Comcast is raising the rate on your service by $3/month for most customers starting on your next bill. Their promos state, “This has required investment in our high-capacity network, which impacts our pricing. As a result, the price of your Xfinity Internet service will increase by $3, starting with your next bill.” But don’t be fooled, these “upgrades” Comcast is doing will not result in better services, or even new service offerings for most of you, and even if they did, their services would cost too much and be nothing like fiber. Of course, our students on low-income connections will see almost no benefit to this price increase, as any new services will likely be targeted at wealthier neighborhoods. Further, the cost of Comcast’s pretend Gig Service, which states “up to Gigabit speeds,” (just like CenturyLink’s pretend Gig service) never performs close to that standard, and starts at a whopping $140 a month (twice the rate of real Gigabit fiber service in Anacortes).
Adding insult to injury, your $3 more per month increase comes with a data cap of 1TB. In fact, Comcast is turning their data caps and overage fees back on for all customers in 2021. So, if you can even get the pretend Gig service, which most of you won’t be able to, you will be charged for the maintenance of it anyway. So get ready to pay huge overage fees as you exceed your data cap by doing routine things like Zooming all day for your job, participating in telemedicine, watching movies, and more. You know, the stuff most people are doing during the pandemic. Essentially, Comcast is profiteering during a pandemic, they are robbing from the poor to give to the rich.
But let’s start with some reminders and big numbers. Comcast has a virtual monopoly on providing services in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Sure, there are some other choices, most of which are rather unimpressive and usually even worse than Comcast’s lackluster service, but on the whole, Comcast controls just about everything here. Starting in 1992, the federal government allowed the big telecoms to charge customers nearly $400 billion to upgrade all Americans to fiber-to-the-home service by 2010. In a variety of ways, this money was stolen as Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T made backdoor deals with each other to squander the money instead of upgrading services. The details of this story are covered in Susan Craword’s book, “Captive Audience.” Comcast’s current net-worth is $205.58 billion dollars. Unfortunately, you know, at $205.58 billion, Comcast just couldn’t afford to do all those upgrades with that free money.
But unsurprisingly, Comcast’s story gets worse. We are paying about $110 dollars a month for a Comcast connection that is advertised at 150 Mbits down and only 10 Mbits up. This supposedly makes our connection 6 times faster down and about 3 times faster up than the virtually worthless Comcast “internet essentials” low-income connections that our poorest residents are stuck with. Unfortunately, it performs at about a ¼ of that speed when load tested, it is not adequate for multiple users at the same time for video conferencing (Zoom), and it has much higher latency than fiber. Remember, their upload speeds, needed for critical tasks like Zoom, will be capped way below their download speed at about 10 Mbits for most customers (25 for pretend Gig customers). But it will not perform consistently at that rate since Comcast uses shared bandwidth neighborhood hubs, meaning you share all of your bandwidth with your neighbors. Aggravating the problem, their last mile service is often copper cabling first designed in the 1870s—not what you’d call “state of the art.”
So it’s the same smoke and mirror game…again. Comcast is pretending they just couldn’t afford to do the right thing in the past, including upgrading their network and routine maintenance. You know, the stuff they should have done decades ago and were given billions of tax payer dollars years ago to do, but stole it instead. Now, in order to do the bare minimum, they just had to raise your rates.
Meanwhile, towns like Chattanooga, TN; Wilson, NC; and Anacortes, WA are providing real fiber-to-the-home services at $70 a month for Gigabit symmetrical services (1,000 Mbits down and up) with much less latency than you get on Comcast, CenturyLink, or other Whatcom County networks. All for close to the same price we’re paying here for services that are laughable in comparison.
While you can get some private fiber in a limited area here, private companies like WAVE offer $900 a month Gigiabit fiber service to some, one gentleman I just spoke with was quoted $250,000 for the initial WAVE hook up; other WAVE customers I know, who live downtown, have been quoted a minimum of $1,200 just to get hooked up. To compare, the cost of installation in Anacortes is usually around $200 in most cases. In Mount Vernon, the cost for most hookups is equally low in most cases. Plus, even if you cough up the dough to get WAVE service to your location, since it’s a private service you’re really just being duped into paying to expand WAVEs private infrastructure on your own dime. This infrastructure then can’t easily be shared with other entities like publicly owned infrastructure can.
And then there are the “low-income” connections provided to poorest residents via the schools by Comcast and Verizon. Naturally, these perform well below their stated standards and are inadequate for current usage as I’ve written about here extensively. If you are wondering what else can be done, I refer you to some of my other articles, because there are some options. But the bottom line is that it all comes down to the need for countywide public fiber-to-the-home and we won’t have real choice until we have that infrastructure.
To pour more salt into the wound, Comcast also announced that they will be removing complementary Norton Antivirus suite software for their customers. This was a software they provided as part of your service for decades. This will make their network significantly less secure as they are inviting customers to use systems that are not being properly secured. It will also make their network perform even more poorly as, for example, infected machines will make many unnecessary requests which will chew up bandwidth.
So what about the COB? What is their response to this pandemic-induced crisis and Comcast’s rate hike? Well, they’re still not willing to share their publicly owned fiber network with the citizens that paid for it, and they’re still dragging their feet on creating the Broadband Advisory Group, and they’re still trying to sneak big telecom reps onto it while keeping community reps off of it. So, same old story. They simply don’t care what citizens think. They just want to put on an Advisory Group show and take good care of the telecom companies that provide poor service at exorbitant prices instead of moving us toward the future. Meanwhile, Bellingham is missing out on all the social and economic benefits a robust public fiber infrastructure would bring.