Higher speeds, sometime between now and forever henceforth

Another bit of Comcast news: they’ll raise speed tiers while keeping pricing constant when they roll out new DOCSIS 3.0 technology sometime between the end of this year and the end of 2010. The problem is that in Colorado Qwest is offering them no real competitive reason to perform a system upgrade. As such, Colorado will likely have to wait a few years for network upgrades to come to the area, especially in light of Qwest’s conservative schedule on deployment of already last-gen technology (ADSL2+, see my previous article on this subject) to 1.5-2 million homes, less if they decide that the economy isn’t faring well enough.

But when Comcast does upgrade their network, nearly everyone’s internet speeds will increase. Preliminary reports say that the “performance” internet tier will double in speed, from six megabits per second of download speed and one megabit of upload speed to twelve and two megabits, respectively. The Performance Plus tier, priced at $8-$10 above “Performance” and currently offering 8 Mbit/s on downloads and 2 Mbit/s on uploads, will be upped to 22 and 5 Mbps, attempting to compete with Verizon’s slightly cheaper, slightly slower (20 Mbit/s on downloads instead of 22) FiOS option where it is available. Last but not least, Comcast will introduce a new 50 Mbps tier that will cost $140-$150 and offer 5-10 Mbps of upload speed, depending on who you ask.

The problem with all of this is that many markets Comcast serves have no effective competition that would force Comcast to roll out new network infrstructure and thus increase speeds at no additional cost to customers. Only in true fiber-fed communities (Verizon FiOS or otherwise) does Comcast have a competitor who can, and will, offer higher speeds than they do, and as such those communities will be the only ones to see network upgrades in the near future. For the rest of us, the wait could be as much as two years, and then some.

Another problem: caps. Network upgrades will alleviate to a significant extent the network congestion that some areas are experiencing right now. However, this doesn’t mean that Comcast will turn off network managment in those areas. Nor does it mean that they’ll raise data transfer caps, though both could be the case.

In conclusion, Comcast’s new service tiers, available once network upgrades take place will be nice upgrades from the current internet situation. But these upgrades may take awhile since we’re in an essentially non-competitive market, and even when they come caps and network managment issues may still exist. In short, DOCSIS 3 is cool and all, but it’s not the be-all end-all solution to the internet need for speed, especially when Comcast and Qwest are both around.

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