17 February 2014

Comcast gets bigger. So what?

We all hate Comcast and Time Warner Cable. They charge too much and never deliver what they promise. What really turns a pocket protector inside-out is the possibility of these two companies getting hitched and throttling our bandwidth. FiOS would not do this to us! Google Fiber practically begs us to download every movie in the universe! Grab your chip removers and soldering irons, geeks, because we cannot allow Comcast to win!

Yes, there is no question that Comcast over promises and under delivers on their products. Their advertisements are questionable, at best, and often appear to be outright lies. They actually claim to have faster internet than FiOS in our area and we know from speed tests on our block that you will never see half the speed of fiber. Worse yet, the connection is highly variable depending on when you are using it, so watching Netflix streaming on Friday evening can sometimes be a painfully slow experience.

Comcast is already a pseudo-monopoly and it is difficult to imagine a larger company could be any worse. Yes, they are lying today and maybe they would fib more tomorrow, but they already have zero credibility. Yes, they limit bandwidth today and maybe they will limit more tomorrow, but when you already despise a company it is tough to argue degrees of hatred.

The fact is that cable modem internet connections are through coax local loops that are inherently inferior to fiber optic. Comcast has to fabricate numbers to make their bandwidth sound as good as FiOS. Cable must cap usage to give all customers a similarly shitty experience.

"But fiber optic folks don't cap bandwidth! FiOS gives us the speed advertised all the time! Fiber is inexpensive and it always works!"

That is the whole point. Cable modem is shared bandwidth so these companies must take steps to assure  everyone has a certain amount of bandwidth. They advertise the speed as the fastest possible "burst" packet delivered rather than real-world connections.

The fiber companies are using modern technology and financially losing their shirt providing it. The best connection in America comes from Google who can never hope of making their money back on monthly fees from their investment. Verizon's FiOS was such a money loser that they started selling off portions of their network to try to recover some of their losses. Fiber to the premises is the dream of every geek and a nightmare to the companies selling it.

On the other side of the spectrum is Comcast. They make money on everything they do. They provide a half-ass internet connection and nearly everyone buys it because you do not have a choice. The technology they are selling will never compare to fiber and they know that - despite what they might advertise. And this core of disgust for their products will not change if they buy every other cable company in the country.

The only way to make this a win-win situation is if Comcast was forced to build fiber networks in all regions they serve. Then Comcast could finally address the limitations of their current technology and provide a service that meets the claims of their advertisements. Unfortunately, given the financial success of their FiOS competitors, I will not be holding my breath for such a welcome outcome.