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Altice’s 10 GBPS Gamble

Altice, Cablevision’s new owner, the one with the name that seems more appropriate for a pop star than an MVPD, announced that it would soon be bringing fiber to the home as part of its latest plan to win back market share from FIOS.

Altice’s new fiber cable—which allegedly will not require any in-home configuration— will provide users with speeds of up to 10 gbps. To put that in perspective, the Wall Street Journal estimates that at 10 gbps, an HD movie would download in a few seconds, versus about 14 minutes on a FIOS 50 mps connection.

Which is all well and good and seems very impressive… until you ask yourself “when was the last time I downloaded an HDf movie?” Or any sort of media, for that matter.

People, especially younger people, just don’t own media anymore. There’s a whole chapter of my book, Over The Top. How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry called “The Death Of Ownership” about how in a world where consumers have unlimited access to media via services like Spotify and Netflix, the need to actually own anything goes away. The whole notion of ownership is predicated on scarcity: we only own things when there’s a limited supply. Thanks to the proliferation of cloud-based services, there’s no need to own media anymore.

Which brings us back to Altice and the need for 10gbps speeds, which Altice’s CEO Dexter Goei sees as a distinct benefit.

And it would have been… in 2008. But in 2016, my family often streams HD movies on three different TV sets via Roku, while simultaneously browsing the interwebs on three different devices, all without any noticeable depreciation of quality or service… all on a 75 mbps connection.

Granted 4K (ultra HD) movies will eat up a bit more bandwidth, but that’s likely solved by an upgrade to 100 mbps or maybe even 200. Not 10 gbps. In addition, most other MVPDs are investing in something called DOCSIS 3.1, a back-end system that can help existing cable achieve a speed of around 1 gbps. There are costs involved with DOCSIS, but they are not nearly as steep at the costs associated with laying fiber to the home.

The other specter haunting Altice (and other MVPDs) is 5G.  This successor to 4G is still years away, but if it can provide anything close to speeds of 25 mbps, it may actually give cable broadband a run for its money, and, more importantly, start to break the monopoly stranglehold the MVPDs have on internet access in America. (OTOH, the two companies most likely to benefit from high-speed 5G, Verizon and AT&T, already provide broadband, but at least they’d be forced to compete with each other and with T-Mobile and Sprint… or whoever owns T-Mobile and Sprint at the time.)

It’s possible that Altice will be able to win back some FIOS subscribers with promises of 10 gbps speeds. It’s more likely however, that Verizon will be able to explain why those sorts of speeds are unnecessary. Altice’s CEO correctly pointed out to the WSJ that fiber is a superior technology to DOCSIS and 5G and will deliver better results.
The question is, does anyone really need them?