Cable companies have multigigabit internet capability but are waiting for competition or regulation to force them to offer higher speeds and lower prices

The cable industry insists that it’s ready and able to compete with Google Fiber when it comes to delivering ultra high-speed broadband

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts last week showed off a 3Gbps cable broadband connection at the industry’s annual trade show in Washington, D.C. That’s three times faster than Google Fiber, which itself is nearly 150 times faster than the current average broadband connection in the U.S. Armed with that capability, he confidently welcomed Google’s challenge to deliver ultra high-speed broadband to consumers.

“I hope there’s a demand for (Google Fiber),” he said during a keynote session at the Cable Show. “The more customers crave speed, the more the kids in the garage and the geniuses around the world can invent applications that require speed. That’s the best thing that can happen to our industry. We have to embrace that competition.”

But Roberts’ words and one demo don’t match up with the actions of his industry. The cable providers have been slow to make its speedier options broadly available, and when they do, they charge significantly higher prices that escalate as you move to faster tiers. Based on how the industry has chosen to price its service, it’s clear that cable operators are not exactly encouraging adoption of ultra high-speed broadband. In comparison, Google is expanding Google Fiber to more markets, and offers a much faster connection at reasonable rates.

The fact that Google is offering a 1Gbps connection for only $70 a month, while competitors are offering service with 20 times less capacity for roughly the same price, has spurred discussion among policy makers and consumers.

Cable’s argument boils down to accepting that it is sufficient to follow consumer demand for bandwidth. But what the National Broadband Plan called for, and what communities offering gigabit-speed services have so far shown, is that there are great benefits to society when consumers have access to more bandwidth than they could ever imagine needing.

As Levin put it in a recent speech he gave: “Consumers never ask for products they don’t know about; innovation comes from the unknown. No consumer in 1900 asked for a radio, a television, or a personal computer. And as Henry Ford noted, if he had asked consumers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So even though Comcast’s Roberts says he wants his industry to encourage innovation, unless his company and others in the industry make their superfast services more affordable, as Google has done, that innovation is likely to happen at a much slower pace.


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