Advocates pushing for better internet service on the Cape believe the future lies in building their own local fiber optic networks independent of the private providers.
Part of their belief is Boston and other densely populated areas have better service.
Courtney Bird, president and founder of FalmouthNet, a nonprofit organization which wants to create a municipally operated fiber optic network, says the reason Boston and has better internet than the Cape is a simple matter of economics.
Denser areas mean higher profitability, he said, which is why private companies like Comcast are more likely to invest in upgraded infrastructure in those areas, rather than rural areas like the Cape. Areas in and around Boston carry more fiber in their networks than the Cape, he said. Bird and others believe that creates higher quality internet.
“You don’t fault Comcast, they need to return a profit,” he said.
The lack of incentive to upgrade infrastructure leads to the Cape being underserved, he said. One of the biggest problems is that telecom companies have been able to narrow the minimum definition of high-speed internet, he said. The FCC minimum requirement for broadband internet is 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload speeds, according to Verizon.com.
In fact, Verizon FiOS won’t serve the Cape because of a lack of economic incentive, said Bird.
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FalmouthNet board member David Isenberg, however, says the lack of incentive to invest in the Cape’s internet infrastructure has less to do with density, and more to do with return on investment.
New York City, he said, sued Verizon FiOS because of Verizon’s decision to not wire some households in low-income neighborhoods.
The lack of competition on the Cape also leads to a less than robust internet service, said Steven Johnston, CEO of OpenCape, a nonprofit seeking to spread fiber optic networks throughout the Cape and Islands and southeastern Massachusetts.
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Cities have multiple internet providers competing, which leads to better pricing for customers and a higher incentive to upgrade infrastructure, he said. Isenberg echoed that sentiment, saying because Comcast has a de facto monopoly on the Cape, it isn’t motivated to improve the network.
Through a spokesman, Comcast said there’s no difference between the infrastructure on the Cape and in Boston.
Much of the evidence that the fiber advocates lean on is a feasibility study for Falmouth conducted by CCG Consulting in 2020, which found that broadband customers in Falmouth experience outages and inconsistent speeds.
According to the study, Comcast advertises basic download speeds in Falmouth as “up to 150 megabits per second,” however, 43% of Comcast customers had download speeds under 100 megabits per second, and 23% had download speeds under 50 megabits per second. The study states that finding was surprising, since most Comcast customers studied in other markets have speeds equal to or greater than the speeds they are subscribing to.
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The study also said 78% of Comcast customers in Falmouth had upload speeds under 15 megabits per second, though Comcast reported to the FCC that it could achieve upload speeds of 25 megabits per second in Falmouth.
“The broadband in Falmouth is not nearly as good as the broadband in nearby urban centers and the surrounding suburbs,” reads the study.
The study was done specifically for Falmouth, but contends the broadband system in Falmouth is like the rest of the Cape.
“One thing we learned is the entire Cape has nearly the identical broadband situation. Verizon has not built any FiOS on the Cape and all of the communities are served by a combination of Comcast along with Verizon DSL,” reads the study.
Should internet providers be treated like a public utility?
Truro, a significantly rural community with a year-round population of around 2,000, has had its struggles with internet connectivity. Select Board chair Robert Weinstein said up until two years ago, many residents depended on satellite service, which he said was horrible. After nearly a decade of battling with Comcast, Truro was able to get adequate wiring, he said.
Weinstein doesn’t blame Comcast, but the federal government.
The federal government, he said, allows internet companies to be treated like entertainment companies rather than a public utility, which means they aren’t obligated to wire every town.
“In terms of internet, we’re a Third World nation,” he said.
Truro resident Curtis Hartman said at his old home on Long Nook Road, he couldn’t get wired internet service. He has moved to a different part of town served by Comcast where he said service is “adequate.”
Hartman said there have always been parts of the town that Comcast has refused to wire. However, because internet is mandatory today, he believes that internet companies should operate like a regulated utility, rather than merely a business.
Marc Goodman, a director of public relations for Comcast, said there’s no difference between the broadband systems for Comcast customers on the Cape and those in Boston. He said Comcast has invested billions in its network, and that the network design in Falmouth and in Boston is identical.
Comcast also has invested thousands of miles of fiber in its network, including on Cape Cod, he said, and is working to offer customers multi-gigabit speeds on its existing infrastructure.
“Across Massachusetts and Cape Cod, Comcast has invested billions in our smart, fast and reliable fiber-rich network to deliver residential broadband speeds up to 1.2 gigabits per second and business speeds up to 100 gigabits per second for our customers. We will continue to invest in our network, our technology and our local workforce to offer residents and businesses throughout the Cape unbeatable internet with the best connection, advanced cybersecurity, faster speeds and the best technology available,” said Goodman.
Additionally, Goodman hopes that Xfinity customers on the Cape who have issues deal directly with Xfinity employees, such as by going to their stores in Falmouth or Hyannis or talking to customer service by phone or online.