Archive Pen & Links

Carve up Comcast’s monopoly for the Internet’s sake

April 6, 2010

We could be in big trouble soon.

The Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to regulate the Internet was shot down by a federal appeals court on Tuesday. The court ruled that the FCC couldn’t levy a fine against Comcast for its packet-shaping efforts in 2008 since the commission lacked the power under the law.

This is a massive blow at the potential dawn of an era where a cable company, phone service provider and Internet service provider could become content creator. Comcast has agreed to buy NBC, though the move is likely to face heavy scrutiny from the federal government.

What that deal would set up is a scenario where Comcast owns the pipes and decides NBC content should be allowed priority over any traffic that goes through the pipes. A monopoly grows into an even larger monopoly.

While I’m not a fan of government intervention in every part of our lives, this is a point where someone needs to step forward for the users. After going through the various broadband speeds in the area that were submitted, I noticed there’s a big gulf in terms of cost and speed. AT&T’s speeds were somewhere in the 1-5 MBpS range while Comcast’s averaged well over 10 MBpS speeds. I did a little research and found something interesting

When I wanted to upgrade my DSL, I talked to a company called DSL Extreme about finding a faster speed. According to its site I could magically get up to 6 MBpS, or 4x faster than what I was getting now. However, when I talked to a customer support agent and told them that the fastest AT&T could get me was 1.5 MBpS, the agent brought me some sad news.

AT&T is required to share its line with other, smaller DSL providers. That meant I couldn’t access anything faster than what AT&T provided since any DSL would travel over the same lines.

Guess who isn’t subjected to those same regulations? Cable companies like Comcast.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Comcast was the only cable company in the area, meaning they have a monopoly on cable Internet access and prices.

I would love to see a legislator have the guts in an election year to stand up for their constituents and sponsor some kind of legislation to require cable companies to have the same requirements as DSL providers. Just because it’s a different cord, it shouldn’t be magically protected from competition. And if that legislator was feeling particularly gutsy, they would make this competition a requirement for any possible merger with NBC.

Memo to Rep. Wally Herger: My birthday is in a few weeks. This would be the ultimate present.