Just how bad is Boulder’s main Internet provider, Comcast?
The Consumerist blog just rated the ISP the third-worst company in America.
Ask a random Comcast customer for horror stories and you’ll get an earful about constantly rising rates, unnecessary fees and unresponsive customer service. But since U.S. policy has deregulated cable and Internet access to the point where little competition exists in most markets, the majority of Americans simply have no choice but to lay back and take what Comcast is giving them.
That’s why when Google announced its Google Fiber program a few years back and launched a nationwide search for a suitable test city, Boulder’s broadband users salivated at the opportunity. Internet via fiber optic cable is blindingly fast; Google ended up offering customers access at speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. That’s 20 times faster than Comcast, which just bumped its high-speed offering from 24 megabits per second (mps) all the way up to 50 mps.
Google chose Kansas City over Boulder, and customers there can get either 1 gigabit for $70 a month, or pay a $300 one-time fee for slower access. Pretty damn good. Google just announced that it would soon expand its fiber program to Austin, Texas, where AT&T holds a firm grip on the Internet access market. Just after Google’s announcement, AT&T announced plans for its own 1-gigabit fiber-optic network in Austin. Take that, Google!
AT&T’s move marked the first counterblow toward Google by an Internet monopoly. Nothing like a little arms race between media companies to improve products for consumers, right? Except that the competition Google is providing is incredibly rare, since the government has allowed a handful of major companies to dominate Internet access via small, local monopolies. As a result, Internet access in the U.S. pales in comparison to both speeds and prices in other developed nations.
As law professor Susan Crawford told TIME, “In Seoul, [South Korea], when you move into an apartment, you have a choice of three or four providers selling you symmetric fiber access for $30 per month, and installation happens in one day.”
There’s already some fiber-optic cable underneath Boulder’s streets. As part of the SmartGridCity debacle, Xcel spent $20 million installing 200 miles of cable. It was way more than the utility meant to spend, and the price skyrocketed in part because the ground was much rockier than they expected. Google execs might be looking at Xcel’s experience and thanking their lucky stars someone else’s project boondoggled before theirs could.
But who knows? If Xcel’s looking to sell, Google might be able to get a discount and maybe save us from the tyranny of Comcast. Come on, Google. Be a pal. Please?
THE GAY MERIT BADGE
In yet another example of activism and good old-fashioned people power playing a role in changing the world, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has issued a proposal for lifting the national ban on admitting gay youth into the organization.
It’s about damn time. The move came after more than 1.6 million people signed a change.org petition urging an end to the national anti-gay policy.
Of course, the BSA wouldn’t want to do anything too hasty or extreme. Its proposal would continue to deny gay parents and other adults the opportunity to participate. Can’t go overboard when it comes to recognizing basic civil rights. Better just extend that privilege to the kids first.
Oh, and not too fast, either. If the proposal is approved at the BSA’s May meeting in Dallas, it wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 1.
Hey, this is progress, right? Baby steps. The first of several merit badges to be earned.
It’s just too bad the BSA has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.