The Power of the Gig
When I answered an incoming customer service call from Comcast yesterday, all I really hoped was that my experience would be better than this guy's. (See What Can We Learn From Comcast's Customer Service Nightmare?)
Turns out it was. For one, my call was from an automated and far less argumentative voice. Also, I wasn't planning to cancel my service (not yet, anyway). And finally, the automaton told me that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) was doubling my internet speed for no additional charge, effective immediately.
I haven't binge-watched House of Cards since I got that call, so I have yet to know if Comcast's action will improve my often frustrating Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) experience. But I know this: I feel a little better about Comcast.
Is it a sign of the times, this unsolicited gesture to satisfy customers and stave off churn? It would seem so -- and it's likely a development driven by ever-increasing competitive pressure, especially from the myriad providers now beginning to offer gigabit services.
These providers run the gamut: There's AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), which has recently added San Antonio, Nashville, Dallas/Fort Worth, and three North Carolina communities (Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Raleigh-Durham) to the list of cities that will join Austin in getting its GigaPower service. There's Google Fiber Inc. , which is signing up customers in Kansas City and Provo, Utah, and has Austin and nine more cities on deck, many of which overlap AT&T's GigaPower map.
But then there are the smaller providers -- according to the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council , 55 in all in the US, including telcos, municipalities, utilities, and even real estate interests. These are the entities bringing gigabit services to smaller cities and towns, stepping up the competitive pressure on the Comcasts, AT&Ts and Google Fibers of the world, whether those larger players are willing to admit it or not -- and adding to the regulatory ruckus while they're at it. (See If Not Muni Networks, Then What?, Muni Utilities Take Gigabit Fight to FCC, and The Municipal Menace?).
Competitive pressure can do wonders for service innovation. (There's even a startup in my tiny hamlet that's plotting a gigabit network build, which might account for the Comcast call.) Competitive pressure also ups the level of debate, raising important issues like states' rights, the role of the FCC and federal government, proper municipal use of taxpayer funds, even the question of how necessary gigabit speeds are -- especially for residential customers -- at this point in time. And in regions that might never get the attention of Google Fiber or GigaPower from AT&T, gigabit initiatives are aiding economic development efforts and potentially contributing to community transformation. (See Comporium Aims Gig at Businesses, Residents.)
All of it is certain to continue apace, keeping things very interesting -- and, if nothing else, improving the binge-watching experience for us all.
ó Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading