In a post yesterday, Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOM equated broadband to electricity and public education. Everyone should have access. That’s true, and we certainly have a lot of work to do in some rural areas, but there is good news. Access speeds are increasing in the US, and by a significant margin.
I remember sitting on a briefing last year when a Motorola exec predicted cable operators would soon be marketing 20-25 Mbps speed tiers in certain markets. Then last October Time Warner Cable made a splash by introducing 20-Mbps service in NYC. TWC wasn’t the first to offer such a tier, but 20 Mbps was still a big deal at the time, and the announcement got a lot of attention. Take a look at what the big ISPs were marketing in late 2007. This is from a quick review I did of marketing claims last October:
- AT&T U-verse – will offer an “elite” speed tier at 10Mbps in 2008
- Charter – will bump its highest speed tier to 16Mbps as early as November
- Verizon – currently testing a 20Mbps speed tier in New York City
- Time Warner – currently offering a 20Mbps tier in New York City
- Comcast – currently offering a 16Mbps tier in competitive markets
Fast forward to today. Cable operators are actively testing DOCSIS 3.0 gear, and 20 Mbps is not uncommon in competitive markets. Comcast has a 50-Mbps tier in Minnesota, and operators are starting to throw around numbers like 150 Mbps, which is what DOCSIS 3.0 could ultimately help deliver. (Witness JCom DOCSIS 3.0 service in Japan)
A lot of the talk is just that, talk. But the combination of competition from Verizon (which offers 50 Mbps everywhere now) and the growing demand for video on the Web is driving the big ISPs to show they can deliver big broadband. Even if the really high speed tiers are still only in limited geographic areas, it’s a start. Last year we were buzzing about 20 Mbps. This year we’re buzzing about 50 Mbps. It’s progress.