Comcast rolls out 50 Mb/s residential Internet

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Philadelphia (PA) – Hot on the heels of a new report that suggests the U.S. is hopelessly falling behind in global race for broadband Internet speeds, Comcast announced two new residential options that are so fast that the company decided to name them “wideband”. Generally available connection speeds of 22 Mb/s and 50 Mb/s are a positive sign for the broadband Internet development in the U.S. The catch? 50 Mb/s was available before and it is only marginally cheaper than the service that has been available for some time.

Let’s take a deep breath. Following statements claiming that no household would need more than 1 Mb/s Internet bandwidth, it seems that the years of complaining are paying off. A good old cable company is increasing its Internet bandwidth offering for consumers. In addition to a 768 Kb/s, 4 Mb/s, 6 Mb/s, 8 Mb/s and a 16 Mb/s connection, Comcast is now offering two new high-end tiers with 22 Mb/s and 50 Mb/s.  

Comcast still hasn’t the world’s fastest Internet service and its decision to describe its service as “wideband” when Korea is already at 100 Mb/s may sound a bit arrogant, but there is little doubt that this is a good move that has been overdue for years. The new services run over Comcast’s fiber optic network - a technology the company battled in municipalities across the U.S. about five years ago – and will lead all the way up to 160 Mb/s in the future, the company promises.

Comcast claims that the 50 Mb/s speed is enough to download a 6 GB HD movie in about 16 minutes, a standard-def movie (2 GB) in about 5 minutes and a standard-def TV show (300 MB) “in a matter of seconds.” Of course, that is only possible, if a user has not exceeded the 250 GB/month bandwidth limit yet and is not labeled as “excessive downloader” by the company, which will result in bandwidth limitations, or network management measures, as Comcast calls it.

The good news, of course is that bandwidth speeds are increasing. Earlier today Strategy Analytics released a report claiming that “United States now finds itself increasingly trailing the world in broadband”. The firm went as far as describing the current situation as a “Sputnik Moment”, suggesting that there is a need for national broadband policy to step on the toes of national U.S. broadband providers. Strategy Analytics said that average “data rates are on the order of 50 Mb/s” outside the U.S. today, declined to provide further detail just how far the U.S. is trailing other nations in the global broadband race.

So we are heading towards 50 MB/s as well, but there is a problem: Price. Comcast offers its Ultra service (22 Mb/s down, 5 Mb/s up) for $62.95 a month: Comcast said that it is upgrading its 6 Mb/s customers to 12 Mb/s and 8 Mb/s customers to 16 Mb/s.  The new 16 Mb/s service is priced at $52.95, which compares to the previous 16 Mb/s service that was priced at $67.95.

The new 50 Mb/s service is called Extreme 50 and isn’t exactly new for some users. It has been available before for $149.95 per month, but only on a very limited basis. The new service is said to be generally available and priced at $139.95 per month.

If you ask us, that is still too expensive and not exactly what we would describe as a residential mainstream offering, but rather a strategy that promotes digital divide. And, we wonder what the benefit of this speed really is, if users will be labeled as excessive downloaders when taking advantage of the bandwidth and run into the bandwidth cap when downloading – on average - about 1.5 HD movies per day.

Bandwidth is just one part of the story. What about dropping the price below $100 per month and changing the bandwidth limit?