I’m uploading this page to my web server over my cable modem internet
connection. Time Warner Cable used to have a monopoly on internet
cable service in Manhattan, but over the past few weeks we’ve started
seeing a rash of advertisements for cable modem connections offered
by Earthlink and AOL; soon a small ISP called New York Connect will
do the same.
At first glance it looks as though Time Warner has been forced by
law to open up its cable pipes to other internet service providers,
just like local phone companies were forced to let rival operators
into the game a couple of years ago. The truth is rather different.
AOL, Time Warner’s new owner, wanted to offer a broadband version
of its own service through Time Warner’s cables, and the FTC wouldn’t
let it do so unless other companies were allowed to play too.
Of course, there’s no real reason to sign up with Earthlink or New
York Connect rather than with AOL Time Warner. They’re no cheaper,
and if anything goes wrong you have to spend ages trying to work out
whose fault it is before anything gets fixed.
If there was genuine competition, prices would be going down. Instead,
they’re going up. The rates for my service have gone up twice in the
past three months, and my last cable bill was an astonishing $122.78.
What’s more, there aren’t any nice cheap packages any more, like there
used to be, where you get the combination of cable modem internet
access with a good range of television channels for a relatively modest
charge. Now, if you want an internet-included package, it’ll cost
you $111.95 a month, plus tax.
The reason, of course, is that AOL Time Warner wants more people
to sign up for AOL Broadband, and fewer for Time Warner Cable’s proprietary
RoadRunner service. (You pay extra for all those annoying pop-up ads.)
Sometimes, competition ain’t what it seems.