Comcast, Charter dominate US; telcos “abandoned rural America,” report says
AT&T and Verizon have generally built fiber only where they face competition.
By JON BRODKIN
Jul 31 2018
You already knew that home broadband competition is sorely lacking through much of the US, but a new report released today helps shed more light on Americans who have just one choice for high-speed Internet.
Comcast is the only choice for 30 million Americans when it comes to broadband speeds of at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream, the report says. Charter Communications is the only choice for 38 million Americans. Combined, Comcast and Charter offer service in the majority of the US, with almost no overlap.
Yet many Americans are even worse off, living in areas where DSL is the best option. AT&T, Verizon, and other telcos still provide only sub-broadband speeds over copper wires throughout huge parts of their territories. The telcos have mostly avoided upgrading their copper networks to fiber—except in areas where they face competition from cable companies.
These details are in “Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom,” a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). The full report should be available at this link today.
“Market is broken”
“The broadband market is broken,” the report’s conclusion states. “Comcast and Charter maintain a monopoly over 68 million people. Some 48 million households (about 122 million people) subscribe to these cable companies, whereas the four largest telecom companies combined have far fewer subscribers—only 31.6 million households (about 80.3 million people). The large telecom companies have largely abandoned rural America—their DSL networks overwhelmingly do not support broadband speeds—despite years of federal subsidies and many state grant programs.”
The ILSR report is based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data; ISPs are required to identify the census blocks in which they provide residential or business Internet service and the maximum speeds offered in each block.
The Form 477 data “overestimates actual broadband availability and ISPs’ service areas,” because it counts an entire census block as served even if an ISP offers service to just one resident in the block, the report notes. But the ILSR said it found no better alternative, and ISPs have resisted efforts to make the data more accurate.
The report includes deployment data for cable, fiber, DSL, and fixed wireless broadband. The report excludes satellite Internet “because the technology is highly dependent on terrain and weather, has very poor latency, and is often more expensive than terrestrial ISPs.” Mobile broadband also is not included because the report focuses on home (or “fixed”) Internet service, rather than smartphone coverage.
The most recent Form 477 data is from December 2016, so the numbers in this article aren’t fully up to date. As we’ve reported, the data showed that 30 percent of developed census blocks have just one ISP offering speeds at least as fast as the FCC’s broadband standard of 25Mbps downloads and 3Mbps uploads. In 13 percent of developed census blocks, there were zero providers offering speeds that fast.
Comcast and Charter
Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable company and broadband provider, offers service to about 110 million people in 39 states and Washington, DC.
“All of these people have access to broadband-level service through Comcast Xfinity, but about 30 million of these people have no other option for broadband service,” the ILSR wrote.
Comcast’s broadband subscribers included 25.5 million households, or about 64.8 million people, based on the average US household size of 2.54 people.
Charter, the second biggest cable company after Comcast, offers service to 101 million people in 45 states. 22.5 million households covering about 57.2 million people were subscribing to Charter Internet, according to the numbers cited by the ILSR.
Like Comcast, Charter offers broadband-level speeds throughout its territory. “About 38 million [people in Charter territory] have no other option for broadband service,” the report said.
Comcast and Charter generally don’t compete against each other. They have a combined territory covering about 210 million people, yet the companies’ overlapping service territory covers only about 1.5 million people, according to the Form 477 data cited by the ILSR. The overlap is mostly in Florida, where Charter purchased Bright House Networks, and may be overstated because an entire census block is counted as served even if an ISP offers service to just one resident in the block.