In a change that makes no sense, Altice announced it is slashing upload broadband speeds for customers served on its cable systems. The speed changes are drastic – on the most popular 100 Mbps download product, upload speeds are getting cut from 35 Mbps to 5 Mbps. On the 200 Mbps service upload is being cut from 35 Mbps to 10 Mbps. The full list of cuts is listed on the company’s website.
The company says it didn’t have any problems delivering the faster speeds throughout the pandemic. Instead, the company says that the changes are being made to bring the company’s speeds in line with what other cable companies are offering.
It’s hard to think of a business reason why the company would poke its customers in the eye for no good reason. Many households with people still working and schooling from home are going to find the slower speeds unusable. I’ve seen this throughout the pandemic as we’ve helped communities with surveys and found consistently that about a third of people trying to work from home said their upload broadband was inadequate.
If the company had no problems offering faster speeds during the pandemic, and if making this change is going to harm customers, then there must be some strong motive for doing something this negative.
The timing of this change is suspicious, and I have to wonder if this is being done to create a unified face for the cable industry. The whole industry is under fire as the Treasury Department is suggesting in the rules for ARPA money that the right definition of minimum broadband ought to be symmetrical 100 Mbps. My guess is that the cable industry is going take a strong position that 5 – 20 Mbps is adequate upload broadband and that homes don’t need more.
Further, Altice is not changing the speeds for existing customers – only new customers or those that change packages. That makes this sound even more like a regulatory stunt than any real change.
It’s too bad that we don’t have an FCC with any power. A broadband regulatory agency would likely be dragging Altice in this week to explain the change and might even ask to see any correspondence between Altice and the other big cable companies. But the FCC under Ajit Pai pulled the FCC’s regulatory teeth, and the agency is largely powerless to challenge ISPs on broadband issues.
What is most interesting about this change is that Altice is lowering its speeds in solidarity with other cable companies rather than the other cable companies trying to increase speeds to emulate Altice. The cable companies profited greatly from the upload crisis – it’s been reported that millions of customers upgraded to faster download speed in an attempt to get faster upload speeds. During the last year we saw cable companies crowing about how they weathered the pandemic, when in reality millions of their customers were unable to use the upload bandwidth to function well at home.
The biggest problem faces by the cable companies is that they are on the wrong side of this issue. The big cable companies have been increasing broadband rates annually but are unwilling to make the investments needed to offer the upload speeds that people need and want. Altice has shown that cable networks can be configured to reach 35 Mbps upload speeds, but most of the companies other than Altice have failed to do so. This might require cable companies to upgrade the upload portion of the network to DOCSIS 3.1 – something that should have been done when the download performance was upgraded.
The funny thing is that we’ve seen this before. If you go back a decade when most cable companies offered download speeds of 30 Mbps, the CEOs of the cable companies were all saying that was all of the speed households needed. The cable companies were dead wrong about that and finally decided to provide the broadband that people want – and that change has won them most of the broadband customers in the industry. It’s curious to watch the industry again telling the public what it needs and doesn’t need. In the long run, this isn’t going to go well for the cable companies.