Competition. The idea that the individual consumer is best served when a myriad of companies joust with each other to offer the best deal on a desired product or service. It’s what American capitalism is founded on.
Build a better, cheaper, more efficient mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door.
Well, except if you’re looking for the best deal in broadband internet service in just about any locality in America today, including Lynchburg.
Lynchburg, like most localities, has broadband access through its legacy cable TV provider, in our case, Comcast. Comcast, through its predecessor companies such as Adelphia Cable, is the only provider to cover all of the city with cable TV service and, through the same wires, broadband internet service. The company has a franchise agreement with the city dating back more than four decades when folks marveled at the thought of receiving more than just ABC, CBS and NBC on their brand-new color TVs.
Today, Comcast (and most other traditional cable TV companies) sees itself as a broadband provider going forward. The number of cable subscribers is trending downward over time, while the number who rely on the company for broadband is rising. Streaming is the way of the future, and ever-faster connections are essential.
But in a market, such as Lynchburg, where there’s only one provider of true high-speed internet — and we’re not talking DSL or satellite — you’re going to pay a premium price for what you need.
But that’s about to change in Lynchburg.
In late June, City Council voted to enter into a franchise agreement with Shentel, a cable and broadband provider primarily serving Campbell County, that would allow the Edinburg, Va.,-based telecommunications company to construct such a network in the city.
According to a Shentel official, the company already has about 5,700 miles of fiber in the city and serves close to 1,000 customers, including Lynchburg City Schools and the University of Lynchburg. Vice President of Industry Affairs Chris Kyle told The News & Advance the initial service area for both video and broadband service that would be available to the general public would along Fort and Rivermont avenues, but it would eventually cover the entire city.
The project’s name — Gigabit City Project — offers a pretty good clue as to the capabilities of the the network Shentel envisions building. For the technologically challenged, gigabit connectivity is many orders of magnitude faster than the traditional, more common megabit connection speeds. For example, Comcast’s top speed package available to the general public offers download speeds of up to 300 megabits per second (Mbs) and 12 Mbs upload. Gigabit connection speeds are at least three times as fast download, with identical upload times.
Just consider that ultra-HD, 4K movie you bought on iTunes. To download it at the fastest current broadband speed — 300 Mbs — it would take about 10 minutes. Not bad. But at a gigabit download rate, it would be practically instantaneous. And if you’ve got kids who are into online gaming with their friends across town or around the world, well, they’re going to be on Cloud Nine.
But gigabit internet service is about much more than the ability to stream online movies at crystal-clear, ultra-high definition resolutions. The business and economic development possibilities are truly groundbreaking.
Companies that wouldn’t have given a second thought to cities without the fastest internet connections are going to perk up and take notice. Moving large amounts of data between far-flung sites is increasingly important. And folks whose jobs don’t tie them to a physical site but do require the fastest connections available will put your city on their list of possible home bases, and not just because of their work requirements either, but for their families — education, even for the youngest of children, will place increasing importance on fast connection speeds for school work and research.
Shentel expects to finish the first round of its build-out by the end of 2022 with the rest of the city following some time after that. We don’t expect Comcast to take the arrival of a new competitor laying down, after all, they’ve got a lot invested in this market. Lower prices on its traditional megabit connections and perhaps even a competing gigabit service are entirely possible, if history is any guide.
And who benefits? The individual customer. Competition in the marketplace — don’t you just love it?