The July 25 editorial that opposed modest consumer protections for 100,000-plus cable modem customers is out of touch with reality. The Post said competition from DSL providers or other cable companies, rather than regulation, is the way to solve the 40-foot-long list of Comcast cable modem complaints. That's wrongheaded.
First, DSL is not available to many in Montgomery County. Second, Comcast has an effective monopoly on cable modem. Third, Comcast is bombarding consumers with mailings touting its cable modem as technologically superior to DSL at any rate.
Even if we had effective competition, cable modem customers deserve to get what they pay for. Under The Post's logic, a Toyota Corolla shouldn't have to meet highway safety standards because we can always go out and buy a Ford Focus. That doesn't make sense. We need competition and consumer protections. That's why the County Council was right to resist efforts to weaken the protections and to put the public interest before an industry's special-interest pleading.
The writers, both Democrats, are members of the Montgomery County Council.
DSL is available to only those customers within a certain distance of their telephone central office, and its performance depends on the quality of the copper wire from that office to the house. Much of the wiring in the metro area was installed decades before anyone thought of using it for digital services, and it is unsuitable for DSL. Satellite is slow, expensive and subject to interference from aircraft, buildings and weather. I had DSL from both Covad and Verizon; it was awful, dropping dozens of times a day. Satellite is just too expensive. That leaves cable as the only real choice.
Internet service has become a vital utility, and it should be treated as such. With the advent of Internet telephones, cable Internet providers threaten ever-larger chunks of the telephone companies' business, yet with no assurance of the quality and reliability that has long been the hallmark of telephone service. Cable companies should be forced to compete on like terms.
It is only by leveraging the monopoly power granted to cable companies that they are able to offer nearly universal access to wideband Internet services. Because they have a coercive monopoly, only the government that granted it has any leverage with them. The only practical way to force change on them is via regulation.
As long as cable companies have this monopoly, there is no incentive for telephone companies to invest in the improvements to their last-mile wiring that would enable DSL to compete with cable.
Like the Bell monolith before them, cable companies have become barriers to progress. They should be regulated to the same degree as those they are competing against.
Montgomery County is to be applauded for its attempt to bring these behemoths under control. I hope Fairfax County is watching.