2020 version of ILSR’s Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom

The Institute for Local Self Reliance first published their Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom in 2018. They have updated it annually since then and have recently posted the 2020 edition. They took a look at the big national providers: Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier and  Windstream.

ILSR focuses on local community autonomy or at least control so they have a perspective. They do a good job collecting and analyzing data. Here are their conclusions…

The broadband market is broken. Comcast and Charter maintain an absolute monopoly over at least 47 million people and millions more only have slower and less reliable DSL as a “competitive” choice. Some 52 million households (about 132 million people) subscribe to these cable companies, whereas the five largest telecom companies combined have far fewer subscribers — only around 30 million households (about 75 million people). The big telecom companies have largely abandoned rural America — their DSL networks overwhelmingly do not support broadband speeds — despite many billions spent over years of federal subsidies and many state grant programs.

These are our key findings with potential for more research:

Real Competition Drives Investment

The telecom companies have invested in Fiber-to-the-Home in areas where they face competition, which are generally more urban areas. The advent of Google Fiber in 2011 further increased the competition in urban markets.55 Efforts to increase investment from the largest firms in more rural areas have largely failed. Though states have varied regulations, the same trend results in every state — investment by the large ISPs is correlated to competition rather than the regulatory environment. This reality does not suggest that competition between a cable monopoly and a telephone monopoly is sufficient for high-quality Internet access, but it clearly helps to ensure connections at the minimum definition of broadband.

Big Cable Companies Dominate

Cable networks are capable of delivering high-speed broadband to everyone within their service area, a legacy of the local franchising requirements that often required universal service or at least service to all areas with a specified density of housing.56 More than half of the states have since removed local authority to negotiate such provisions but they bear some responsibility for the far-reaching cable networks. In the years since we published the first edition of this report in 2018, the large cable companies have continued to gain broadband subscribers while the major telephone companies lose market share. By the end of 2019, the cable industry as a whole had 67 percent of the broadband market.57 The FCC statistics suggest Charter and Comcast face more competition than they did in our last report, but we suspect competition has only touched some homes in many of the new census blocks that appear to have a choice in providers now.

Big Cable and Telecom Focus on Urban Markets

The big cable and telecom companies fight over urban customers, not rural customers. More than 98 percent of the urban population (about 259 million people) have access to broadband, according to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, which analyzed data from December 2018.58 About 4 million urban residents, however, remain without broadband access. In rural areas, less than 78 percent of the population (50 million people) have broadband access, leaving more than 14 million rural residents without highspeed Internet access per the FCC but as many as 42 million according to another analysis.59

This entry was posted in Policy, Research, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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