival into the broadband space has resulted in a flood of other companies proclaiming that they too will soon be offering 1 Gbps services over fiber. While some of these announcements (particularly from sluggish, larger companies like AT&T and CenturyLink) are little more than fiber to the press release (development community deployments dressed up to appear more substantive than they are), some of them are genuine, grassroots efforts to rescue the U.S. broadband industry from the clutches of our beloved cable and phone duopoly.

As a hopeful example of the latter, longtime domain registrar Tucows has announced it's jumping into the 1 Gbps fiber game under its wireless MVNO brand name, Ting. In a blog post, Ting notes it has purchased a small Charlottesville, Virginia, ISP called Blue Ridge InternetWorks (BRI). BRI, Ting claims, will be the company's beachhead in an attempt to disrupt the U.S. broadband market one small bite at a time. Ting didn't release pricing details, but told me in an e-mail it will offer symmetrical 1 Gbps speeds at a "sub-$100 price point." It also promises to make respecting consumers and net neutrality a priority:
"Tucows believes very strongly in the open Internet. Up until now, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do but educate, agitate and contribute. Getting into fixed access, owning our own pipe, is an opportunity for us to practice what we preach when it comes to the open Internet and net neutrality."
Ting says it was inspired by Google Fiber, but claims that as a smaller company Ting can deliver a more personal, human touch:
"We admire what Google is doing with and for gigabit fiber Internet access, but for the Internet giant, access is more of a side project. Also, Google is a lot of great things but human scale isn’t one of them. If a smaller, more customer-focused company player like Ting can pull off a win-win in a community like Charlottesville, it bodes really well for small towns and providers all over the country. For the record, we’re confident we can pull off just that, otherwise we wouldn’t start down the path."
While the fact that Google's "human scale" is waning (like oh, forgetting about net neutrality to court GOP lawmakers) is certainly true, it's unclear if Ting can truly disrupt on any serious scale. The company is coming off of the launch of a consumer-friendly wireless MVNO that has done some very interesting things in regards to simple, freemium pricing, though actual consumer interest has been modest so far. If most broadband industry customer satisfaction studies are any indication, there's certainly room for smaller ISPs that actually value consumer relationships, as opposed to treating their own users with disdain.

That said, the U.S broadband market certainly isn't free, and if you've paid attention over the years, we've watched an endless stream of small, consumer-friendly disruptors (does anyone remember ISPs like Speakeasy?) run face-first into a regulatory capture brick wall erected by the nation's biggest carriers. AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Comcast have worked long and hard at writing state laws that make competing with them difficult if not impossible. If Tucow/Ting is going to enter the fray -- even on a small scale -- it's going to need oodles of cash, plenty of lawyers, and some damn good lobbyists.

Google Fiber has succeeded (if we're going to define success as three partially-constructed fiber cities) in large part because it has oodles of cash to throw at the problem. But even with Google's deep pockets, it's unlikely that Google Fiber will ever really impact more than a handful of cities. In that case, Ting's right in that if U.S. broadband competition is ever going to improve, it's certainly not going to happen via a dysfunctional Congress and timid/beholden regulators. It's going to need to be clawed out of the very earth, town by town, piecemeal, by the communities themselves.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 2:56pm

    Well come on down...

    and sign me UP!!!!

    But I do not live there, unfortunately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 3:28pm

    Longtime Domain Registrar?

    When I think of Tucows, their cut-rate registrar service reselling is definitely not what comes to mind. They made their money being a download.com style Windows software aggregator before download.com existed as a CNet entity.

    That said, they seem to try and provide the services their customers want, so that's good. Of course, their customers are advertisers, so think about that before you decide on whether this move is good for *you* or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      UseTheGuillotine, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:29pm

      Re: Longtime Domain Registrar?

      If you want to dig up ancient history, don't forget they provided download service for not only Windows software, but also Linux and Mac (they still do).

      More recently, their Ting cellphone service is highly rated. I have used their service and enjoyed it. Customer service is great (actual real people). I hope they are able to grow that business.

      I would sign up with them for internet service - but I don't live in that part of the country. Where I live, the cable and phone companies badly need competent competition. The cable company (Cox) is a rip-off and has mediocre customer service. The phone company (CenturyLink) has obsolete DSL and atrocious customer service. Tucows, Google, I can't wait.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 19 Dec 2014 @ 3:32pm

    Not sure this is a good thing

    Now Comcast and its friends will all claim: "see, there IS competition in the ISP industry. Someone is competing with us in ...[where exactly? .. ah yes in:] Charlottesville"

    Comcast and its friends will use this tiny ISP operating in one city to claim that there is nationwide competition and hence regulation is unnecessary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 3:42pm

    It's going to need to be clawed out of the very earth, town by town, piecemeal, by the communities themselves.
    Who will each in turn be savaged by ravenous hordes of telco attack lawyers, and eventually forced back into having to suffer pathetic service by judges stupid enough (or well-paid enough) to believe that community broadband is somehow illegal.

    Unless those towns are willing and able to flaunt the law and ignore arbitrary judicial edicts, they won't get anywhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Jan 2015 @ 10:53am

      Re:

      forced back into having to suffer pathetic service by judges stupid enough (or well-paid enough) to believe that community broadband is somehow illegal.

      In some places it is illegal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 19 Dec 2014 @ 4:37pm

    Isn't this the same Tucows that forces you to run malware if you want to download anything from their site?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:06pm

    Up until now, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do but agitate, contribute, and educate by means of the unnecessarily invasive bloatware we include in our software packages.
    FTFY, Tucows.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2014 @ 12:54pm

    will be good to see but i doubt if it will be able to compete with the big 3! there will be all sorts of threats and accusations thrown at, wait and see!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cyclingcaveman (profile), 20 Dec 2014 @ 3:19pm

    Tucows, Ting & Fiber

    As a user of Ting service for a year, I can say they are far more customer oriented, just like hover.com, another Tucows entity. If Tucows can apply this skill to an ISP business, then they may become the new friendly face of telecom.
    This face is what the uninitiated (those who still use cyber- prefixes) will need for smooth transition to an all digital environment.
    More power to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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