As the Internet becomes the all purpose global telecommunications medium delivering voice, video, the web and email, cable companies have emerged as the dominant Internet Service Provider (ISP).
As Susan P. Crawford explains in this Harvard Law & Policy Review article The Communications Crisis in America, compared to incumbent telcos and wireless and satellite ISPs, only cable offers sufficiently robust bandwidth and headroom going forward. Telcos can't keep up since they would incur unabsorbable costs to replace their obsolete copper cable plants with fiber -- costs that would also make their generous stock dividends obsolete.
That's not likely to change despite the Federal Communications Commission's recent reforming of the Universal Service Fund (USF) from subsidizing plain old telephone service (POTS) in high cost areas to Internet. The Connect America Fund (CAF) requires telcos merely provide first generation DSL-level connectivity of 4Mbs for downloads and 1Mbs up and allocates only $4.5 billion a year -- hardly enough to meaningfully offset the cost of changing out decades-old copper plant for fiber.
In the wireless realm, the physics of radio spectrum hamstring wireless ISPs while satellite Internet -- on the verge of obsolescence from the day it was introduced -- has clearly reached its expiration date.
With cable now the dominant commercial Internet provider for most Americans, Crawford argues for increased government scrutiny of its monopoly market power. Crawford's position may draw support from community networks that have gone up against cable companies that pull out all the political stops to preserve their monopolies. The cable guys don't always win as Longmont, Colorado showed this week and as reported by Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks. Community networks also have a technological carrying capacity edge over the hybrid coax/fiber cable plant employed by cable companies since they typically deploy full fiber to the premises networks.