Cable Operators

Cable: Fastest Broadband in the Land

1/16/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Cable operators delivered the fastest
average broadband download speeds in 2011 — with major
MSOs easily blasting by rival telco and satellite Internet services
— per data from independent testing firm Ookla.

For the full year, the six fastest residential Internet-service
providers in the U.S. based on average download speed
were Comcast, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems,
Time Warner Cable and Insight Communications.
That’s according to Ookla’s Net
Index service, which has measured hundreds
of millions of individual user tests through its
Speedtest.net website. (Data for some providers,
including Bright House Networks and
Suddenlink Communications, is not available
in Net Index.)

Telcos largely rely on copper-based digital
subscriber line technology, and DSL can’t
deliver the performance levels that cable’s
DOCSIS 3.0 spec can. Theoretically, DOCSIS can
scale up to 1 Gigabit per second or even higher, while DSL
tops out today at about 40 Megabits per second, even under
ideal conditions. According to Net Index, satellite broadband
and terrestrial wireless services are even slower than DSL
providers; higher-speed 4G is just becoming widely available.
And overall, Verizon Communications had the highest upstream
speeds, with an average of 7.41 Megabits per second.

Verizon fared better than its telco peers with an average
download speed of 12.94 Mbps, thanks to FiOS Internet,
its fiber-to-the-home service that provides up to 150
Mbps downstream. Still, the company’s legacy DSL services
dragged down overall speeds.

Cable’s dominance in broadband will continue over the
next decade, according to Sanford Bernstein senior analyst
Craig Moffett. U.S. MSOs will pick up about `10 percentage
points of broadband market share by 2020, rising to nearly
70% by then, as DSL recedes, Moffett predicted.

“Technology adoption is creating a feedback loop that increasingly
favors cable’s physical infrastructure,” he wrote in a
research note last month. “As more people are served by higher-
speed connections, more and more applications are evolving
to take advantage of them. Customers with lower-speed
connections are increasingly
being forced to upgrade to
higher speed connections …
or be left behind.”

The relative broadband
speeds of MSOs and telcos
aren’t merely an academic
curiosity: Major providers
are increasingly touting Internet
performance in their
marketing as they fight for
consumers’ dollars.

Verizon and Cablevision, for instance, have been
bickering over their respective broadband speed claims
in recent months, with the telco complaining that the
MSO’s latest ad citing Federal Communications Commission
data is misleading.

Cablevision sued Verizon last month over the telco’s
ads claiming that a FCC study released in August 2011
showed the cable operator delivered “59% or less” of advertised
speeds during peak periods. Cablevision argued
that more recent data from the agency showed the MSO
had greatly improved its relative performance; the companies
settled the litigation for undisclosed terms.

Now Cablevision has mounted a counterattack, one of
which spoofs Verizon’s original “eye-rolling” ads,
claiming “Optimum Online download speeds
are actually faster than basic Verizon FiOS.” The
MSO’s ads cite December data from the ongoing
FCC “Measuring Broadband America” research
project that indicates Cablevision’s 15 Mbps tier delivered
higher average speeds over a 24-hour period
than the FiOS Internet 15 Mbps downstream
service. The new TV spots started airing Jan. 6 in
the New York market and aired about 30 times over
the weekend.

“Surprised? So is Verizon, we’ll bet,” the narrator
says in Cablevision’s “eye-popping” ad.

Verizon said in a statement, “Cablevision’s latest
advertisement grasps at straws and speaks
volumes about its state of distress. FiOS Internet
is America’s fastest, most consistent and most reliable
Internet service in the nation.”

According to the telco, the ad is misleading
because Cablevision is comparing its broadband
speed to the FiOS Internet entry-level 15/5
Mbps package, while its flagship offerings in the
New York market start at 25/25 Mbps.

Asked to respond, Cablevision said in a statement,
“The new ads simply reflect the most recent
SamKnows testing data, which shows
Optimum Online download speeds are faster
than basic FiOS.” SamKnows is the U.K.-based
research company the FCC has enlisted to conduct
broadband speed testing.

March