Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« A New Anti-Hillary PAC... On t... | Flexcar Tax Hike Back On »

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Comcast Debate

posted by on October 24 at 14:17 PM

If you’re as obsessed with the Comcast vs. file sharing story as I am, there’s some good coverage on ars technica.

The last paragraph gets to the heart of the debate:

The libertarians argue that the market is the ultimate arbiter, and if Comcast is trying to stall the technology of the future, they will fail as their users flee to new ISPs.

The liberals argue that the Internet is a public utility and must ensure equity. That is: should not get better service than to deliver its content to end users, just because they pay for and use more bandwidth. (The analogy I like to use is to water service. Just because a rich person can afford to use more water than me, doesn’t mean their water should rush out of the faucet faster.)

Of course, the other rejoinder to the Ayn Rand crew is the point that ars technica makes (customers don’t necessarily have the option to flee Comcast):

In a perfect free market, customers would be free to pack up in leave Comcast for greener and more open broadband pastures, but the competitive landscape in the US doesn’t always provide that kind of choice. More than a few Comcast customers are faced with the choice of Comcast or dial-up, leaving them with the Hobson’s choice of hoping their data packets can evade Comcast’s traffic shaping police or not having broadband service at all.

This is compelling. Especially here in Seattle. Millennium? Qwest? Speakeasy? I guess.

However, Just because Comcast has a sorta monopoly doesn’t mean the Libertarian’s logic is inherently flawed. It just means municipalities shouldn’t be granting monopolies for cable service.


RSS icon Comments


Ding ding! We have a winner!

It just means municipalities shouldn’t be granting monopolies for cable service.

The first urge should be not to regulate legislative faux-equality but deregulate market inequalities: allow competition to kick in so Comcast customers actually can punish Comcast for its behavior. Right now the options are kinda zero.

Posted by torrentprime | October 24, 2007 2:27 PM

I think that a lot of options for broadband access will change quickly. Mostly because wireless speeds are starting to catch up wired speeds. While advances in WiMax, EVDO, and HSUPA haven't fully caught up to their wired parents the demand for mobile data access as an always on always connected solution is driving the advances in wireless broadband much faster than the wired markets are. So while right now some people that can only get comcast in the coming years it won't matter who owns or leases the wires.

Posted by Ryan Red | October 24, 2007 2:28 PM

Except if you switch to another ISP and part of your Net request goes through another Net segment, you get impacted by Comcast and AT&T limits.

The Internet was designed based upon net neutrality, back when Senator Gore pushed the funding bills through.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 24, 2007 2:44 PM

Millennium changed their name to Broadstripe. I was really excited about having a new choice in cable, since it might be cheaper than Dish Network, but no, same old shitty, shitty channels, same old shitty, shitty prices, and same old shitty, shitty service, just with a brand new name. I hate cable monopolies.

Posted by Gitai | October 24, 2007 2:45 PM

#2 -- unless you really mean years from now, that's sadly fanciful. The terms of service on wireless high-speed internet are much more restrictive than even Comcast's, and the performance will be fractional for the foreseeable future. They just can't absorb the traffic.

Qwest won't serve my Madison Park apartment, so Speakeasy is out too. It's Comcast or nothing.

Posted by Nat | October 24, 2007 2:49 PM

Amen, brother.

Posted by S. M. | October 24, 2007 2:59 PM

nobody seems to be addressing the even bigger picture that the US is lagging waaaay behind in overall broadband infrastructure - countries like Japan, Finland, Norway, South Korea have surpassed the US in recent years... plus, American standards of what constitutes "broadband" (200 Kbps) is considered as crap in other countries (for instance, in Japan the average home subscriber pays $10 a month for service 40 times faster than American "broadband")...

Posted by jameyb | October 24, 2007 3:00 PM

While Comcast does screw some things up and have some asinine policies (the "nebulous" usage caps being one), there are also some legitimate concerns about the crusty DOCSIS 1.X and 2.0 protocols currently in use not being well-suited to all the upstream traffic (this was mentioned on Slog the other day). DOCSIS 3.0 rollout is going to take some time.

So, if Comcast's short-term choice is to throw some wrenches into P2P (pissing of a fairly small subset of users) or letting the P2P dorks drag things down for everyone, I don't blame them for going with the former.

Posted by JMR | October 24, 2007 3:01 PM

Sometimes granting a monopoly is the right thing to do though. It doesn't make sense for 100 different companies to run wires through my neighborhood to carry data. One wire will do the job. So who gets to run that wire?

It's the same reason you don't have 7 water pipes and 3 different power lines coming into your house. It just doesn't make sense.

The ideal solution would be some sort of public utility that controls the physical wires, and individual companies selling the service. Unfortunately we've already passed the time when that was feasible to implement.

Wireless technology is still just a pipe dream and will always be slower and less efficient than wires (or fiber optic), so we can discount that.

Since we are effectively granting pseudo monopolies on service, we should enforce net neutrality. It's not the best solution there is, but it's the only one that can actually be implemented fairly.

As and aside. I haven't noticed my bit torrent messed up at all and I have Comcast. I've downloaded over 3GB is the last few weeks and have uploaded at least 2GB.

Posted by Andrew | October 24, 2007 3:02 PM

Andrew @ 9

The ideal solution would be some sort of public utility that controls the physical wires, and individual companies selling the service. Unfortunately we've already passed the time when that was feasible to implement.

How have we "...already passed the time when that was feasible to implement"? Tacoma did something similar 10 years ago when they were having problems with TCI and the folks I know in Tacoma love it. Seattle City Light could do something similar, and it was bought up in the City Council but the Seattle City Council, the most useless group of shits and fucks on the planet Earth decided to accept the mealy-mouthed guarantees from Comcast and the other cable companies that lease their right of way from City Light that they would keep prices down and improve service. I mean really, God forbid that the Seattle City Council actually do anything with City Light other than neglect it or try to use it as a cash cow for various projects and God forbid they actually do something to make Seattle a better place to live. Nope, couldn't have that.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | October 24, 2007 3:25 PM

@7 - oh, come on, the way you talk, it's like most first world nations have home internet speeds of about 10 to 100 times as fast as ours ... oh, wait, yeah, that's true.

America - dead last in tech, drowning in debt, and policeman to the world even when noone wants us to do it.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 24, 2007 3:28 PM


The ideal time to do it was when we broke up AT&T. We should have allowed them to keep the pipes, and forced them to sell the service.

It does no good if the city of Seattle took over the pipes in the city. Who runs the pipes outside of the city?

The time to implement it effectively was when there was still only one pipe coming into each home. And the solution was to make all the pipes a utility. It just doesn't work now. If the city tried which pipe would they use? The phone copper of the cable copper? It's already too much of a mess.

The simple solution is to grant them their monopoly on their pipes, but force them to play by the rules we set. If they don't, they have to open the pipe to anyone who wants them.

Posted by Andrew | October 24, 2007 3:57 PM

@11: exactly... and the current administration's failure to address making science and engineering a priority in our education system, choosing instead to spend time, money and energy on "defending marriage" and "choosing life"... it's pathetic. friedman quoted someone (i think he was either Chinese or Indian) in his book The World is Flat who said something along the lines of "in our country, Bill Gates is Britney Spears, but in your country Britney Spears is Britney Spears, and that's America's problem."

true that.

Posted by jameyb | October 24, 2007 4:07 PM

1. downtown monopoly on cable sucks ass. I can't even get FiOS because of it.

2. If we are going to allow a company monopoly on a geographic area, we can at least ensure that they arent fucking with our steeze so to speak.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 24, 2007 4:16 PM

Municipalities, blah, blah. What law would have stopped my apartment complex from picking a cable provider based in Texas that shot us a few paltry east-coast (i.e. EST) feeds via satellite (up until a few years ago when they finally let Comcast in)? Compared to that, I'm happy we now have Comcast cable.

As for Speakeasy, yeah, they used to be great, and we still have them, but now they're owned by Best Buy and are more interested in business service than residential these days. That and I'm pretty sure they outsourced their tech support to script-readers.

Posted by K | October 24, 2007 4:33 PM

What amazes me is that the same phone companies that were broken up when Ma Bell lost its anti-trust suit are the ones telling us to have faith in them now because they have our interests at heart.

The easiest way to break up the new communications monopolies is to head them off at the pass. The Comcast situation is a fine example of what we can expect if we don't enact meaningful regulation now.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 24, 2007 4:34 PM

If we can get five more satellite cable companies, it'll all be moot.

Posted by Gitai | October 24, 2007 6:28 PM

#17 -- Are you talking about television service competition? We're talking about high-speed internet service. Internet service via satellite has comical latency, owing to the inadequate speed of light and the portly curvature of the earth. Unless your nearest neighbor lives ten miles away, or you're at sea, satellite internet is a non-starter.

Posted by Nat | October 24, 2007 8:54 PM

(The analogy I like to use is to water service. Just because a rich person can afford to use more water than me, doesn’t mean their water should rush out of the faucet faster.)

I'm generally in agreement with your attack on Comcast, but this analogy just doesn't work at all.

(1) First of all, what we're talking about is supplier differentiation, so the true analogy is if big water companies delivered water to you in higher volumes than little water companies due to the policies of the company that owned the pipes.

(2) Quickly flowing water is not quite as powerful of a good as internet speed. I care more that I get water than how fast it is, within reason.

(3) Rich customers paying more for faster access is indeed exactly what we have now, and why is that a bad thing? Broadband is a luxury, and higher data rates cost more to provide.

Posted by MHD | October 25, 2007 7:40 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).