Cutting Video CordWon’t Speed Up ’Net

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.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at or