Increasing broadband options offer affordability, other benefits

Not only is broadband now available to virtually all Americans, most Americans are getting more options for broadband. The conversation is no longer about availability--it is only about affordability and choice.

Verizon and AT&T have made LTE (which offers download speeds between 5 Mbps and 12 Mbps) available to 99 percent of U.S. consumers while T-Mobile and Sprint now cover about 280 million people nationwide with LTE. Athough LTE pricing varies per operator, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) sells 10 GB of LTE for $60; 20 GB for $90; and 30 GB for $120.

But if you want a more affordable option, you can try free municipal Wi-Fi. The City of Lincoln, Neb., deployed a fiber network in its downtown area to serve the state government, the University of Nebraska and a utility company, but also put Wi-Fi transmitters along the fiber route and is providing free Wi-Fi to citizens.

Sidewalk Labs, which is partly owned by Google, is in the process of making Wi-Fi available via 10,000 former phone booths in New York City. While this approach is highly affordable, some cities have it and some do not and the New York effort has not launched yet.

Then there's fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP). The speeds are in excess of anything that most users really need, but affordability is in the eye of the beholder. Verizon has extended FTTP to nearly 20 million homes, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) is extending FTTP to 18 million homes this year and AT&T (NYSE: T) has stated in a filing that it plans to deploy FTTP to 11.7 million home over four years in the aftermath of the closing of its acquisition of DirecTV. ILECs like CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Cincinnati Bell and Hawaiian Telecom all have major FTTP initiatives as well. Prices vary for fiber-based Internet services, but Verizon's current lead offer for FiOS is $79.99 for 25 Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth, while in Kansas City, Mo., Google is currently charging $70 per month for speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

Pressure from Google Fiber has caused some of these providers to deploy fiber to more homes, increasing city-wide competition. That's yet another benefit of Google Fiber: It stands to reason that the more competitors deploy in a given neighborhood, the more affordable services will be.

Moreover, rural America is not being left out. The FCC has indicated that the next phase of its Connect America initiative will provide nearly $9 billion in funding to provide broadband service to 5 million Americans, mostly in rural areas. Additionally, officials with WISPA, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, say that WISPs serve 3 million customers. More often than not, these customers live in rural areas that sometimes have limited broadband choice from telcos and cable companies. Fixed wireless solutions are increasingly robust and now in some cases provide speeds in excess of DSL.

Further, customers can choose satellite broadband. HughesNet sells downstream speeds of up to 5 Mbps for $49.99 per month or up to 10 Mbps for $59.99 per month. This excludes installation costs, but customers can also get these prices discounted by $10 for the first three months.

All told, this is good news on two fronts. First, broadband of some kind is available to virtually everyone. Second, Henry Ford once said customers can buy a car in any color, as long as it's black. Until recently, broadband was like that. Increasingly, customers can purchase the broadband equivalent of a Rolls Royce or a used, rusty Chevette, or anything in between. They can get the equivalent or a car, a truck or an SUV. And that's a good development for consumers and broadband installers alike. --Jeff