Thursday, October 8, 2015

Will The New Internet Kill Comcast?

Here’s How the New Internet Might Finally Kill Comcast

In 2014, The Consumerist crowned Comcast as the “Worst Company in America”. Pretty bad, right? But wait. Go back to 2003 and we see that the American Customer Satisfaction Index found Comcast to have the worst customer satisfaction of any American organization, including the Internal Revenue Service. Ouch.
Is there anyone out there who actually likes Comcast? Seriously, speak up. I’m honestly curious. So given that public opinion rates it somewhere between taxes and gout, how is Comcast still the largest provider of cable Internet in America? Something doesn’t add up here.
Which is why many Americans — and sympathizing non-Americans — want to see Comcast crash, burn, and receive a comeuppance for their grievances. But is such a fate even possible for an entity as large, pervasive, and rooted as Comcast? You bet.
Soon? We’ll see. Here’s how it might happen.

Net Neutrality + Comcast = David + Goliath

Without a doubt, net neutrality has been the largest threat that Comcast has had to face in many years. For those who still aren’t caught up on the whole controversy, we have a great net neutrality summary that explains everything you need to know about it, but you can also learn about it on YouTube.
In short, net neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated the same, that specific kinds of traffic should not be throttled or priced differently, and that it shouldn’t matter where the traffic starts or ends.
Do you want to be charged an extra subscription fee for access to certain websites? Or do you want to pay more money for 1 GB of “video data” versus 1 GB of “text data”? Those are the kinds of atrocities that net neutrality aims to prevent, and we’re fortunate that the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality not long ago.
The death of net neutrality would mean scary things for broadband customers, especially for customers of monopolistic giants like Comcast. With ISPs playing territory wars — being unwilling to expand into areas where previous ISPs exist — most of us don’t have much choice over which ISPs we can elect to subscribe to. For a lot of us, it’s Comcast or nothing.
So imagine being “forced” to use Comcast. Comcast and Hulu are two services in the same bucket (they’re both owned by NBCUniversal), so what would happen if Comcast decided to charge extra for access to competing services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video? Or denied access altogether? A nightmare scenario.
Comcast is already a media giant, but the company is still growing and becoming more monopolistic with every day that passes. We’re lucky that its merger with Time Warner Cable didn’t go through, otherwise we’d really be at their mercy.
The important thing about net neutrality is that it hinders some of Comcast’s ability to become an all-in-one media provider and thus forces it to play nicely with competitors…

Comcast Needs Healthy Competition

…except Comcast doesn’t have many competitors, which is one of the key reasons why they’ve managed to stay throned as the largest cable provider in America while simultaneously being rated the worst company in America. It’s easy to stay king when consumers are trapped.
Which is why people all over the country were uplifted when Google launched its experimental Fiber program back in 2012. For the first time since the company rose to dominance, Comcast finally had reason to fear another Internet provider.
Let’s compare. For $77 per month (which doesn’t include regional taxes and fees), Comcast offers a 75 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload connection speed. For $70 per month (also excluding taxes and fees), Google offers a 1,000 Mbps download and 1,000 Mbps upload connection speed. They’re worlds apart.
And there’s growing evidence that Google Fiber’s existence is enough to push competing ISPs to offer better speeds on the same infrastructure that they’ve always had — which is what happened in Kansas City where average Internet speeds jumped up a little over 80 percent.
The obvious problem here is that Google Fiber has limited reach. As of now, it’s only available in Kansas City (Kansas), Austin (Texas), and Provo (Utah), with plans to expand into seven other cities within the next couple of years.
Problems aside, can you imagine what would happen if Google Fiber was available everywhere? Companies like Comcast would have to start offering a similar level of service before all their customers jumped ship. If Comcast refused to step up, you can be sure it’d get left behind.

But here’s the funny thing: while people were still begging for Google to bring Fiber all over the country, Verizon announced that they had started testing their fifth generation of mobile network technology, which could purportedly provide speeds faster than even Google Fiber.
Now we have two big name companies pushing for Internet speeds that exceed 1 Gbps, and neither of those names is Comcast. How long will it be before Comcast joins them? Because if Comcast waits too long, the future Internet of gigabit speeds will render it obsolete in the blink of an eye.

Three Global Internets In the Sky

If net neutrality and competition weren’t threatening enough, Comcast has yet another thing to fear: innovations in Internet infrastructure. If all goes according to plan, these innovations would be the final nail in Comcast’s Internet-providing coffin.
As of now, the chief reason why Comcast can have such a monopolistic grip on America’s Internet is because Comcast owns a lot of the infrastructure — the wires, cables, and hubs that make it possible to transmit data from point A to point B. If someone wanted to compete, they’d have to rent infrastructure (unlikely) or build their own network (unlikely).
So until recently, consumers like you and me have had to suck it up and deal with whatever ISPs were available in our regions. But now, there are three incredibly rich entities working to rectify this problem.

First, we have Google. As if its Fiber project wasn’t groundbreaking enough, Google is forging ahead with another project called Loon, which involves building a global network of space balloons that would provide Internet to everyone all over the world. For free? Probably not, but it’s still an ambitious idea worth applauding.
Even when Comcast’s competitors, like Google, want to lay down alternative infrastructure, they can’t due to laws and regulations that prevent that from happening. This is why Google Fiber areas are few and slow to expand. But hey, if Google can’t deliver Internet through the ground, it’ll do so by way of sky.
And that’s what Elon Musk is doing, too. Not only is Elon Musk revolutionizing the energy industry and making improvements to mass transit, last year he announced that he was going to launch a fleet of Internet-providing satellites into space. The current plan is about 4,000 satellites by 2030.
It’s a loftier goal than Google Loon, particularly because satellites are extremely expensive to launch and maintain, but if successful would knock Comcast down several tiers on the ISP hierarchy. Unfortunately, 15 years is a long time to wait, but necessary for a project of this scale.

Our third player in this game is Facebook. Just a few months ago, Facebook successfully created a solar-powered drone with the ability to beam down Internet from the atmosphere using lasers. The drone itself would sit in the stratosphere for three months before having to return to Earth. Its Internet provision radius is about 50 ground miles.
These drones will eventually be able to operate without any manned operators, and the ultimate goal is to build a network of these drones that cyclically fly up and down to provide accessible Internet all over the world. Facebook has yet to provide an estimated timeline for the project, but it won’t be here for several years at the very least.

When Will Comcast’s Reign End?

With everything we’ve covered above, it should be noted that Comcast is more than just its Internet branch. Even if everything went according to plan and Comcast was driven out of the ISP industry, the company itself would continue to exist in other forms.
And it’s not like we want Comcast to die, necessarily. We just want Comcast to reform their business tactics, adhere to ethical practices, and provide consumers with a level of service that lives up to Internet standards in other first-world countries. We don’t think that’s too much to ask.
What do you think? What would it take for Comcast to get its head on straight? Or is Comcast too far gone for redemption? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credits: white tombstone by Cako via Shutterstock, Net Neutrality by mindscanner via Shutterstock, Earth From Space by Marcel Clemens via Shutterstock Source:

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