Last week, the Attorney General of New York Eric Schneiderman filed a law suit against Charter and Time Warner Cable for misleading consumers by advertising internet speeds the company knew it could not deliver. The company had charged customers for premium speeds of up to 300 Mbps (Megabits per second) while the company’s infrastructure and the equipment it rented out to customers (for a monthly fee) were both not capable of consistently delivering these speeds.
To make the story even worse, this isn’t the only way TWC mistreats its customers. Bush Kushnick of the New Networks Institute wrote in the Huffington Post that TWC had a 97 percent profit margin on its high-speed internet service in 2013. His findings were collected from data collected by TWC and released to the public and by “applying it to the revenues per customer we see that the customer pays $43.92 to TWC, on average, and it cost Time Warner Cable $1.32 to offer [high-speed internet to that customer].”
Part of the problem with the scenario is that consumers aren’t given a choice of internet service providers (ISP); there’s no real competition in the market. On my street in Jonesborough, I have two real choices in ISP: Comast’s Xfinity and DirecTV’s satellite internet service. By “real choice,” I mean ISPs that offer speeds faster than 10 Mbps, because anything less is unacceptable in 2017.
Currently, my household pays $64.95 each month for Comcast’s service, and we should be receiving 25 Mbps. To satisfy my own curiosity, I followed Eric Schneiderman’s advice to the people of New York and ran a speed test using the site internethealthtest.org.
Last night around midnight, the average speed (both upload and download) I received was 13.08 Mbps. This morning, I have an average speed of 17.63 Mbps. I might be willing to give Comcast the benefit of the doubt because my download speed did peak at 24.81 Mbps this morning, but I was unable to find a breakdown of precisely what speeds I should be receiving for upload and download. Due to their lack of transparency, I have to assume that my average in both directions should be 25 Mbps, so my speeds are about 30% slower than they ought to be.
But none of this should matter. It’s 2017. We all should expect more than 25 Mbps, and in some places they do.
Take Chattanooga as an example. According to a report by CNN Money, the city started planning to set up a better method for delivering power to its citizens in 2008. By September 2009, the city had both a smart power grid that could help prevent and solve outages and one the few publicly-owned internet services in the country. Chattanooga citizens receive speeds of up to 1000 Mbps (or 1 gigabit) for $70 a month.
Along the way, Chattanooga Electric Power Board was sued by Comcast. In the lawsuit Comcast claimed that electric customers, who do not use the internet service, might be required to pay more per month to support the new venture.
Though this suit was quickly dismissed and the city went on to successfully build its network, Comcast’s actions were not atypical. Why shouldn’t Comcast try to block competition from entering the market as a way of protecting its own interests? If Chattanooga hadn’t taken this crucial step, Comcast could have continued to offer sub-par services for a higher cost with no plans to improve its offerings.
They could have continued to treat Chattanooga the same way they treat every other city.
Maybe if the lawsuit against TWC is successful in New York, we will see some changes happening in ISPs’ practices all around the country. Or maybe it’s time for Johnson City to consider following in the footsteps of Chattanooga.
Publicly-owned internet is available in Tennessee, and it works. Let’s build it here.