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You must live in one of the few places in the US where high-speed internet is available through multiple providers.

That is definitely not the norm. Most people won't be able to simply switch to the least nasty provider.

If the FCC really wanted to promote competition instead of profits, they could mandate nationwide access to utility poles & shared conduit.

As well as making exclusive franchise agreements illegal.

Exclusive franchise agreements are illegal for eg cable. They have been illegal for a quarter of a century.

You'll find that nearly all examples commonly presented of the lack of competition, are not due to market lock-out, it's due to the high cost and time required to gain approval to build in a given town or city. The combined cost, with pre-existing competition entrenched, is a very large disincentive. Google Fiber didn't grind to a halt on their build-out because they couldn't legally access markets, it's because it's painfully expensive and very slow.

There are three solutions to the problem: new technology that bypasses (low earth orbit satellite, wireless); lower the total cost to enter markets and compete; mandate shared access to existing infrastructure (and ideally simultaneously lower the other market entry costs).

Thanks for the correction! (And as also noted here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8066340 )

Upton Sinclair's "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" seems relevant here.

It's illegal, but it's also murkey enough that it can be made effectively exclusive through permitting delays, etc.

If the incentives were flipped (say, a federal road fund multiplier that scaled with average speed * number of options), I feel like we'd have a lot more competition.

As is, in the contracts I've read, they're essentially "ISP gets a non-exclusive franchise right in exchange for paying local government x% of their fees from the area, and both parties agree that the portion rebated to the local government may not be separately itemized on the bill."

Which sets up some pretty perverse incentives for most part-time commissioners.

Normally when infrastructure is expensive to deploy and wasteful to duplicate like this we turn it into a utility (Water, Electric, Sewer, Roads, Telephone, etc...).

We don't do that for Internet because...

I still don't really understand how exclusive franchise agreements /aren't/ illegal, given antitrust laws.

Through insane amounts of regulatory capture. You could hardly hope to get government under greater private control with an overwhelming military coup.

We've gone far beyond reducing regulation to ensure that innovation is possible--we've restructured regulation to ensure that doing business is practical only for the major industry players who now write our legislation.

That's the status quo with net neutrality, it's repeal may or may not have an effect on it. It's going to be interesting to watch.

More than half of US households have multiple wired broadband providers: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/06/50-mi...

This does not include wireless broadband options. Could the competitive situation be better? Absolutely. But it is, in fact, the "norm" to have a choice.

That means nearly half have a single (or no) option. Further, for many who have two choices, the decision is between not-actually-very-Fast DSL or a single cable provider.

In Mountain View I had only shitty DSL or shitty cable. Both sucked and cable was very expensive. (This may be different now. My experience was 8 or so years ago.)

I happen to be lucky to have actual high speed Comcast now, with an option for FTTH from Centurylink, plus DSL. Most people’s options are not so good.

>for many who have two choices, the decision is between not-actually-very-Fast DSL or a single cable provider

Very true. In one city where I have a house, the choice is 4 megabit DSL for $60/month, or 300 megabit cable for $101.

Both are considered "broadband" by the FCC because the DSL is "up to" 8 megabits. But they are not equivalent services.

There's also a wireless ISP, but it's $95/month for 5 megabits.

The FCC definition of broadband is 25mbps, not 8mbps.

There was a proposal to roll that back, however it didn't succeed.

You'll find that companies like Verizon do not call their slow DSL services "broadband." In Verizon's case they say: "High Speed Internet (DSL) service."


If you look at Verizon's DSL page:


You'll see they can't call their actual service broadband if it's not up at 25mbps. Instead they throw the "broadband" term around on other things on the page, such as "broadband routers" and they call themselves a "broadband provider" (referring to their FiOS offering).

Broadband used to be symmetric (reference to e.g. T1 or E3). Now it is asymmetric. Without mentioning the upload speed, it can be anything.

My two choices are Comcast or shitty DSL. And, the DSL isn't actually "competition" in any conceivable way. It's like saying that the gas station is competition to a super market for food.

My two choices are my rural-telepohone co-op - or satellite. I'm not complaining b/c my ISP seems fine, but there isn't anyone else to run to if I'm unhappy. I don't consider satellite an option.

If we count satellite, doesn't everyone in the US have "access" to broadband?

Depends. Does satellite do a minimum of 25mbps?

Yes. With the usual caveats.

Ie. terrible latency and terrible upload speed.

The study limited to 100 MBPS. It should have included more tiers like 200, 300, 500, and 1000 to provide a better picture. Once you go past 100 MBPS, there tends to be only one widely available choice per region. This choice is either Comcast or Verizon.

I live in a city with multiple providers. Some lucky ones even have choice of FIOS, along with fast cable from two providers and slower DSL.

It doesn't matter for cord-cutters and people like me, who just want to pay for a $30 / month 100 Mbit internet connection without TV, cable, wireless data, HBO, etc. I've lived in several countries outside the US (including 'developing' ones, and this seems possible everywhere but N. America).

None of the providers will sell a $30 / month vanilla internet connection. Either you can get the absurd $20 / month 1Mb down (which they were required to provide for low-income families) or the next higher speed includes Cable, premium channels, rental boxes, etc. You aren't getting out of it without paying $60 / month which ends up being $70 after all the taxes and fees, increasing to $75 next year, etc.

We live in a place that supposedly has multiple wired providers. However, if you want more than about a megabyte a second, your "choice" is comcast. DSL exists but is maybe 20x phone line modem speed.

But we have a "choice" of providers, so we're competitive! This is in sfbay peninsula.

Is it?

Is a choice between two providers a meaningful enough number for spontaneous commercial differentiation and competition to produce access which provides good value for consumers, and a level playing field for online competition?

That chain of causality is the argument for the benefits of deregulated market-based competition.

I'm not sure the linked report provides much evidence of that. Especially in the context of streaming video, the proportion of households that have 3+ providers for a 25mbps connections appears to be less than 20%. Excluding wireless connections (expensive and unreliable) that number appears to be less than 10%.

A scant majority is not "the norm" - you're using a term that has no statistical meaning. A duopoly labeled as choice is specious.

If your list of options can be counted on a persons digits then the market is inefficient.

Yep after moving from MI to NoVA the contrast is night and day my house has both Verizon FIOS and Comcast 2 Gigabit options available and a bunch of smaller providers.

But that's my point, it will give a smaller-sized competition more chances to differentiate, since users might start looking for something better.

It's infeasible when there's enough political money from the nationwide ISPs to make installing a new network prohibitively expensive.

Comcast, ATT, and Spectrum's ceiling of profit is the difference between the cost of delivering services and the potential cost of installing a competitive network.

And it's far easier to increase the latter than innovate and decrease the former.

What smaller competition will be capable of laying copper or fiber to its constituents? Even cities are, in many cases, rendered incapable of providing competition.

And, for the record, wireless is not a viable competition for copper, let alone fiber. The available bandwidth by the most cutting-edge offerings is too low and latency is too high.

the hypothetical here is that Comca$t is going to artificially throttle Netflix and give you mandatory free (paid) access to their own streaming platform.

all a WISP has to do to compete is offer more bandwidth than the throttle allows with no bandwidth shaping at a competitive price.

If all that the internet was was streaming video, sure. It's not, though.

The WISP also has to be resilient against Comcast removing the cap at a lower price (at least until the WISP folds). And against being bought out by Comcast. And against Comcast's lawyers and lobbyists (the wireless spectrum being a government controlled and finite resource).

you make it sound like competing with comcast is impossible. it might be difficult, yes, but if you have less-than-shit policies in your state/muni lots of options tend to pop up.

i live in Utah, and i have several ISP options pretty much anywhere along the Wasatch Front, including fiber and wireless. i can't speak for anywhere else, but its not like its impossible.

On what infrastructure? Pigeon carriers?

They could first start small – municipalities, LANs, HOA-based WANs, consolidating slowly. It's like you're saying that no ISP progress will ever be made if someone is not using existing AT&T networks.

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