Study Says Cable Modems Will Outstrip DSL–Does this Feed the Media Monopoly Monster?

  • Study Says Cable Modems Will Outstrip DSL–Does this Feed the Media Monopoly Monster? reports on a Multimedia Research Group (MRG) study determining that DSL will lead globally, but that major investments in digital cable infrastructure will cause cable Internet access to lead. The study notes that last-mile DSL infrastructure–taking DSL to actual homes and offices–has lagged recently, and is way behind cable.

    This certainly reflects my experience. Here in Urbana, IL, DSL is available, but fairly expensive to install, and costs about double the monthly cost of cable modems. Further, the least-expensive package, at about $75/mo., has lower downstream bandwidth than available from cable modems, in addition to only being available in the central part of town. But if you want to run a small server, DSL is your only choice, since you can get one or more static IPs, even if only 128 kpbs upstream. Servers are disallowed on the cable modem.

    But the larger implication of this trend is that it puts significant control over the Internet-access market in the hands of the cable companies, which are led by large, consolidated multinational communications conglomerates like AT&T and Time-Warner. Thus, we have the threat of having most Americans’ high-speed ‘net access controlled by the same companies controlling the rest of their media–from TV and movies, to books and magazines. Can we really trust them to use this control fairly and responsibly? Or will these local monopolies seize more control over browsers and ‘net applications, which might be used to place barriers in the way of accessing content not within the parent company’s universe? Already, if you get an AT&T @Home cable modem they install an @Home version of Internet Explorer on your computer, that defaults to Excite @Home content. Of course a geekier customer (like me?) can choose not to install all this extra nonsense, but that probably excludes a fair majority of home Internet users who just want to get on-line and browse the web in the easiest way possible (and who can blame them?).

    Of course this concern doesn’t cause me to give up my cable modem–having an always-on hi-bandwidth connection is like crack, I tell ya. It costs only about half as much per month as DSL, and there was no install charge, vs. a several-hundred dollar install fee for DSL. Yes, it works and it’s cheaper! Isn’t that the way the Wal-Marts of the world win?

    One solution, I guess, will be to figure out how a community-based non-profit high-speed ISP might be set up. Public wireless netwoprk projects in places like Seattle have shown some promise, and may be workable even in a smaller, less-dense city like Urbana. It’s not a cure-all, but at least may be a decent band-aid apart from significant economic reform of the US communications industries and infrastructure.

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