The City of Bellingham, like many cities in the US, is controlled by a Comcast monopoly facilitated by our politicians despite widespread consumer objections to Comcast. Other private providers have likewise failed to produce value for most. For example, CenturyLink, as highlighted in the book “Fiber”, brought in a very small amount of fiber to spur interest in their other lower-quality services and provide spotty access at best. The idea of choice, without public fiber, is no choice at all. In the neighboring City of Anacortes, Chatanooga, TN, Wilson, NC, and other places with public fiber-optic networks, individuals are going to have Gigabit (1,000 Mbps/1,000 Mbps) Fiber to the Home access for about $70 a month. Here, $110 a month will get you a high fade, low-performance, connection from Comcast instead. They will claim the connection is 100 Mbps down and only 10 Mbps up, but it will often perform much lower than that and unlike fiber, the time it takes for signals to get back and forth is much longer. We call this phenomenon latency. So let’s be clear, not only will your connection cost more and be one-tenth of the speed down and one-hundredth of the speed up at best, but it will also take longer for your data to travel on that connection.
I personally got involved in working on the public-broadband issue because of my concerns with addressing the Digital Divide. I have written in-depth about how the low-income connections in Bellingham, and the rest of the nation, provided by the big telecoms are a joke and don’t even meet the low standard for “high-speed” internet that our captured FCC has set of only 25 MBps down and 3 Mbps up. This standard is not only less than half of the Canadian standard for free internet but doesn’t take latency into account at all. In short, these Comcast low-income connections are virtually worthless and being used to distract us from the real work we need to do to connect all Americans to the necessity of the internet in a meaningful way.
Still, we see that Comcast is starting to get worried that communities are catching on and may install publicly-owned fiber-optic networks to address the growing Digital Divide concerns. But, instead of addressing the issue by providing real service, Comcast is doing what they always do. They’re lying to Americans and saying they’re going to address the Digital Divide. They say they’re going to connect at least 750,000 Americans that have never been connected before. What they’re hoping is that you won’t look at the speeds they’re offering and how bad, and outdated, the equipment is that they’re offering it on.
The Comcast “Internet Essentials” bundles are only 15 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up. So way below our poor federal standard for high-speed internet for about $10 a month. On top of that, the connections don’t perform well, and their speed fades quickly when tested. Also, in the anti-net neutral age, these connections won’t be prioritized. CenturyLink’s offers are even worse. With low-income connections coming in at 1.5 Mbps down and point (.768) Mbps up. So 1 tenth of the Comcast offerings.
The really sad thing about all of this is that all Comcast has to do is start installing fiber to the home, which would save them money in the long run anyway due to higher reliability and less maintenance. Still, even if they did that, they have shown they will attack our first Amendment rights before taking that logical step and keep over-charging us. So the solution is clear. Cities need Dig Once Policies and Publicly Owned Fiber-Optic Networks. They also need to stop pretending that wireless connections are equivalent to wired. They are not. Wireless needs wires backing it up to work in the first place.
As long as we’re comparing connections, 50 Mbps symmetrical, zero latency, connections in places with public-fiber like Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC are free.