from the you'll-take-what-we-give-you-and-like-it dept
For much of the last decade, Seattle has explored the idea of building its own ultra-fast broadband network. Most of that motivation was fueled by the sub-standard service provided in the region by regional telco Qwest (now CenturyLink), which in turn resulted in regional cable operator Comcast not working very hard. After scrapping several fiber plans and shuttering its Wi-Fi network, Seattle last year announced it was working on a new 1 Gbps plan with the help of Gigabit Squared. Gigabit Squared calls itself a “digital economic development corporation” that promised Seattle residents last summer they’d “bring limitless possibilities to Seattle” in the form of 1 Gbps broadband connections.
The effort didn’t turn out particularly well, with Seattle suddenly scrapping the project, after Gigabit Squared failed to do much if any work or pay $52,250 owed to the city for city labor. As such, Gigabit Seattle dies with a whimper amid the quiet resignation of a Gigabit Squared co-founder, leaving Seattle in the same spot it has been for years: relying on incumbent broadband providers with absolutely no interest in competing on price.
Bad business plans are bad business plans, and while there are many examples of community broadband efforts succeeding (from Chattanooga to the public-private efforts of Google Fiber), the incumbent broadband industry simply loves to make sure they celebrate implosions like Seattle’s latest as proof it’s futile to push back against entrenched duopolies.
Right on cue, enter Ron Main of Comcast-backed cable lobbying group Broadband Communications Association of Washington, who in an editorial in the Seattle Times tries to convince Seattleites that relying on anyone other than Comcast was a fool’s errand, and that the services Comcast already offers should be good enough for anyone:
…Comcast offers a 105 megabits-per-second (Mbps) download speed across its entire service area in Seattle and Washington state. Despite this widespread availability of high-speed broadband, residential use of this service is low. Only 5 percent of residents currently subscribe to this service, according to the company.
Omitted, of course, is that because Comcast sees no serious competition in the city (CenturyLink struggles to provide most users 6 Mbps on DSL, much less 100 Mbps), they’re allowed to charge rates that make those speeds unappealing. Comcast does, for example, offer 505 Mbps in some markets — but at $400 a month, plus a steep early termination fee higher than $1,000, as well as a $250 activation fee and a $250 installation fee. Compare that to 1 Gbps service from Google Fiber at $70 a month and no fees. Still, Main continues with what has become a broadband-industry mantra of sorts, insisting that because nobody is buying existing expensive offerings (when they’re available at all), users simply must not want them:
The fact is residential demand for speeds greater than what is now available is very limited. Most people take service around 20 Mbps to 50 Mbps. This is fast enough for typical residential uses, from streaming movies and working from home to Skyping with family. Higher speeds of 1 to 10 gigabit-per-second service are available to local businesses and large institutions.
In other words, the broadband industry is doing good enough in the broadband industry’s humble opinion, and efforts to try and do better (or perhaps — gasp — exceed expectations) are unnecessary. Comcast has spent much of the last year pretending that the United States leads the world in broadband, and when you combine that sort of raw, blistering denial with can’t do attitude and regulatory capture, you get the kind of painful mediocrity the U.S. broadband industry is famous for.