Priming the “Broadband Pump” for Fiber to the Home
Today, there is a robust dialogue at the state and national level about improving the quality of the broadband network so that we can remain competitive in the digital economy, but it wasn’t always so.
Many, including the author of this article from MIT Technology Review, point to the first Google Fiber deployment in Kansas City in 2012 as an important catalyst. Before Google Fiber, Verizon had stopped deployment of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service to new markets. Other phone and cable companies were either not investing at all or were making small incremental improvements to existing DSL and DOCSIS networks. Fiber-to-the-home overbuilds were being constructed in only a handful of small areas nationwide, although such overbuilds were a key component of 2010’s National Broadband Plan.
Following Google Fiber’s call for cities to apply to become gigabit cities, other efforts to deploy gigabit networks in select areas of the US began to appear. These efforts included Gig.U, which seeks to build out Gigabit networks in communities hosting the nation’s land grant universities and is currently working on projects in several college towns nationwide. Blair Levin, the organization’s executive director and a leader in developing the National Broadband Plan, indicated that he hoped the construction of these networks in college towns would spawn similar projects in communities all across the country. In addition to Gig.U, many local communities began to take matters into their own hands and build community owned networks when dominant ISP’s failed to invest in their area.
Today, we know that gigabit networks create jobs for the communities they are built in, and those places without fast broadband networks will be left behind economically. This has led to heightened interest and debate on the issue of how to get faster broadband to consumers, and especially a heightened interest in community broadband. That doesn’t mean that we need to wait for Google to expand nationwide or build community networks in every town. The experience of communities with gigabit service suggests that offering a competitive threat in a few communities may be the most effective tool to getting the dominant ISP’s to invest in their broadband networks with private funds.
How competitive pressure has increased investment and helped consumers elsewhere
The simple fact is that there is nothing like a little competition to drive investment and better value for consumers, as evidenced by these examples of Cable company responses to Google Fiber:
- In Atlanta, Comcast announced that it would begin rollout of 2 gigabit service in Atlanta, GA after Google Fiber announced that it would serve this major market.
- In Austin, Texas Time Warner cable announced upgrades to 300 megabit speeds after Google Fiber announced it would begin deploying its gigabit Internet and TV services there.
- In Kansas City, Time-Warner and Comcast both announced that they would be increasing Internet connection speeds in the area to compete with Google Fiber.
- In Provo, Utah, Comcast began offering its Premier 105 Mbps service with special pricing in response to Google’s announcement that the company would offer Gigabit service there.
- In Raliegh-Durham, NC, Time Warner cable announced plans to deploy its new “Maxx” 300 megabit service shortly after Google Fiber announced its intention to deploy there.
However, it isn’t necessary to wait for Google. Some communities have taken matters into their own hands and built out broadband networks to compete with incumbent providers. These community broadband networks have driven competitive responses not unlike those created by Google Fiber.
- Comcast has announced its intention to launch 2 Gig Internet service in Chattanooga, TN, where a city-owned gigabit network has existed since 2011.
- According to this case study from the Instittute for local Self-Reliance. Residents in Lafayette, LA were among the first in the country to see upgraded DOCSIS 3.0 service from Cox Communications because of competitive pressure from the municipally owned gigabit network there.
- Charter cut Internet prices to compete with a city owned fiber network in Monticello, Minnesota.
We can stimulate similar competitive investment in Maine
The examples above show that, when confronted with a credible competitive threat, major carriers will awaken and begin to invest more aggressively to protect their revenue stream. As a result, it probably isn’t necessary for every town to build it’s own Gigabit network or wait for Google to come save them. Maine just needs to demonstrate that it is willing to make the investment by taking action.
Pump photo by Morena Cameron. Licensed through Creative Commons.