Last week, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and The National Economic Council (NEC) released a report, "Four Years of Broadband Growth," that highlights the continuing trend of increased speed, choice, quality, and availability of high speed Internet access in the United States. The report confirms some of the good news that many of us have shared recently about the robust state of American broadband and serves as a perfect complement to this week’s Cable Show in Washington, DC, where we showed the world the future of a "gigabit Internet." The report should put to rest the dated arguments and statistics that some have used to run down America’s broadband success.
According to the White House report, 94% of Americans have access to broadband Internet speeds of at least 10 Mbps. That’s great news. Here at Comcast we’re not satisfied with that. Today, the average peak connection speed in the U.S. is 32 Mbps, according to Akamai, and the average Comcast customer connects at speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. Our business customers can subscribe to speeds of up to 10 Gbps. As I blogged last week, 85% of Americans have access to networks capable of speeds of 100 Mbps or greater and, as our next generation of cable network equipment (known as DOCSIS 3.1) becomes available in 2015, cable providers will have the capacity to deliver speeds greater than 1 Gbps. We've increased our speeds 11 times in 11 years, and our fastest tier is 19x faster today than it was in 2007. We double the capacity of our network every 18 months, which means we keep well ahead of demand for broadband bandwidth and speed. This is why, as the White House has acknowledged, America is well ahead of Europe on many key broadband indicators.
All this has been achieved by American broadband providers investing at-risk private capital at record rates. As the White House recognized, two of the largest broadband providers alone invested more in America during FY 2011 than the top five oil and gas companies, and nearly four times more than the Big Three auto companies combined. Three of the top ten non-financial investors (including Comcast) are broadband providers. Broadband providers have invested $1.2 trillion since 1996, creating over a million American jobs, and this investment continued through the depths of the recession when other industries severely cut back.
Deploying and improving the fastest broadband networks in the world today only tells part of the story. We also agree with the OSTP and NEC that America has a different kind of speed problem: the slow speed at which we are getting the 28% of Americans who don’t yet have broadband at home to connect. That’s a problem for them – broadband today is so integral to our jobs, our entertainment, and our ability to get news – and it’s also a problem for the country. As the White House identified, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 10% increase in broadband penetration will raise per capita GDP growth by 0.9-1.5 percentage points.
The cable industry has been partnering with federal, state, and local officials to directly address this issue. Our Internet Essentials (IE) program, which is the largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program in the country, focuses on encouraging families with school-aged children who qualify for the National School Lunch Program to subscribe to broadband. IE addresses all three of the major barriers to adoption cited in the White House report by offering heavily discounted and affordablehigh-speed Internet access at $9.95 a month, and making low-cost computers and free digital skills training available.
We’ve learned in the last two years implementing IE that convincing non-adopters to join the Digital Age takes more than just affordable broadband service. According to a recent International Telecommunications Union report, the U.S. ranks third in the world in broadband affordability for entry-level subscribers. Only 16% of non-adopters cite the monthly Internet price as the reason for non-adoption; the vast majority blames factors such as a lack of perceived relevance and computer non-ownership as the primary factors for not subscribing. We’ve found that success requires intense community engagement that wins the support of schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, anti-poverty groups, faith-based organizations, and others. Through these partnerships, IE has brought 150,000 low-income families – roughly 600,000 low-income Americans – online for the first time through December 2012.
The White House is correct that the last four years has been a particularly exciting period for U.S. broadband. As speeds skyrocket and the price per Mbps falls precipitously (the price per Mbps of Comcast’s most popular Internet tier fell 87% from 2002-2012), the number of connected devices in the marketplace has exploded as the choices of providers continue to grow. Cable companies like Comcast were the first in broadband back in 1996, and we are proud of our industry’s amazing pace. Four years ago, few consumers could have imagined subscribing to a 20+ Mbps connection from a wireless company or Internet access service from a search engine. And four years from now, it’s anyone’s guess what new technologies and applications will revolutionize the marketplace. The only thing I can say with certainty is that Comcast will be ready to deliver.