Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s internet speeds have been getting facelifts in recent years, but so far the United States is lagging behind other developed countries in upgrading its high speed internet into the gigabit bandwidth range. The cable internet DOCSIS 3.1 specification allows for blazing high speeds, but in the past companies like Time Warner and Comcast claimed their customers really do not want gigabit internet speed. The truth of this statement is based upon what Americans actually purchase, but 4K streaming internet requirements may be the tipping point that finally pushes users to upgrade.
In a related report by the Inquisitr, Netflix’s 4K streaming movie and TV videos are already here, but unfortunately the PS4 and Xbox One video game console users have been left out in the cold despite the hardware being capable of 4K output.
The FCC recently said that the max internet speed in the United States recently met the goal of being three times faster in comparison to 2011.
“Today’s report confirms that advances in network technology are yielding significant improvements in broadband speeds and quality,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a statement. “Faster, better broadband will unleash new innovations and new services to improve the lives of the American people. This comprehensive assessment of broadband performance helps to keep consumers informed and hold ISPs accountable.”
In reality, America is nowhere near other developed countries. The 2015 Akamai State of the Internet Report shows that the United States is not even in the top 10. In fact, countries like the Czech Republic and Latvia place higher, and while China’s average internet speed is very low on the list, according to Reuters the Chinese government plans on spending $182 billion in order to make sure that’s no longer the case by 2017.
The elephant in the room is the amount of investment required to provide high speed internet. Fiber internet connections like Google Fiber promise huge bandwidth at cheap prices, but it also requires burying new lines all over the country. Cable internet lines, on the other hand, are already buried, but DOCSIS 3.1 performance (which maxes out at 10,000 Mbps down, 1,000 Mbps up) is only possible if the cable companies like Comast, Cox, and Time Warner Cable update their cable modem termination systems (CMTS) inside their facilities to make it work.
They also have to upgrade the cable modems given out to customers. In fact, Comcast’s internet only became capable of DOCSIS 3.1 in December of 2015. They installed their very first DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem in Philadelphia. This is significant because the fiber-based Comcast Gigabit Pro service is only in 14 states where customers live within one-third a mile from Comcast’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service. According to ExtremeTech, the fiber connection also costs $299.95 per month and there’s also a $500 installation fee.
Competitors like Time Warner Cable, Cox, and others are also bumping the max cable internet speed. For example, Bright House Networks, which is owned by Charter, announced that users were getting a free bump.
“Our Lightning Internet speeds are increasing! By the end of the month, Lightning 35 becomes Lightning 50 with download speeds up to 50 Mbps. Lightning 75 becomes Lightning 100 with download speeds up to 100 Mbps, Lightning 150 becomes Lightning 200 with download speeds up to 200 Mbps, and Lightning 300 will now have upload speeds up to 20 Mbps.”
But that’s still nowhere near the theoretical max provided by DOCSIS 3.1, so why has it not happened? Three years ago, Time Warner Cable CFO Irene Esteves claimed that customers were simply not signing up for the top tier options.
“We just don’t see the need of delivering that [gigabit Ethernet] to consumers,” Esteves said, according to PC World.
A recent study tried to figure out why Comcast customers were not upgrading their cable internet speeds. As part of the randomized controlled trial, Comcast silently upgraded 1,500 of their customers from 105 Mbps to 250 Mbps without the customers being aware of the change (well, unless they knew how to run a speed test).
“We explored how this treatment affected user behavior and made a few surprising discoveries…. It’s not the aggressive data hogs who account for most of the increased use in response to faster speeds, but rather the ‘typical’ Internet user, who tends to use the Internet more as a result of the faster speeds,” explained Nick Feamster, who worked on the study with several PhD students. “It might just be that the typical user is using the Internet more with the faster connection simply because the experience is better, not because they’re interested in filling the link to capacity (at least not yet!).”
To a certain extent, 4K streaming may be the killer app that will push Americans to upgrade over time. Internet gaming, web browsing, and full 1080p HD video do not require too much bandwidth, but the official bandwidth requirements recommended by Netflix is 25 Mbps per video. If multiple family members want to watch their favorite videos separately, then 100 Mbps can quickly be consumed. The question is whether Americans will consider 4K streaming justification enough to pay the piper.
(Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)