Smart Home Internet: Broadband, More-band, Less-band, No-band

50, 25, 7, and 1. Those were the numbers my son told me about when I helped him and his wife move from one apartment to another over the weekend. We wouldn’t have had the conversation at all were it not for Comcast. Because moving isn’t already painful enough, Comcast was able to add to the misery by wasting an hour of our time with a needless trip to one of their “service” centers—and, of course, add a $35 service charge for the trouble. (Considering that Comcast had to pay at least two service representatives to act like utter dimwits, $35 is really a bargain.) Since my son and daughter-in-law only need high-speed Internet and couldn’t care less about cable TV, I wondered aloud if they’d considered switching to another ISP.

Competition being what it isn’t, my son told me the sordid broadband story. At his old apartment, regular speed tests showed that he was getting 50 Mbps through his cable modem connection—even though the Comcast folks he spoke with assured him that he was only getting 25 Mbps. In other words, the service people were half-assed…er, half-fast.

Despite the fact that Comcast’s website indicated he could expect 50 Mbps at his new place, customer service told him he’d only get 25 Mbps. Once we connected his old cable modem—which was now his new cable modem thanks to the hour-long Clustercast—we discovered that, in this case, customer service was correct. He was getting 25 Mbps. At some point in time I asked about any alternative ISPs that might be in the area. There was indeed one other choice, but its maximum speed was 7 Mbps. (His best friend is one of the ISP elites. He gets 1 Gbps.)

My son and daughter-in-law are cord cutters, mostly because they couldn’t care less about the majority of what’s available on cable TV. Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video are about all they need. Hulu Plus recommends at least 3 Mbps “for a smooth playback experience” with HD video streams. Netflix, on the other hand, recommends 5 Mbps for HD and 25 Mbps for Ultra HD. Amazon recommends 3 Mbps for HD and up to 25 Mbps for UHD. So, for my son’s two-person household, 25 Mbps from his ISP is livable.

While we were talking about his bandwidth choices, my son made an off-hand comment about the surprising number of people who don’t even have access to 7 Mbps Internet connections. The number is probably higher than you think. In fact, the FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report states, “Broadband deployment in the United States—especially in rural areas—is failing to keep pace with today’s advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings…”

How bad is it?

Reflecting advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers and consumer demand, the FCC updated its broadband benchmark speeds to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. The 4 Mbps/1 Mbps standard set in 2010 is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way, the FCC found.

Using this updated service benchmark, the 2015 report finds that 55 million Americans—17 percent of the population—lack access to advanced broadband. Moreover, a significant digital divide remains between urban and rural America: Over half of all rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service.

The divide is still greater on Tribal lands and in U.S. territories, where nearly 2/3 of residents lack access to today’s speeds. And 35 percent of schools across the nation still lack access to fiber networks capable of delivering the advanced broadband required to support today’s digital-learning tools.

The FCC has an interactive Fixed 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Broadband Deployment Map that helps put those numbers in perspective.

Of course, broadband Internet access isn’t just about being able to watch episodes of Netflix’s House of Cards in 4K. It’s even more important when it comes to education—and general household device connectivity. In 2013, the NPD Group estimated that “the number of connected devices per U.S. Internet household [had] grown to 5.7”. As more smart home devices begin to take up residence in people’s homes, broadband connectivity is going to go from a welcome luxury to a necessity.

My dad spent the first ten years of his life living in southern Missouri in a home without electricity or running water. That was 80 years ago. It won’t take anywhere near that long before growing up in a home without broadband Internet access will seem just as primitive.

canman4pm's picture

Wow. I live in a small to medium sized city in British Columbia (Canada) 350 Km and 2 mountain passes from Vancouver, the nearest real metro area. We have a choice of Internet providers - Telus, a phone company and Shaw, a cable company. Telus, my provider, offers up to 100Mbps, while Shaw offers 120Mbps. I can confirm speed tests have shown I'm getting the full 100Mbps from Telus. Keeping in mind we have 1/10th the population, spread out over a larger country, infrastructure costs per capita must be correspondingly higher here. Why are Americans putting up with this. Why hasn't somebody seen the weakness in the ISP industry and come in and slaughtered the Comcasts of the USA by offering high speed internet at a reasonable price? Isn't that how a free market economy works? Given the hard time Canada always gets from Americans about our socialist systems, it seems we have the freer market.

jmedarts's picture

Here in CT, the issue with competition for cable services in the govt. About 15 years ago our only option was cablevision. The local telco built a cable network, which was great, prices went down, but they got out of the buisness because the FCC would not let them expand into combined phone-internet-tv etc fast enough to recoup their investment. 8-10 years ago Verizon started building their network into CT, but they stopped when the state government refused to stop the local town governments from extracting tributes from VZ (town pools, fire engines, etc) so VZ stopped building. In return my fellow citizens elected the AG who made that decision (Blumenthal) to the Senate. And yet they still keep bitching about high prices and poor service. The same forces who have created this mess are now pushing "Net Neutrality" to keep competition from upsetting their apple cart. They wave the boogeyman of restricted speeds from an end user in peoples faces to keep them from realizing that if there were some competition, no one could restrict anything and expect to stay in business for long.