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Broadband AdoptionCable Innovation

Broadband is Everywhere and Yet Some Say "Bad News!"

July 9, 2013

The build-out of a national broadband infrastructure across 93 percent of America is among the most important U.S. technology accomplishments in recent history.  Just consider the sheer size of the U.S., spanning some 3.8 million square miles across farm fields, massive cities, mountain ranges and vast spaces.

A recent White House report, Four Years of Broadband Growth, highlighted some of the tremendous progress that cable and other broadband providers have made to build next-generation networks that are enabling Americans to compete in the global information economy. The report notes that, “Since 2009, the percentage of American homes reached by high-speed broadband networks have more than quadrupled…and average broadband speeds have doubled.”

The good news is that America’s broadband future is even brighter. During a recent cable innovations event, some of the foremost leaders in broadband technology got together to envision what’s on the horizon for broadband Internet in America.

NCTA President and CEO, Michael Powell, reviewed how cable providers had invested $200 billion to build out a national high-speed Internet infrastructure, which now passes 85 percent of U.S. homes with networks capable of 100 Mbps speeds or higher. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts highlighted the potential power within cable’s current network, by demonstrating how cutting-edge electronics can be used to reach three Gbps download speeds. And cable’s chief innovation guru, CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney, offered a glimpse of the not-too-distant future in discussing the industry’s progress toward completing the specification for the next iteration of faster cable technology,  which is expected to enable downstream speeds approaching 10 Gbps.

In spite of the continuous broadband improvement cycle that cable has been delivering across wide swaths of America, some to try and make lemons out of lemonade. Critics say cable is holding back on speed and infrastructure improvements and often cite Google as an example of how broadband should be deployed to American homes.

Let’s look at Google’s efforts in creating a broadband infrastructure and see how they compare to those of cable.

First, it’s important to understand that Google’s Fiber network – which is beginning to deliver a variety of broadband speed tiers (up to a gigabit) in a few select cities – is only a new entrant in the broadband marketplace if you happen to live in the .05 percent of the country they intend to serve.  That is 92.5 percent less than the markets where cable broadband networks are available.  And in those few markets, they’ve been able to strike enviable agreements with local municipalities (like buying a money-losing network in Provo, UT for $1 or getting permission to build only in select areas where they see fit to offer service) that have reduced the cost and difficulty of building their limited networks.

Cable’s broadband networks are accessible and affordable in thousands of communities and every state, not just in select “friendly” markets or in high-density regions.  And for lower-income families, there are cable-supported programs like Connect2Compete, which offer $9.95 high-speed Internet, inexpensive computers, and training in digital literacy.

Speed may matter, but so too does scale.  For its part, cable has a proven track record of constantly expanding the reach and improving the capabilities of its networks so that the benefits of faster speeds can be shared by the roughly 93 percent of all U.S. homes reached by cable broadband – that’s nearly 300 million people.

During his recent demo showing off cable’s three Gigabit download speeds, Roberts said he hoped Google’s network would increase demand for faster tiers, “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.”

Roberts’ sentiment echoes the entire cable industry’s belief that pushing the limits of our networks combined with efforts to increase broadband adoption and education will enable America to fully realize economic, education and societal benefits of a wired nation – not just mega-speed for a select few.

Cable will continue its track-record of relentless innovation that ensures that our networks are continually improving and always leading and staying ahead of the demands of our nation.