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Summary:

Comcast’s internet essentials program that offers low-cost broadband gets a speed boost. I think Google’s efforts to offer more broadband for less may be driving Comcast’s change and others.

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photo: Comcast

Comcast has connected almost a quarter of a million households (220,000) to its internet essentials program that offers $10 per month broadband to people who can’t afford it. In a release on Tuesday, the cable giant also noted that it has increased the speeds on offer to 5 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, which also happens to be the speeds that Google is offering communities as part of its free service.

Since the anemic speeds (1.5Mbps down and 384Kbps up) when the program launched in 2011 were one of the biggest problems people had with it, the speed boost is both welcome and necessary. But if you look at this program as a bare essentials broadband effort, you’ll see Comcast has moved its minimum to match Google’s fiber to the home service minimum. Comcast would likely disavow any link between the two.

Of course, if you are not a family whose kids are on the free and reduced lunch program, you can still get Comcast’s economy plus tier which offers customers 3Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream for around $40 a month. In Fresno, Calif. that service is $5 cheaper if you want a 5 GB per month cap! But the 5/1 service is still a noteworthy upgrade for the internet essentials program.

And amid all the talk about why we need gigabit service, and Google’s ISP dreams, that effort to push the envelope on broadband’s minimum standard is sometimes lost. When I talk about Google fiber or gigabit service, the most common question I get is why do we need a gig? I usually tell people something along the lines of this post.

But I also ask them how much they pay for broadband. I spend $70 a month on a 30/5 connection from Time Warner Cable. In Kansas City, where Google Fiber is serving select areas, that would buy me a gig. In Seattle, home to an independent ISP called Wave Broadband, my friends spend $70 a month to get 50/5 Mbps service. Soon my friends in Seattle will get a gig from Gigabit Squared for $80 a month if they want it.

Clearly, my friends are lucky to live in a place where they have more than just the cable provider and the local telecommunication company trying to offer them broadband. But it drives home a big lesson in broadband pricing — competition matters. And because Google is getting a lot of national media attention for its fiber to the home offering and its rollout, it’s shining a light on pricing.

Most broadband providers offer slightly different prices in their service areas and force people searching for those prices to enter their zip code and a service address. They also tend to obscure broadband-only offerings or contract-free offers, making it hard to find the right rates for what you want. When I was trying to get pricing for broadband from AT&T in Austin for a story, I had to spend 30 minutes on the phone in order to get the information, for example.

But with Google Fiber, people are hearing about pricing that’s simple and well publicized. And the hope is that Google’s openness drives a new set of standards about minimum speeds and pricing. It appears that Comcast at least may have been influenced.

  1. This is total nonsense. Is this a PR story plant from google? Google fiber has rolled in about 0.1% of Comcast footprint. Google is effectively skipping rolling out service to poor communities while Comcast is actually offering poor communities an affordable broadband service. A better story is why is google redlining poor people?

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    1. Actually Google offered registrations in nearly all the poor areas of KC metro before offering it to rest of metro. They are giving away 5Mbps for free with a $300 home improvement fee. Get your facts straight.

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  2. Michael Nguyen Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    jeez $70 for 30/5 i live in Philadelphia and i pay comcast $75 for 60/10

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  3. How about ATT DSL in San Diego, CA, 6/1, roughly at $40, regular price, no discount, works good, but….Okay Google, come on down.

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  4. Google will never come to its home state, at least not to the masses. If you live in CA the only places it’s available are Stanford and Sebastopol. I agree with Jeff that Google is not having a direct or really even much of an effect at all on what Comcast offers. Until the Cable companies no longer hold a monopoly over the areas they cover, there will never be any “real” competition.

    http://www.googletoday.net/why-google-fiber-may-never-come-to-califorina/

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    1. There won’t be direct competition, but regulators and officials in a variety of places will see the prices Google is offering and ask why their local broadband prices are so high. This is why it’s so important for Google to make money on this offering IMHO.

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  5. I think Comcast gave in to faster speeds because of google offering free service that was faster. From a PR view, it doesn’t look good. I live in rural area and competition is good so prices stay low. Was only Verizon dsl available and it was barely 2.7/700k for 40$. We now have a FTTH solution from a local telco, current package we have is 10/2 for 45. they offer speeds up to 50mbps. google i think is just creating a state of the art network because they can and to show the world that hey fiber is FAST and affordable!

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  6. Complete nonsense. How hilarious it is that people forget ISPs actually increased speeds regularly before Google Fiber even came into existence and continue to do so regardless of Google Fiber. Comcast doesn’t even compete with Google Fiber. 5/1 is an extremely common package. Google didn’t invent it, it simply offers a useable balance. My ISP had it for years.

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  7. Richard Bennett Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    Google has made a point of not entering any of Comcast’s territories, so the connection here is a bit weak.

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  8. Funny to hear people complain about their price/speed offering when some of us in more remote areas pay a lot for 15/1 service ($50) or we are offered 35/2 for $70. Comcast always offers better for less than what our local provider offers (MetroCast).

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