Cutting Video Cord Won't Speed Up 'Net

In last week’s mail was a forward, from reader Paul, of this query: “If I cancelled my cable TV, would my cable Internet be any faster?”

First reaction: Exasperated groan.

Second reaction: Dismiss as stupid question. (Next!)

Third: Remember the one about no such thing as a stupid question, especially in this era of distraction about video “cord-cutting” and “cord-shaving.”

So, just in case this question ever lands on you, here’s the polite answer: No. Just as Consumer Bob won’t get more video channels if he cancels his Internet subscription, he won’t get faster Internet bandwidth if he cancels his video subscription.

Why? Because cable bandwidth is partitioned by service. Analog TV sits in its own, preassigned spots - typically between 54 Megahertz and 550 MHz. (Comcast is the exception, given its analog reclamation plan.)

Digital, as a general category, also sits in its own, preassigned spots, typically between 550 MHz and 750 MHz. Within the digital shelf space, services are spectrally bounded: so many channels applied to standard- and high-definition broadcast; so many (four to eight) for video on demand (VOD); and so on for broadband Internet and voice.

The larger question in the Department of Bandwidth first emerged publicly in 2003. Remember the National Show general session that year, when then- Microsoft CEO Bill Gates asked Comcast CEO Brian Roberts how soon the industry would shift its digital bandwidth to “all IP”?

The “all-IP” question is back again, and with gusto. It matters because of the projected influx of IP-connectable, video-capable screens, thirsty for a broadband signal. (”Broadband” and “IP,” or Internet protocol, are essentially synonyms.)

These days, only two to four of about 120 (total) channels serve broadband. Proportional to video broadcast channels, IP bandwidth is small.

But if it’s true that two or three times as many IP-connectible, video-thirsty screens will barrel into people’s homes as set-tops that connect to HDTVs, the broadband part of the plant will need some elbow room. And that’s when the conversation tends to shift to “all IP,” from “all digital.”

If and when things go “all-IP,” though, the services within will likely also be partitioned. Parts to the whole, where “parts” are web surfing, email, watching TV, and talking on the phone (with video), and the whole is the amount of available IP bandwidth.

So, it’s not a stupid question. Bandwidth is neither infinite nor free. Applying it to the right growth services, in the right phases, really does matter.

As an old ski instructor pal used to say: You have three turns. Use them wisely.


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