FORTUNE -- When challenged, monopolists, particularly in the communications industry, often tend to work harder to protect their monopolies than they do to improve their services or cut prices (or simply limit price increases). An excellent example of this can be found in an article today by the Washington Post's Andrea Peterson.
Comcast (CMCSA) has donated thousands of dollars to political action committees that back Washington state Sen. Ed Murray, who is challenging Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in next week's election. The mayor has worked to bring better, faster, cheaper broadband Internet service to his city. Comcast says the donations have nothing to do with the city's plans, but as Peterson meticulously reports, much of the money Comcast had donated has come through PACs, such as the Broadband Communications Association of Washington, that are specifically devoted to influencing broadband policy.
McGinn initially wanted the city to provide high-speed broadband service on its own, like a public utility. The expense finally persuaded him, along with the University of Washington, to seek out a private-sector partner. The city is close to finalizing a deal with Gigabit Squared, based in Washington, D.C.
That company says it will offer 100 Mbps service for $45 a month, and 1 Gbps service for $80. Comcast, a major provider of broadband in Seattle, offers 105 Mbps service for $114.
People clearly want faster Internet, better service, and lower prices. Gigabit Squared reportedly received 10,000 requests for service from Seattleites even before the company announced its pricing plans. More than 1,000 communities around the country competed three years ago to become the first to get Google's (GOOG) high-speed, fiber-optic Internet service. Kansas City won, spurring Time Warner Cable (TWC) to improve its service. Google Fiber's presence in Austin, Texas similarly spurred AT&T (T) to begin offering high-speed service in that city. People are clamoring for it.
But none of that stopped Comcast executive David L. Cohen from writing an op-ed in June arguing basically that the demand for high-speed service (particularly speeds of 1 gigabit or more) just isn't there. Even if that were so, it could hardly be argued that people don't want lower prices and at least a minimally acceptable level of customer service. Those things come only with competition.
In the absence of any federal action to spur competition in the broadband market, competition seems to be happening so far in single cities, through sheer force of will -- usually governmental will, or the will of companies like Google, as well as that of upstarts like Gigabit Squared and Sonic, a DSL provider in Northern California that is offering competitively high speeds through phone lines.
The monopoly might be broken up, but it might have to happen one market at a time. That will take a while.
Can so-called Super Wi-Fi bring high speeds and low costs to rural Americans? xG Technologies thinks so.
NB: This is the second story in a two part series about rural broadband access in America. To read the first part, please click here.
FORTUNE -- Engineers have long dreamed of using cheap wireless networks to do an end-run around the companies that now provide Internet access and cell phone service. Those dreams have MOREOct 18, 2011 10:59 AM ET
Thanks to a new satellite blasting into space this week, broadband access in rural America and southern Canada is about to get a lot better.
FORTUNE -- Slow and expensive options for connecting to the Internet may seem like an inevitable downside to country living, but rural Americans are in for a pleasant surprise. Cheap bits, delivered by satellite, are about to flood rural North America.
A new satellite, now sitting atop MOREScott Woolley - Oct 17, 2011 5:00 AM ET
The cable company CEO previewed a next-gen user interface, but can Comcast really compete with Apple, not to mention Netflix?
FORTUNE -- Comcast (CMCSA) CEO Brian Roberts wants you to know the company is adapting to the times, and that the perception of the cable company as a stodgy provider of bulky cable set top boxes is a thing of the past.
"We recognize that the business is changing and has changed, MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Jun 21, 2011 4:45 PM ET
Despite criticism, a venture capitalist and former California State Controller explains why the Genachowski net neutrality proposal is a must-have for industry, the FCC, and the public.
By Steve Westly, contributor
Nobody likes being stuck in traffic or choosing the slow checkout line at the grocery store.
Now imagine if you were faced with the choice of being forever stuck in the digital slow lane or paying even higher fees for faster access MOREDec 20, 2010 8:52 PM ET
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