Is There Enough Broadband Competition In America?

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( — September 23, 2014)  — Comcast and TWC are giving the FCC some facts, which could give a better picture of their current capabilities. What is publicly known as that one-third of Comcast customers are on speed lanes that offer 50Mbps downstream or higher, but the companies obscure what percent of customers meet the minimum broadband standard of 3Mbps, and how many occupy the middle tier of around 25Mbps.

This is an argument based on loosely interpreted ideas about the nature of “competition,” and Comcast is stretching these ideas as far as they’ll go.

As Comcast executive VP David Cohen writes, it’s pushing for a definition in which “traditional boundaries between media, communications, and technology are obsolete.” If you’re not happy with its service, feel free to switch to Facebook’s triple-play broadband bundle.

However, Comcast and Time Warner are the nation’s two largest cable companies, which explain why US residents have so few viable options for cable and high-speed Internet service.

Comcast commissioned a survey that found, 59 percent of cable broadband consumers use wireless or mobile broadband either as frequently as or more frequently than they use cable broadband service for low-bandwidth activities, and 41 percent use wireless or mobile broadband either as frequently as or more frequently than they use cable broadband for high-bandwidth activities.

“Broadband consumers frequently switch ISPs. [The Comcast-commissioned survey] found that consumers switch broadband providers frequently. One-third of survey respondents switched providers in at least the past two years, and nearly half (49 percent) switched providers within the past four years,” Comcast wrote.

Because it’s so easy to switch providers, Comcast said it has no reason to harm online video competitors.

“Like other ISPs, Comcast has significant disincentives to harm edge providers for many reasons, foremost among them that blocking or degrading access to streaming video, applications, or other online content likely would cause significant numbers of customers to switch providers and thus compromise Comcast’s broadband business,” Comcast wrote.

Comcast was caught interfering with BitTorrent traffic in 2007. More recently, Netflix performance on Comcast was poor for months, with the two companies blaming each other for the slowdown. Eventually, Netflix paid Comcast for a direct connection to its network, and the companies added enough capacity to improve performance.

The FCC asked Comcast about the “minimum viable scale necessary” to enter its territory. Comcast said it would “take a number of years” for a new Internet service provider to break even because of the high initial costs and challenges in signing up subscribers.

However, Comcast didn’t mention that new providers can also expect to face opposition from incumbents. Small TV and Internet providers say they have faced frivolous lawsuits from incumbents designed to put them out of business.