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.

Filed Under: broadband, cable, competition, dsl, market
Companies: comcast


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 6:42am

    There's some hope that low orbit satellites from the likes of Amazon and Space X could finally disrupt this broken-ass status quo,

    Dues to subscriber density, satellite is not competitive when serving metropolitan areas, as a limited number of satellites are trying to serve a large number of connection, and become congested. Metropolitan areas are where cable has an advantage, and is driving the phone companies our. They can however serve low density population areas, where phone is still dominant, and cause further loss of phones services. The other demographic that will find satellite compelling are long distance lorry drivers and other road warriors.

    Note, the reason that cable and phone are having this short period of 'competition' is that originally they were based on different technologies, and households subscribed to both. Now that technology has converged the T.V, Internet and phone systems, natural monopolies are taking over by driving out the weaker competitor.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 6:59am

    Re:

    Is that why they are pushing 5G?

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

  3. identicon
    Iggy, 16 Mar 2020 @ 7:08am

    "There's some hope that low orbit satellites from the likes of Amazon and Space X could finally disrupt this broken-ass status quo"

    We're always waiting for some super genius to come and fix issues in our economy that have long been solved in other countries long ago through political reform.

    With internet access, we've been waiting for satellite internet or broadband over power lines for the last 20 years rather than put in place line sharing requirements, municipal owned networks, broadband co-ops, and antitrust law.

    With housing, we have Elon Musk's ideas of cheaper building materials to bring down rents caused by high real estate values.

    With health care, were still waiting for geniuses who will invent a way to bring down the high drug prices caused in the first place by the industry they work for.

    Elon Musk is a perfect tool. People believe his nonsense promises and various industries use it as an excuse to put off real change.

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

  4. identicon
    Professor Ronny, 16 Mar 2020 @ 7:13am

    DSL

    We've noted for years how as US
    telcos have given up on upgrading
    their aging DSL lines

    You are not kidding. I just switched from Earthlink DSL (lines managed by AT&T) to Comcast. I switched after the DSL went down and it took the TWO WEEKS to get it working. And, this was my sixth outage in two years with the average outage being over a week long.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re:

    Mobile remains competitive because its users are well mobile, and subscribers will not divide by geographic area. It is also competing with fixed phone lines, hastening the cable takeover of the fixed connection market.

    Beside which, are they actually pushing 5g, or are they pushing the idea to justify a price rise?

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

  6. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 16 Mar 2020 @ 7:51am

    Typo?

    AT&T, Verizon, Windstream, CenturyLink, and Frontier are all losing subscribers because they've largely given up on fixed residential broadband in countless markets.

    According to the chart, Windstream gained almost 30,000 subscribers. Maybe this statement refers to several years, but we don't have that info here, we just have the chart that says they're not part of the group mentioned.

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

  7. identicon
    Rocky, 16 Mar 2020 @ 8:03am

    Re:

    I wouldn't classify him as a tool in your sense, he has actually have managed to disrupt some things by doing what people said couldn't be done "because <insert excuse here>".

    And regarding drug prices, most countries actually don't have that specific problem. The problem with prices in the US is entirely due to a dysfunctional health-sector which makes it easy to profiteer on peoples health.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 8:24am

    Re: DSL

    To me, it seems strange that these companies just want to give up service to everyone?!?! They should have been out there upgrading all their lines to Fiber. Then bringing super-fast high-speed internet to everyone. The copper may be going away, but the Fiber is here to replace it. Yet instead they just did nothing.

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

  9. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Mar 2020 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re: DSL

    It's a cost/benefit (to them) thing. While they might figure a way to improve margins with fiber, they can't get past the cost of installation and what that might do to the bottom line with regard to recovering that cost. That, however, goes completely flat when one thinks in terms of buying entertainment companies, a different debt they are having trouble recovering from.

    It appears that in their original thinking prior to those decisions they thought one would give a better ROI than the other. Yet another example of short term ideology of the investor influenced company that views quarterly results rather than decade long results as the pinnacle of investment strategy.

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

  10. identicon
    Iggy, 16 Mar 2020 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re:

    You mean the Tesla electric car? It's great it was developed.

    So someday soon, we will have the right combination of solar energy, battery capacity, charging infrastructure, storage and energy management technology and we will reduce CO2 emissions by as much as France already has with nuclear energy, compact affordable neighborhoods, and a comprehensive mass transit network.

    We will still be dependent on cars in neighborhoods where most people can afford to live. Is this satisfying?

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 10:13am

    Re:

    Dues to subscriber density, satellite is not competitive when serving metropolitan areas, as a limited number of satellites are trying to serve a large number of connection, and become congested.

    Elon Musk confirmed this.

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 10:16am

    Re:

    rather than put in place ... antitrust law.

    It's already in place. We just need someone in charge who's willing to enforce it.

    As to line-sharing, that's something the FCC actively got rid of around 2005. It used to be the rule for DSL, until the phone companies said it was unfair this didn't apply to cable companies. (And somehow, rather than apply it to them, the FCC removed it from DSL.)

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

  13. identicon
    Rocky, 16 Mar 2020 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    What's your point? Because all I see is someone ranting that nothing is done while blaming someone that is actually trying to do something.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: DSL

    That's what you get when everything's run by "businesspeople", trained only in the general concepts of business. They can show us numbers, find "synergies", buy other companies... anything that doesn't require specific knowledge of the market they're in.

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

  15. icon
    nasch (profile), 16 Mar 2020 @ 2:34pm

    Re:

    I'm with you on the rest, but what do you suggest for high rents? I have not heard of any solution to that that doesn't come with its own set of serious problems. When there are too many people who want to live in the same area, you're going to have a problem (well a bunch of them), it's just a question of which problems you choose to have.

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

  16. identicon
    Iggy, 16 Mar 2020 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Well, the truth is I've been holding out. I have tons of great ideas:

    1.) An app for giving away your vacation days at work to someone with Coronavirus. This would be a good way to implement Jeff Bezos' advice to his employees and would put South Korea to shame.

    2.) A dating app in which users could give or accept payment in exchange for dates. This would disrupt the whole industry and may even enable some college students to graduate with less crippling debt. As with Uber and Airbnb, the legal ramifications can be sorted out later.

    3.) Plans to build a space elevator by 2030. I have plans drawn up and I'm currently accepting investments.

    Feel free to use these ideas. I got tons more. What I don't have is a stream of economic rent for sitting on top of a monopoly on electronic payments/social networks/online retail/operating systems. But if I should find myself in this position, I'd love to be the genius in chief.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    1) GoFundMe

    2) Prostitution

    3) There are already plans drawn up for a space elevator by people actually qualified to do so.

    But if I should find myself in this position, I'd love to be the genius in chief

    You're not qualified, chief.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2020 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Re:

    Want to fix high rents? Shut down AirBnB.

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

  19. identicon
    bob, 16 Mar 2020 @ 6:03pm

    a positive

    At least with the extra demand placed on ISP networks due to the coronavirus pandemic we might get some real attention by politicians to fix our bad infrastructure.

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

  20. identicon
    Rocky, 17 Mar 2020 @ 4:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    What I don't have is a stream of economic rent for sitting on top of a monopoly on electronic payments/social networks/online retail/operating systems. But if I should find myself in this position, I'd love to be the genius in chief.

    You will never be in that position since it seems you prefer whinging before doing, in contrast to Musk and Bezos that actually started from essentially nothing to get where they are today by doing.

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

  21. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 7:03am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Nice try asshat, but high rents were a problem long before AirBnB was a twinkle in anyone's minds eye. What else have you got, well that makes any sense that is?

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

  22. identicon
    bob, 17 Mar 2020 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Musk and Bezos are definitely skilled enough that they were able to create vast empires but they also started with more money, education, contacts, and influential parents than most people have.

    Kudos to them for not squandering their chance but most people don't even have that chance to begin with. So don't say they started with nothing.

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


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