Answers to Some Thoughtful Questions on Broadband
This week, several of our customers and other interested Internet users sent me thoughtful emails in reaction to my recent op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the state of broadband in America and, more specifically, what Comcast has done to lead the broadband revolution over the last decade. I want to take a moment to respond to a few of them.
First, we appreciated the engagement of the folks who took the time to read my op-ed piece and to respond to it. It’s important to clarify at the outset, however, that some of the web commenters sort of missed the major point of the op-ed piece. It wasn’t to say that no one needs 1 gig speeds or that 1 gig speeds will never be common. Instead, my major goal was to correct the unbalanced record where a handful of commenters have for many months run down the many positive developments in broadband that have occurred in the U.S. – to emphasize some of the places where the U.S. is the world leader as opposed to focusing solely on limited statistics that show the U.S. lagging. And I also wanted to make the point that the cable industry in general – and Comcast in particular – have been leaders in delivering the capacity and speeds that our customers want and need and that we remain poised and committed to continue to play that leadership role.
One writer questioned the assertion (and asked for my source) that 82% of U.S. homes have access to networks capable of speeds that exceed 100 Mbps. The cable industry's DOCSIS 3.0 standard enables these speeds and that technology is deployed in networks that now reach 85% of U.S. homes, according to the latest data that our industry trade association -- the National Cable and Telecommunications Association -- released since my article appeared in print. NCTA computes this statistic using information provided by cable companies along with estimates from analyst SNL Kagan, a very well established data source.
Another reader asked about my statement that our business customers can purchase 10 Gbps service, noting that his company was not able to subscribe to service with upload capacity faster than 50 Mbps. This was a surprise to me, as we offer a wide range of tiers to businesses of all sizes. In addition to the four tiers from which small businesses can choose to best suit their needs -- ranging from 16 Mbps all the way to 100 Mbps -- we also offer Enterprise Internet Services with dedicated, symmetrical bandwidth up to 10 Gbps.
Some also took issue with the statement that most U.S. homes have equipment that is unable to handle gigabit Internet speeds. A few customers and others correctly pointed out that that there are some consumer-grade home networking devices on the market that can handle gigabit speeds. For sure, there will always be early adopters of the latest technology, but the vast majority of Internet users have hardware with limited throughput capabilities – whether hard-wired or wireless, whether it’s equipment they purchased at retail or a device obtained from their ISP. And in-home devices aren’t the only obstacles to maximizing speed. On the Internet data flows from end-to-end only as fast as the slowest point, and there are several technological "choke points," both in the home and at the edge of the Internet with older servers. As Will Law, principal architect for Akamai’s Media Division, said, focusing only on the last mile connection is "like widening your driveway and expecting to reduce your commute time."
I also heard from a few customers who questioned whether currently available broadband speeds are adequate to meet consumer demand. We are in agreement that there are many bandwidth-intensive applications that demand high speeds, and there will surely be more. The typical Comcast broadband customer today can fully utilize virtually all of the applications available in the marketplace. Today’s network speeds – which keep improving every year – are more than sufficient to get the job done.
According to research from the FCC, Cisco, and others, streaming 1080p HD video is among the most commonly-used applications, and according to NetIndex the typical Comcast broadband user connects at 25 Mbps or better – that’s enough to stream multiple videos while simultaneously gaming, surfing the web, etc. across multiple devices. And households with even more devices or greater bandwidth needs can choose among our faster speed tiers.
As I acknowledge in my op-ed, demand for greater broadband speeds will continue to grow. It has grown every year, and Comcast continues to stay ahead of that demand for residential and business customers across the nation. We have increased speeds 11 times in 11 years. We have worked with vendors to deploy 40Gbps and 100Gbps network technology before anyone else. We double the capacity of our network every 18 months to keep up with subscriber growth and bandwidth demand. For the very small number of users who want much greater speeds today, we offer higher speed residential and Business Class services.And the upcoming DOCSIS 3.1 standard will enable speeds faster than 1 Gbps to handle future demand – as the apps, the equipment, and the rest of the Internet catch up.
Comcast does business in a market that includes competition from phone companies, fixed and mobile wireless companies, and others that are offering speeds that rival our most popular tiers of service. Other companies have chosen to conduct some interesting showcase efforts in select locations. When we offer our highest speeds to a community, we do it everywhere, city and suburbs. No matter who decides to compete, or where they decide to compete, we are ready to meet any competitive challenge and to stay ahead of consumer demand. Continued discussion about the state of America’s broadband networks – from its quality to its reliability to its availability –is an important conversation and one that we welcome. It was clear to me, from the responses that I received, that some readers were seeing many of the facts that I raised in the op-ed for the first time. I’m glad that the piece generated discussion and that it gave me this opportunity for an exchange of views with customers and others. I hope that this discussion continues to shed light on the facts and the exciting future ahead.