Cox will be the first major cable internet provider to offer gigabit connections later this year. Though third place in size (behind Time-Warner and Comcast) Cox is hoping to snag the high ground on speed by the fourth quarter of this year.
The very first residential areas to be placed on the internet fast lane will be new construction areas in Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Omaha, Nebraska. Plans to expand gigabit coverage to areas already with service don’t get rolling until 2016, but Cox will reportedly be doubling the speed for their 25 and 50 Mbps tiers. Certainly everybody will at least have the option of paying “competetive prices” for gigabit access sometime in the future. If Cox is the only one stepping up though, they’ll get to define what competitive price means.
It might seem like a flashy stunt or an irrelevance to those of us who won’t be picking up stakes and moving to get the fastest internet on the planet since, let’s face it, no residential customer has any real NEED for a gigabit internet connection. Even the new 4k resolution streaming through Netflix only asks for 15 Mbps, which means that you could have up to sixty-six people streaming different movies at your house in resolution so high that most TVs can’t even comprehend it. For now it’ll be a luxury bullet point that developers can put on their brochures. It’ll be awhile before it trickles down to us plebes, and probably even longer before it’s seriously worth paying for.
It’s a good step forward for the American internet provider industry though. Along with their admittedly exclusive gigabit access, Cox is increasing their speeds to the rest of their customers. More and more services come to us over the internet. We’re not too far from television coming over the internet (CenturyLink has already made the switch) and sooner or later that connected household we’ve been envisioning is going to be a reality. Our gaming systems are increasingly internet dependent. Our shopping and talking and working goes on over the internet. What we demand of our internet service is only going to increase. It’s already a central part of most of our lives.
Average internet speed will also become more and more important as an indicator of progress and civilization on the global stage, and that’s a stage where America is falling further and further behind. When it comes to average connection speed the United States trails countries like Latvia and the Czech Republic, at 9.8 Mbps, with South Korea handily trouncing everyone at 22.1 Mbps. Major urban centers in South Korea average 100Mbps, and they’re rolling out gigabit connections at stupid low prices all over the country with the encouragement and support of the government.
People like Mark Zuckerberg are talking about providing internet to people as humanitarian aid. This internet thing is pretty damn important. Sure, speed isn’t everything, but it’s a good indicator of how seriously a country considers this marvel of interconnection. Embracing the technological landscape of the future is one of the things that will soften America’s landing at the end of the American century. It’s not a silver bullet, and what we do with increased connectivity will matter as much as anything, but it’s a step in the right direction.