Charter announced that new customers will now be getting 200 Mbps as the basic broadband download speed, increased from 100 Mbps. During the first quarter the company also will be increasing speeds for existing customers in seventeen markets including Palm Springs, CA; Orlando, FL; Tampa, FL; Savannah, GA; Lexington, KY; Rochester, MN; Columbia, MO; Springfield, MO; Albany, NY; Buffalo, NY; Elmira, NY; Rochester, NY; Syracuse, NY; Chattanooga, TN; Tri-Cities, TN; Beaumont, TX, and Cheyenne, WY.
Like all of the big cable companies, Charter periodically increase speeds across the board. The company raised speeds in 2014 from 30 Mbps to 60 Mbps. In 2017 the company increased speeds to 100 Mbps download.
Charter will likely eventually increase speeds in most other markets, subject to technical capability. The company says it has implemented DOCSIS 3.1 technology nationwide, but overall system capacity can still be limited by other local factors such as the overall bandwidth of the network, the configuration of electronics, and the age and quality of the coaxial plant. Like all cable companies, Charter sells bandwidth that is ‘up to’ the advertised speeds and there will be customers in the upgraded markets that will get faster broadband but who may never hit 200 Mbps target.
Charter is upgrading major markets but seems to be going first to places where it has competition. Chattanooga has a citywide municipal fiber network. CenturyLink is in the process of building fiber citywide in Springfield, MO. The New York markets have Verizon FiOS while markets like Tampa and Palm Springs have FiOS provided by Frontier.
The company says it’s not increasing upload speeds with the upgrade. Most Charter markets we’ve studied have upload speeds between 10 Mbps and 15 Mbps for the 100 Mbps download product. During the pandemic, the number one complaint about cable company broadband has been the inability of multiple family members to make school and work connections at the same time. While moving to 200 Mbps will be welcomed by many homes, this upgrade will not change the ability to work from home.
One interesting way to look at the upgrades is that it’s a way to reduce network congestion. It’s unlikely that upgrading a customer from 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps per second is going to have much impact on customer usage – but downloads get done faster, freeing up the network. Faster speeds should reduce contention on the network during most times of the day.
The biggest losers from increased cable company broadband speeds are the telcos. The typical urban DSL speeds of 15 – 30 Mbps download look comparatively slower with each cable company upgrade. AT&T is the incumbent telco in some of the listed markets, and since the telco has stopped installing new DSL customers, faster broadband is going to be useful to lure even more customers from the obsolete AT&T DSL service. Unfortunately for customers, AT&T’s departure as a broadband option is handing a true monopoly to cable companies like Charter in markets where there is no fiber competitor.
I have to wonder where the cable companies will go from here. With DOCSIS 3.1 the cable companies can theoretically provide speeds up to a gigabit in most markets, depending upon local capacity limitations. Charter has been increasing speeds across-the-board every three or four years. With this speed increase Charter is now ten times faster than DSL, and from a marketing perspective allows the company to sound as fast as a fiber competitor (as long as nobody asks about upload speeds).
Charter is the most aggressive large ISP right now and is growing the fastest. This upgrade will give the company a big marketing boost. Charter is also expanding its footprint into areas surrounding its market, including accepting a grant of over $1 billion in the recent RDOF grant to bring broadband to rural areas. It’s good for the country to get faster broadband speeds, and I’m sure the FCC will somehow take credit for speeds getting faster (although they have no role in upgrades like this one).