Gone are the days when “Internet use” meant exclusively surfing the web and checking email. When we use the Internet today, it can mean anything from online shopping to in-depth live gaming to streaming online movies and TV shows.
51% of Americans watch streaming shows or movies every week. And it’s already true that, “among those ages 18 to 34, 35% named a smartphone or tablet as their primary medium for entertainment.” But, those numbers are expected to rise.
These devices will be used to interact on social media, play games, listen to music and to stream plenty of online video content. Meaning we’ll need more and more Internet data to power our increasing number of web-enabled devices.
Americans’ online activities are already bandwidth-intensive and our appetites for fast and powerful Internet are only getting bigger. But with cable providers you’re sharing that bandwidth, which can mean up to 500 homes on a single cable node. Sharing bandwidth means slower internet as more people are get online—which explains why there’s so much buffering when you try to stream episodes of Homeland at 9 p.m. compared to 5 a.m. As each household continues to add more and more web-enabled devices, cable lines are overloading with data demands.
Can cable keep up with users’ need for speed?
It’s true that cable is losing customers to online subscription TV services like Netflix and Hulu. They’re investing in TV streaming devices like Roku or Google’s Chromecast. They do this to save money – because cable is, and has always been, expensive.
“Currently,” reports Uproxx.com, “this is how cable works: every channel charges a cable operator a retransmission fee, the cable operator passes that fee onto you and charges extra, and channels are bundled together so, even if nobody’s watching, that channel can still sell advertising.”
The author continues, “Everybody makes money, everybody’s happy. Everybody, that is, except the customer.”
Cable companies operate monopolies in areas across the country. So, they control the prices unhappy customers have to pay. For many customers, the monopoly isn’t just on TV. They can cut the cord on cable TV, but they can’t cut out cable Internet – especially if they want to stream their favorite TV shows and movies.
What’s the solution for our bandwidth needs?
The obvious answer is fiber optic internet. Fiber lines made of pure glass strands as thin as a human hair, and carry digital information over long distances at top speeds. Fiber-optic Internet may be incredible and the speeds it offers are becoming necessary for increased Internet use. But it’s extremely limited in availability.
Google Fiber has been rolling out gigabit Internet in certain parts of the country. Kansas City, Austin and Provo are the three lucky winners of Google’s super-fast fiber-optic Internet. They’ll have bragging rights to 1 gigabit per second Internet speeds.
But Google isn’t the only company winning at fiber-optic Internet. Verizon FiOS Internet offers customers in certain parts of the country Internet speeds of up to 500 Mbps; that’s faster than most “high-speed Internet.”
That means, for many Americans, cable Internet is still the fastest Internet option they have.
But cable says it’s got this, guys. The average cable speed fluctuates between 1 and 6 Mbps, but can support speeds of up to 30 Mbps. These speeds aren’t even close to fiber Internet speeds, which can reach up to 500 Mbps, according to the FiOS website. However, cable is feeling the heat.
Recently, Cnet.com reported that Comcast recently “showed off a 3 Gbps cable broadband connection at the industry’s annual trade show in Washington, D.C.” And Time Warner Cable is going to double speeds for premium customers in Los Angeles. But providers know their days are numbered—especially if they are competing with fiber.