Jon Brodkin wrote a recent article in Ars Technica that highlights a Seattle couple who bought a house in Seattle and found it doesn’t have broadband. The house was built in 1964, but the new homebuyers found that the Comcast network was never extended to the house, although all six neighbors are connected to Comcast.
When the new homeowners couldn’t get service from Comcast, they found out that the only two options for broadband are CenturyLink DSL with a 3 Mbps download or a cellular hotspot. This is a real dilemma for a couple who both work from home.
Comcast largely ignored requests from the homeowners to connect service, and it eventually took pressure from a City Council member to get Comcast’s attention. That’s when the bad news came that Comcast wanted a $27,000 construction fee to bring service. This was to build underground cable to cross 181 feet.
This particular home is unusual since it has a lot with no easy street access and would require access through an easement across a neighbor’s lot. At some point, somebody at Comcast told the homeowners that the actual cost to reach the property is $80,000 since construction includes the easement and boring under a street – a number that is hard to believe.
Comcast bought this cable network from AT&T, but the original cable company was probably TCI. It’s likely in the 1970s that the local construction crew elected to bypass this lot because it was hard to reach. The original cable company probably had a franchise agreement that required it to offer cable TV to every household. But as is often the case, the cable company decided to avoid a high-cost property like this one. There are likely other properties in high-cost situations around the city that aren’t connected to the Comcast network.
This particular house is news because the house is in a neighborhood of single-family homes deep inside a city where all of the other neighbors are connected. Being bypassed is a common story for folks who live on the fringe of the big cities where cable companies often quote similar high costs to get connected to the network. Most stories about urban homes that aren’t connected are in low-income neighborhoods that the original cable network deliberately bypassed.
The industry term for the construction fee that Comcast offered the couple is aid-to-construction. This is where a customer pays the cost of extending an existing fiber, electric, or water service to reach a new location. Anybody who has built a new rural home outside of a subdivision has probably run into this situation.
I regularly hear about cases where a rural farmer is willing to pay a fee of $25,000 to $50,000 to bring fiber to the farm – it’s obviously worth that much to them to get the broadband needed to operate a modern farming business. But the $27,000 fee is one of the highest fees I’ve heard in a city.
Not all ISPs do this. I have plenty of ISP clients that would have bored 181 feet to reach this property for a minimal fee or even no charge. They would have used their own construction crew, and the cost would have been nowhere near Comcast’s quoted fee. Good ISPs would write off this situation as the cost of doing business and to pick up a new and likely permanent customer.