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If You Lived Here, You'd Be Downloading By Now

Yesterday, my colleague Kim Hart wrote a great piece about the uproar in a Loudoun County subdivision over a sole-source deal for TV and Internet access.

To recap: Residents say the firm anointed under this contract, OpenBand, delivers lousy service at expensive prices and complain that they may be stuck with it for 75 years; OpenBand and the subdivision's developer, Van Metre Homes, say this incentive-laden deal was necessary to persuade anybody to build a broadband network in former farmland. (Tammi Marcoullier's Living in Loco blog has also covered this controversy.)

This isn't the first time people in the Washington area--especially the outer suburbs--bought homes without fully considering a new neighborhood's telecom resources. The same issue surfaced yesterday in comments on this blog about Internet and cable-TV service provided in Loudoun by Adelphia and its successor, Comcast.

In general, time plus population density equals broadband competition. Time allows both cable and phone companies to reach every home in a given area (which, in the case of phone line-based DSL, also means a choice of service providers besides the incumbent carrier). Density makes it profitable for companies to upgrade those connections and offer additional options--for example, fiber-optic links such as Verizon's Fios and municipal wireless networks such as the ones EarthLink is building in Alexandria and Arlington.

If, however, you're on the wrong end of this equation, you may find yourself with only one cable or DSL carrier--or perhaps just satellite Internet access from companies like HughesNet or WildBlue, which suffers from the latency imposed by the 44,000-mile round-trip data takes to and from geosynchronous orbit. Some frustrated homeowners have resorted to going into the Internet-access business on their own, as we noted in this 2002 story (scroll down to the "Fights on the Home Front" heading).

Finding a well-connected neighborhood, unfortunately, can take a lot more work than locating one with good schools or Metro access. Unless you can plug a specific street address into a provider's check-availability page, you may have only vague promises of broadband availability. The "Find Service" search on does a decent job of outlining all the options in a given Zip code but can't forecast what might be offered a year from now.

It's all a mess, and it may not clear up for years.

So, three questions:

* Do you think you have a right to broadband Internet service?
* How much research have you done into the availability of high-speed Internet access before looking for a new home?
* How much does broadband access factor into your home-shopping math?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 22, 2007; 9:56 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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I rent a single family home and use what used to be Adelphia and is now Comcast. My hi def is decent but very limited (channels-wise) and I have had a few hiccups with internet the 3 years I've been using them. Comcast is my only option as I am too far from the local telco's CO (Central Office) to get DSL and satellite internet is iffy at best. I would love to see FIOS in Sterling Park but I'm not holding my breath.

Should I have the right to choose? Yes...but when one company controls the wiring in the neighborhood that is kinda hard to do.

Broadband is a major decision process on where I live. No broadband = not wanting to live there. One of the reasons I won't move in and buy my parents house in rural Lovettsville is the fact the highest speed they can get is 768 DSL. That just isn't acceptable for me. That and the commute to DC would be a nightmare! ;)

Posted by: Sterling Park | May 22, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

i live in the Dallas suburbs area and since moving here in a brand new neighborhood 6 years ago, we have had to endured several broadband changes.
we went from our community mandated Service Provider, CoServ to Comcast when they finally opened up for competition to AT&T(the original one) and now back to Comcast whitout ever having to request the change.
Meanwhile, SBC got into the game and started offering DSL for competititive prices. Boy, what a mistake that was. My days with them lasted exactly 48 hours before i switch back to Comcast.
Verizon started offering FiOS in our area, but as luck would have it their service area ends across the street from us. I have been begging them to make the change but they told me it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

So would i be checking for broadband access before moving into an area? ABSOLUTELY. We are more and more connected. Whether at work, on the road, and especially at home. I am now getting my music, news, weather report, travel, blog, chats, phone directory, email, web shopping and even, Youtube and movie download from the web. I just got the Apple TV and i can see myself using that as my primary TV soon. Broadband access is becoming more and more our primary form of entertainment and home utility company. I am waiting for the SP to give me more bandwith so that i can rid my phone line and go VoIP, and dump my DishNetwork in favor of IPTV.
it's the future, baby.

Posted by: MDer in TX | May 22, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

My feeling is that closed arrangements between developers and exclusive telecommunications suppliers are basically a huge scam and that lots of unsuspecting well-off, but misinformed buyers are getting burned. Sure, the developers will argue the cost of putting in infrastructure is expensive and needs to be re-cooped, but isn't that what publicly available telco providers deal with every day??

We we seriously looking into buying into several of these types of communities during 2000-2002, but in the course of my research, I found lots of problem areas and other unhappy owners. Glad we didn't buy.

The main problem areas are:

- developer is cut in for a piece of the action, even after build-out. developer runs HOA. Conflict of interest. They have no incentive to keep costs down, indeed, the incentive is to maximize revenue from captive market base, ie, with ZERO churn rate, payments are mandatory.
- Developer runs the HOA and negotiates the telco contract. This is a conflict of interest IMO.
- long term contract negotiated by developer that residents are stuck with many years later when local residents actually run the HOA
- no opt out clause, service is mandatory.
- no real standards of QoS (quality of service) or means of enforcement for telco provider
- no easy way a home buyer can obtain the contract for above PRIOR to buying a home in the development. No easy way to be an educated buyer
- high costs, not competitive or delivering of any kind of "bulk" discount one would expect for a large captive buyer base
- no real way to change contractual terms. For instance, some folks may not want a land line (POTS) phone and want to use cell or VOIP instead. With OpenBand for instance, you are stuck with paying for POTS anyway

Posted by: Sasha | May 22, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

That is pretty interesting - I was wondering what was going to happen to all those 'early' deployments that are completely closed-standard proprietary build outs. It's almost like the same problem that multi-dwelling units have for FIOS - it's going to be hard because the whole principle is fiber to the 'house', and there's no way they're getting fiber up the risers of some of these buildings. It's a shame because there's a huge amount of business in those buildings that they're not focusing at. The cynic in me says it's because they're already "served" via DSL, so they already compete against cable internet. Indeed, my parents in 20854 have FIOS, I think because they were distance - ineligible for DSL, so Verizon saw that as the best place for ROI.

Posted by: Aaron | May 22, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

First, I live in an apartment in McLean, so I get cable modem broadband access, and over the air hd. That said:

"Do you think you have a right to broadband Internet service?"
No, but I do appreciate having competition. I used to live, and WireDad still lives, in a small town in Utah with no broadband.

"How much research have you done into the availability of high-speed Internet access before looking for a new home?"
I live in McLean. If any town in the nation is going to have a plethora of choices...

"How much does broadband access factor into your home-shopping math?"
See above. Not at all.

Posted by: wiredog | May 23, 2007 8:03 AM | Report abuse

When will they give Fios to my area. I live on watson Rd in Loudoun and the put up the fios line over 10 months ago and I talk to the guy who was putting up the line and he said we would be getting it within 2 months. I just cant wait for Fios!!! Especoially fort my xbox 360. My current "high" speed isp is Hughes. And it sucks the promblem ranges from the 44,000 mile trips to the usage limit set by them!!!!!!!!

Can some please tell me when Im going to get fios????

Thanks Zach

Posted by: Zach | May 23, 2007 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I don't view broadband access as a "right", but it is a very important decision when apartment/house shopping. I own part of a house with 2 other friends, and we have a spreadsheet where we track all of the upgrades we've done to the house. Not only is "attic insulation" and "bathroom remodel" listed, but so is "Cat5 wired to every bedroom", "Fiber optic line run to the house", and "HD Antenna professionally installed on the roof."

I figure as time goes on, more and more people will pay attention to this stuff when they're searching for a place to live, and it can only help to advertise the tech improvements we've undertaken. I know that if it were me, and I were choosing between 2 similar places to live, I'd lean towards the one where I had more broadband/HD choices.

Posted by: Wilson | May 23, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I live in a small county (ca. 19000) noted for its high scientific quotient. We bought 10 years ago when broadband was largely unknown here (though a tech savvy friend in a Colorado small town had it.)

Our choices are DSL thru Quest or broadband thru Comcast. We chose Quest as soon as it became available and have had few (close to zero) problems with the service. We did lose the router twice due to lightning strikes. It is less expensive and seems fast enough. Also, it works with Macs.

And we can keep our local ISP, a very good service provider. Could not do this with Comcast.

We are now retired, so availablity of broadband service will play a role in any relocation around or out of New Mexico

Posted by: MMRudy | May 23, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I should add that yes, I think we have a right to competitive broadband services at reasonable prices. For me, it is much like having access to postal services, or telephone services.

Posted by: MM Rudy | May 23, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

High-speed access is important to me, but living metropolitan areas sort of assures access. Quality at a reasonable price is another question. Both cable and DSL have given me decent service, but they keep raising the price. Computers and the Internet have seen improvements in speed and capacity at a constant price point for years. The cable and telephone giants want to change that. Since they have a virtual monopoly, they will succeed. Greed is their creed. Cable companies such as Comcast (Chicago) and Insight (Bloomington, IL) have both "upgraded" their systems in recent years, accompanied by major outages that lasted days or even weeks. They had no back out plans and made their customers jump through hoops to collect a refund for service they failed to provide. There is no concern for their customers, just for the "bottom line".

Posted by: Len Farber | May 23, 2007 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Now that I have FIOS at my house, were I to move broadband access would be very important, particularly the availability of FIOS.

Posted by: owendylan | May 23, 2007 8:57 PM | Report abuse

I wanted to post a comment about your palm article but that isn't working from your webiste. It is just stunning to me that you can't write anything without taking some dig at microsoft (this time for outlook). i don't understand how palm not supporting other applications has anything to do with outlook. You should stop sucking so much.

Posted by: hkk | May 24, 2007 7:43 AM | Report abuse

I wanted to post a comment about your palm article but that isn't working from your webiste. It is just stunning to me that you can't write anything without taking some dig at microsoft (this time for outlook). i don't understand how palm not supporting other applications has anything to do with outlook. it just makes no sense and makes you look immature.

Posted by: hkk | May 24, 2007 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Over ten years ago I moved in, here in Marshall, just a few miles (12) south of Loudon County. There was big antenna (K-band?) service, but not for internet access. There still is no source of internet access other than the dreadfully slow telephone wire.
This is shameful, and outrageous.
Do we have to go for some sort of Rural Electrification Program (federal subsidized) to get decent service, here, just 25 miles from the Washington Monument?

Posted by: Bill Cushman | May 24, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

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