Where Is The Broadband Innovation? Or Competition?

I live in Houston. It’s the fourth largest city in the USA. Further, I live “inside the loop” in the area that was the cities first suburb back in 1910 (ish.) Clearly, I don’t live in some out of the way place. Yet I am dismayed to find that my broadband options are about the same as they were about ten years ago. Just more expensive.

I enjoy dedicated loop DSL service from Covad over AT&T (ugh!) copper. I pay $99/mo for a 3.0Mx 768k package, but at 10,400 feet from the local switching office I actually get about 2.2M x 768k. “Dedicated loop” means that there is no voice circuit associated with my copper pair. I neither need nor wish to pay for a POTS line. In fact, at one point before we had this service when the analog phone line rang the DSL service died. The provider at the time said that they could do nothing about that so I dropped them asap.

I actually pay more for the Covad service than the competitive AT&T/SBC offering. I do this principally because I refuse to do business with AT&T directly. Also because Covad has historically provided superior technical support.

I also have cable modem service from Comcast. This is a relatively recent addition, although some years ago when Time Warner ran cable in Houston we had Road Runner from them. Anyway, 6.oM x 768k cable modem service costs me $60/mo. plus the $3/mo. rental of the modem. The download speeds we see now are a little faster than the old Time Warner service, but the upload speed is no better at all.

I could get EV-DO service from a wireless provider such as Sprint or Verizon. That service is expensive and doesn’t work well in some areas. It’s really not well suited to fixed installation, especially since the providers often cap the actual amount of data you transfer each month.

In theory I can get a fixed wireless service from Sprint Broadband Direct but they have not responded to my email inquires. A recent call to them reveals that they have in fact stopped installing new account in the area. That can’t be good. Even if they were taking new customers their offering in not better than 1.5M x 256k, and that outbound data rate is BEST case.

You might have some options as to who you buy your DSL from. There are a number of smaller resellers who offer residential DSL over AT&T copper. But in using these companies you’ll typically suffer both the architectural problems of AT&T infrastructure and the limitations of a small companies ability to provide tech support. No thanks.

In some cases download speeds might be faster than before, but upload speeds are the same or worse. Cable used to cost $39.95, now that same service is $59.95. My DSL was once $59.95, now it’s $99.95.

For all the whining about competition I hear from telcos and cablecos one fact becomes clear. I cannot get any better service in 2008 than I did in 1998. There are no real, viable new choices. It just costs more.

I wish the FCC would listen up and realise that their salaries are paid by the people, not the corporations. They’ve allowed telco consolidation and let them refuse to allow CLECs into infrastructure. SBC has spent billions becoming the new AT&T all the while declaring the network built-out costs are so high. The billions they spent on acquisitions could have rebuilt their infrastructure. They don’t care about offering better service, just making ever greater profits. It’s enough to make me want to renew my ACLU membership just to know that someone is lobbying on behalf of users.

Normally we get to vote with our wallets or feet. Take your business to someone who earns it. In broadband maybe we simply can’t because there are no options. That means it’s up to the regulators to ensure a competitive marketplace. I suspect that the regulators have been too busy readying for their time back in the private sector.

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