How to Make US Broadband Competitive – Quickly and Cheaply

There is a dirty little secret in the cable industry. Its being kept secret not by the cable distributors, but by the big cable networks. End this practice and the United States goes from being 3rd world by international broadband standards, to top of the charts and exemplary.

Make this change and Net Neutrality becomes a non issue. There is plenty of bandwidth for everyone.

What is the dirty little secret ?

That your cable company still delivers basic cable networks in analog. Why is this such an important issue ? Because each of those cable networks takes up 6mhz. That translates into about 38mbs per second. Thats 38mbs PER NETWORK.

USA Network, 38mbs. ESPN, 38mbs. MTV 38mbs. VH1 38mbs.etc, etc, etc.

If we want to truly change the course of broadband in this country, the solution is simple. Just as we had an analog shutdown date for over the air TV signals, we need the same resolution for analog delivered cable networks.

Transition basic cable networks from analog to digital over the next 3 years and all of the sudden there will be hundreds of megabits available on the smallest cable systems and more than a gigabit of bandwidth available on the largest.

Of course the cable networks themselves would fight this. It could reduce their subscriber counts. God forbid that USA Network and other basic cable nets do not reach every household that doesn’t have a digital set top box. That is of course far more important than the upside to our entire country that plentiful bandwidth creates. Right ?

So for all of you netizens out there, drop all the Net Neutrality efforts and focus on pushing analog cable networks to digital and you kill two birds with one stone. You eliminate any issue of Net Neutrality with bandwidth a plenty, and you immediately make our nation bandwidth competitive with every nation in the world. In fact, done right, we become the envy of every nation in the world. All without a single backhoe or blade of grass in a yard harmed.

I might even have to change my stance on internet video reaching broadcast quality !

45 thoughts on “How to Make US Broadband Competitive – Quickly and Cheaply

  1. I agree, Mark, and I believe it\’ll happen. It\’ll happen in the same way that we phased out vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes, and…CDs! Yes, with the advent of oooey goooey digital goodness, all things with the antiquated, pungent stench of the 20th century will fall by the wayside, and all things \”0 and 1\” will dominate. Take FiOS, for instance. It\’s unbelievably, obscenely, super-sonic fast – literally the speed of light. I have it at home, and I love it. I love my iPod and all the music it holds. As for bandwidth issues, I\’m with ya. I used to have DSL before the glory of FiOS landed in my closet and I saw the light. I used to have to worry about bandwidth with my VOIP line, multiple computers online, gaming, emailing, browsing, chatting, etc. Now, with my FiOS service I don\’t worry about shit, except filling up my drive. And my iPod.

    But, having read your previous blogs on P2P, we won\’t go there.

    Comment by Jessica Perry -

  2. oops, I forgot the example…

    is the broadband debate the same thing that would knock out these conversations?

    Comment by Jenny Flyer -

  3. Is this the same thing as the white space debate? Where the big internet guys are fighting over the \”space\” that is already occupied by sports mics, etc?

    Comment by Jenny Flyer -

  4. Mark,

    You contradict yourself. In this post you are calling for the end of cable tv delivered the way it currently is. Then in another post from earlier you say that if you had to pick a medium to deliver programming you would choose the way that it is currently done, over these same cable lines. Instead of using digital which hasn\’t been around and is not as proven as the old method.

    Comment by Masood -

  5. I agree, but would add one additional element: allow ala carte programming choices. With forced \”must carry\” requirements and content providers tying other channels to consumer preferred channels, this is a waste of bandwidth equal to or greater than simply converting from analog to digital. Do both, and then you can have your HD video streaming…

    Comment by Dan -

  6. Hmm, this is an interesting idea to say the least. Doubt it will happen though.

    Comment by Trevor Lee -

  7. Thanks. You learn something new every day.

    Comment by Dexter -

  8. Mark,

    Would you rather free up bandwidth by killing the analog signal within cable lines or in unecessary analog signals over the air? I have seen you as a strong proponent of both and I totally agree.

    Which would be cheaper and easier to implement? to maintain?

    Also, does the 700Mhz spectrum auction going largely to VZW change things?


    Comment by Zach Weisman -

  9. Are you ever going to post a blog about your decision to vote against the sonics leaving?

    Comment by Jacob -

  10. I think the cable companies are in trouble. They have an infrastructure that is limited by the size of the pipe, and future compression technologies are the only things they can do to fit more down that pipe. The cable companies remind me of the old saying, Jack of all trades, master of none.

    Sure, you can get phone, internet and TV from the cable company, but is it worth it? My Directv is fantastic, and they have more HD programming than Cox. I use Cox for internet, but that is only because Fios isn\’t available here.

    A lot of people don\’t even have home phone numbers, but those of us that do, why get it through the cable company? When was the last time your cable went out? Or your cable modem went down? I bet it was more recent than the last time you phone service (through the phone company) went down.

    The cable companies need to realize that they can\’t be all things to all people.

    Comment by Grant -

  11. Hey,

    How about putting the words to the anthem on the big screen and having all the fans sing at the New Orleans game?

    Go Mavs!

    Comment by m crider -

  12. Hey,

    Can you put the words to the anthem on the jumbo screen and invite the fans to sing along? I think it would get us all pumped up!

    An I love how the mavs are the only team I\’ve seen put their hands over their hearts!
    Go mavs!

    Comment by m crider -

  13. Mark,

    I apologize because this is a little off topic, but I just saw an interview you did with a local Seattle TV station today. I just want to say thank you for your support of the Sonics and their situation. I\’ve been a fan for as long as
    I can remember and it brought tears to my eyes tonight thinking that this might be the last chance I ever had to see them. I\’m sure the outcome of tonights game wasn\’t what you were hoping for, but I sincerely appreciate your efforts to keep this team where it belongs. It was incredibly classy of you to come out and support a team from a city you don\’t even live in and I will fight tooth and nail to prevent this team from leaving. Thanks from all the fans here in Seattle.

    Save Our Sonics!

    – Paul M. Campbell

    Comment by Paul Campbell -

  14. Dear Mark,

    The U.S. would still only match (or come close) to the the Asians and the UK, where our whole Cable Network is ALL digital end-to-end.

    Despite some broadband services being available from the last century, and so meaning some switches/modems needing to be upgraded, the physical fibre infrastructure is already their, with docsis 3.0 being tested to give as a standard (i.e. available everywhere) service of 50mb.

    That\’s without the really leading-edge developments.

    Our TV is also able to be virtually infinite, with peering arrangements and network-pvr/vod, cable can overcome much of the limitations of legacy broadband.

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

    Comment by Shakir Razak -

  15. Mr. Cuban,

    I completely agree with your sentiments on making our country more competitive with our broadband capacity. This Washington Post article ( ) says the median internet speed in Japan is 61 mb/s and has the US as the slowest industrialized nation. It also says a 100mb/s connection is only around $30, thats about what we pay for 6 mb/s. More importantly, the super fast internet in Japan is promoting all sorts of innovation.

    I think this is a very important issue for our country, not to just increase internet speeds, but also because of all the long term benefits it provides to creativity, innovation, and Entrepreneurship.

    But I do wonder about one thing which you had started to talk about during this post: scarcity. Or rather just supply and demand. Obviously the last mile is important, but what about the main infrastructure?- All that dark fiber sitting under our roads already? Wouldn\’t that make a different too, to reduce some of the congestion on the backbone?
    Also, in regards to the last mile issues- the cable companies are beneficiaries this change, but what about telcos? In Michigan our DSL (AT&T) speeds keep increasing and the price keeps going down at the same time. About a year ago our cost went down a few dollars but our speed went from 1.4 mb/s to 6 mb/s. But what factors are driving these changes? Years ago we probably could have ordered the same speed for a much higher price. If cable made this change tomorrow, how far behind would telcos be in catching up? Are they technologically capable of making changes in a similar manner to remain competitive?


    Comment by Bill -

  16. You are assuming the cable providers would not try and use the extra content to add other tiers of programing they could charge you for or use it for more video on demand content.

    Comment by Mark M -

  17. Mark: Get AT&T Uverse. It\’s digital and gives you more HD channels than any other delivery vendor in the US at the moment. Give up on cable going digital anytime in our lifetimes as the rebuild of that infrastructure would be too expensive.

    Comment by Mike Drips -

  18. People make the mistake thinking the world is about two platforms — TV and the Internet. The world is about change. In our lifetime there will be at least one to two or three additional communications platform — the next one will be the platform that \’lives\’ between the television platform and the Internet platform. In addition it will not all be about technology but also about business process and consumer demands — the wheel was invented in caveman days and the technology has been improved but still has the same work process. Technology is approaching a barrier where it will be about managing consumer demands with business process and the TV platform is virgin territory free from spam, junk email, phishing, and click fraud (in addition to never being able to go offline and update itself which is in effect a killer design flaw). I believe the world is on the edge of a new platform and it will come in the form of the TV platform and HDTV. Learn to read the symptoms of communication and one can clearly see the world is about to change again.

    Comment by M -

  19. This post I am actually sending(somebody posted my name and phone and goofy stuff and hacked into my mail and thought it was funny and now its still on this blog).

    What I think is happening is that the cable companies are using the squatters rights approach. They haven\’t figured out a way to make money so this way they can stop competition.

    The internet is free to all and \”homesteading\” the webs\’ freeways is being allowed by the FCC.

    I think Sir Tim Berners Lee should file suit and maybe that will get some attention!

    The problem really started when all the anti trust laws where loosened to the point of being wet socks.

    Not so long ago it wasn\’t allowed to own say a newspaper and tv station together or where in too close of markets.

    No monopolies.

    As far as I am concerned Wimax can accomplish what is needed for HD IPTV and after all the smoke and promise very little has happened.

    You know why? It seems that in some of the markets that where it was scheduled, what do you know or who do you know, big new juicy deals where made by cable companies with the city…Check out the time line in Chicago.

    You hear that it is 4million dollars a mile for Wimax, bull not even close. If the deal gets put together that I am working on, I will not only proves that it can be done for less but offer it for free to a city(not Chicago) of mostly poor residents that really needs help not a crappy low skilled, low paying manufacturing job or working at Walmart and trying to support a family.

    Pete from the Windy City

    Comment by Peter -

  20. Interesting, as that fits in exactly with a point that Karl Polanyi made in his very excellent book The Great Transformation, that liberals (meaning liberals in the classical sense) would from time to time have to chose between laissez-faire and the self-regulating market. In such cases, they would chose to support the self-regulating market, seeking to establish it be force of legislation if necessary.:

    Strictly economic liberalism is the organizing principle of a society in which industry is based on the institution of the self-regulating marketFor as long as such a system is not established economic liberals will call for the intervention of the state in order to establish it, and once established, in order to maintain it. (page 149)

    It is only with such state support that a self-regulating market can be maintained. Democratic political structures, as China and Microsoft realize, mitigate directly against the formation of the type of a self-regulating market that they desire to inflict upon society. This is the great conflict of this century, stripped to its essentials.

    Comment by e_f -

  21. Some of the comments are suggesting control of bandwidth be handed to municipalities, lol. \”the local communities should invest in data transfer just as they have in fire and police protection…\” Wow, just wow. Let\’s also put a hammer and sickle on the flag.

    Bureaucracy, politics, and the typical governmental incompetence will ruin internet access. If you don\’t agree, see any city with a city owned power company.

    Internet access is not a basic human right. It should not be funded by tax dollars. It should be paid for by those who use it. It should be driven by free-market competition, see Verizon\’s Vios.

    Comment by Austin -

  22. Comcast and other cable providers are trying to nudge the customers still using analog standard service into digital by pricing digital service at the same level as analog.

    In one market, Hallmark Channel and Game Show Network were moved to the digital only tier, forcing thousands of elderly subscribers to switch to digital in order to get their daily dose of Little House on the Prairie and Tic Tac Dough.

    Without those shows, they would surely die.

    Comment by Sarcastro -

  23. Mark, et al:
    As an actual cable/broadband operator and a FTTH operator, I can tell you that none of this is simple. While it is true that each analog channel consumes 6 mhz of bandwidth, simply bumping them off to a digital tier does nothing to improve internet bandwidth. The bandwidth usable by cable modem customers depends entirely on the cable modem termination equipment employed at the cable headend. Thus, to make use of the 6 mhz which might be vacated by bumping USA Network, the cable operator would need to invest in additional equipment to allow modems to use that 6 mhz channel AND they would need to find corresponding bandwidth in the return frequencies. There is very little cable modem termination equipment which allows full selectivity of the upstream and downstream bandwidth that any particular cable operator might want to assign to his cable modem network. Rather, they all make it with the asssumption that only a few channels upstream and downstream are available. Obviously, this could be changed but the manufacturers would need to get on the ball.

    Another huge issue is that the world is full of extra television sets scattered about people’s homes and they fully expect those sets to tune analog stations without a converter. YES, those sets will still work if connected to cable, after February 09! If we told our customers that analog delivery was going to die on February 09 and that they would need digital converters for every television, even the little one in the bathroom, after that date, we would have rioting in the streets.

    Anyway, as some other respondents have noted, the real bottlenecks are in the cable operators connection to the cloud anyway. In a rural community like Glasgow, our largest monthly cost in providing high speed internet service is what we pay to AT&T to transport our DS3’s from Glasgow to the cloud. Want faster total throughput? Find a way to force the IAP’s to sell access at some price that is in the same ballpark as their actual cost. Then we would be getting somewhere.

    From MC> absolutely agree with everything you say. But compared to the cost of running fiber and digging up yards, upgrading equipment and modems is nothing and Docsis 3.0 gives you the chance to do it according to standards.

    As far as the loss of use of TVs, that can be resolved at the STB or as people turn over their TVs to digital since you cant really buy straight analog tvs any more. Not a perfect solution, but again, this is a matter of choice. Old tv vs new broadband

    I realize that connectivity to the cloud is a real expense, but the unfortunate reality is that it impacts just a small pct of users and relative to US broadband competitiveness its one that can be dealt with by each community and their needs.

    thanks for the post !

    Comment by William Ray -

  24. Mark:

    All due respect here but you got this one wrong.

    1. As pointed out above by aharden the cablco’s hands are tied on some channels. Verizon, a company with no video bandwidth limitations, is already doing this in order to force people to use the converter box. Having the set top box in place is an advantage because it opens up a portal to value added services. In short, the cable guys are already moving on this. It’s no secret.

    2. None of this solves the fundamental problem cable has with DOCSIS and upstream speeds. OPening up more bandwidth by moving analog channels adds more shared download spectrum, but only the lowest frequencies can be used for uploading. DOCSIS 3.0 does nothing to solve this, it is just a bonding/multi-link scheme. Right now no killer app exists for high speed uploading but if this were to change it would leave cable in a big lurch. Their infrastructure just couldn’t allow them to respond.

    3. Cable is looking very closely at Fttx, PON specifically, and a derivative called C-PON that preserves much of their DOCSIS infrastructure in the back end. It is a good solution but will require capex. The cable guys have the fear of death of wall st and won’t make these plans known.

    From MC> You are absolutely right. Docsis isnt perfect and has big limits upstream. But the real issue is analog delivery of TV being retained vs enhanced upstream and significantly improved downstream. Asymetric isnt perfect, but it creates a lot more opportunities for USA competitiveness and new apps than giving that bandwidth to analog versions of USA Network, VH1 and other basic cable nets.
    The cable nets are going to fight this as much as they can. FOr MSOs this is one more step on the path they are taking anyway.

    Which is better for this country, analog cable delivery, or faster bandwidth ?

    Comment by Andrew Schmitt -

  25. first of all. i challenged you to a dance off at SXSW and you declined, so i just want people to know that 🙂

    second, the cablecos ARE switching to digital. do you know how hard it is to get an old analog, basic-only cable service? Time Warner actually prices that HIGHER than a digital service in some markets. they\’d love to get people all on digital so they can upsell them to on-demand and HBO7. not sure where you get the idea that this is some \”dirty little secret.\”

    there are factors that inhibit broadband deployment (lack of real competition, selective zipcode deployment, lack of unbundling), but the cableco\’s desire to hold onto analog is NOT one of them.

    Comment by Baratunde Thurston -

  26. Wow. I had never thought of this but it makes perfect sense. Must explain why my cable Internet connection is slow. The bandwidth is being hogged unnecessarily.

    Hopefully something will happen in the near future but I highly doubt it since they have kept this secret hidden this long.

    Comment by homes -

  27. Based on this Ars Technica article, the cable companies are free to begin reclaiming analog non-local-broadcast channels at any time, but have to keep analog locals until 2012:

    What we really need here is a pledge from the cable companies to send digital versions of the previously-analog stations in a format that\’s compatible with DTV converter set-top boxes that could be purchased with the government\’s DTV subsidy: At some point analog cable users will have to deal with the transition. I\’m surprised that the DTV Transition marketing doesn\’t make mention of the fact that new digital TVs (which are mostly non-tube-based) are more power-efficient than their CRT-based analog counterparts.

    Comment by aharden -

  28. The Chicago Comcast system has already dumped every analog station except for the broadcast channels The problem is they aren\’t rolling out pre-DOCSIS 3.0 gear fast enough to take advantage of the new bandwidth avail.

    Comment by MavsFan -

  29. Well looks like problem solved come 2012 (RE: ArsTechnica article linked earlier). And that\’s good since they didn\’t start including the warning when selling non-DTV TV\’s till March 2007.

    Comment by tankilo -

  30. Dear Legendary Mark Cuban:

    HUGE,huge fan here.

    Just wanted to know if you will be attending the Seattle Sonics last home game with a Save our Sonics t-shirt on.

    We need someone powerful as the great Mark Cuban to let it be known world wide about you opinion on the Supes.

    Love your enthusiasm and your passion. Keep living the great life. Bless you my man.


    Larry Wonder The young 1/4 century old Sonics FAN.

    P.S. Holla!

    Comment by Larry Wonder -

  31. I was unaware of this. Does this mean that my analog TV will still be able to tune in channels without any converter box after the cutoff date if the input is Coax from the cable company? The cable ads have been implying that they are handling the \”digital conversion\” for us, but this sounds like they are simply converting the signal back to analog!

    Comment by Jeff -

  32. You don\’t seem to understand what net neutrality is. It\’s more an issue of censorship (or legalized extortion) than one of Quality of Service. QoS is merely the ISPs way of deflecting the issue.

    Comment by Matthew Maroon -

  33. Who needs fiber-to-the-curb? Now, to get around the Cable Box requirements, we could legislate requiring QAM Tuners with the analog cable cutoff. This is just like requiring ATSC Tuners for the analog OTA cutoff, only it actually affects more than 10% of the population.

    Comment by John Ramseur -

  34. I have a dirty little secret too.

    I just read this blog and tried my hardest (even made the squinting face) to understand what you guys are talking about.

    Is this internet and TV cable companies sharing the same something or another? At first I thought it was about Analog cable, but I thought I saw a TV ad talking about analog delivery changing in 2009. Then it started sounding like something else. Yeah I am really busy.

    Comment by Billy Gamble -

  35. Hey Mark-

    a couple of questions…

    I am wondering what are your thoughts on David Stern and Clay Bennet and the situation with the Sonics? Admittidly I am a die hard Sonics fan I would like know from an owner\’s perspective how do you see the future for they boys in green and gold?

    Lastely what would it take for you to make an offer and keep my the sonics in seattle???

    thanks and I love the blog…

    Comment by ScottNYC -

  36. A very thoughtful and innovative solution for the short term.

    Long term, the ownership of internet access needs to belong to the community.

    Access to fast internet should be treated as infrastructure – the local communities should invest in data transfer just as they have in fire and police protection, roads, waste water, potable water, etc.

    It should be a local decision. Some communities may decide they don\’t want to spend a lot of tax dollars for fast access, while others may decide to invest heavily in fast access for the long term growth of the community.

    Access to the internet should not be controlled by teleco\’s or cableco\’s.

    Comment by Mark Van Patten -

  37. So far, it seems this is anything but simple, not to mention the disagreement on some of the fundamentals. I\’d like to understand what is really behind most of the transition digital, and expanded bandwidth. It can\’t really be that difficult, can it?

    Comment by BawldGuy Talking -

  38. This transition is happening, and it\’s for competitive reasons. No need for government meddling. In fact, the FCC needs to get out of the way.

    Verizons FiOS is a game changer, and is forcing Comcast to wake up and improve service. The FCC is slowing the migration to all digital by mandating CableCard funtionality for all set top boxes. This slowed cables transition to all digital dramitcally.

    It will be expensive, but through switched digital video and digital adaptors, cable will be all digital in the next 3-5 years and the freed up spectrum will go to more HD channels and faster broadband.

    Comment by Steve -

  39. I\’m going to have to disagree with you, Mark. First, variable bandwidth pricing comes from ISPs ability to control the user experience. If Google search suddenly seems slow compared to Live search, it will have an effect on where users and therefore ad revenue goes, so ISPs will be able to double dip by selling my the connection, and then selling Google my \”premium user experience\”. Network neutrality is largely about preventing that scenario.

    While it\’s true that the bits can\’t change once they leave a peering point, the problem is that without network neutrality, each peering point has the potential to extort both end points. And that\’s why network neutrality has nothing to do with speeds at the last mile, and why improving last mile speeds won\’t solve the neutrality issue.

    Second, while the backbone today is more or less not running at capacity, give lots of people your 100mbps+ connections and it will require huge investment to keep up. To the extent that there is scarcity in the last mile, and I\’m not sure I buy that at all, upping household speeds by 10? 100? times would absolutely produce massive scarcity on the backbone.

    Comment by Brooks -

  40. I\’m just wondering if you have an opinion about Clay Bennett lying to Seattle Supersonic fans about his intentions with the team. Emails came out earlier today showing that Bennett never intended to keep the team in Seattle. Stern is so gullible if he really believed this. If he didn\’t, he has been lying to the NBA owners for two years now.

    Comment by Jared Carter -

  41. \”E-mails reveal Sonics owners intended to bolt from Seattle \”

    This is more evidence that the PBC group did not make an honest effort to keep the SuperSonics in Seattle.

    Would this be someone who you prefer to do business with?

    Comment by John_S -

  42. Um, Mark, you’re usually dead on, but in this case you’ve betrayed a fundamental lack of understanding of the internet and the network neutrality issue. Network neutrality is about transmission of content within and between internet backbones, not along the so-called last mile.

    Further, to the extent that network neutrality involves the ISP I pay for delivering everyone’s content to me, it’s about attempts to monetize things on both ends. I pay for my ISP connection; it is crazy that my ISP can then turn around to Google and say that if they want me to receive unimpeded, Google has to pay my ISP as well. That’s the scenario that net neutrality people are hoping to avoid. And increasing last mile bandwidth has no bearing on that issue at all.

    I’m all for removing analog transmissions from cable, and the effect could be improved even more by moving digital transmissions to a switched format, where a channel is only put on a cable subnet if a device is actually tuned to it. So yeah, good ideas. But leave network neutrality out of it; it’s a completely separate issue.

    From MC>Not quite. You have it wrong on two counts
    There is no shortage of bandwidth on the backbone. Variable bandwidth pricing, the issue behind neutrality, comes from scarcity. There is scarcity in the last mile. Not on the backbone.
    2nd, once bits leave one network through a peering point, to another, the originating ISP/Network loses control. So they cant charge. Comcast cant say they will charge google or end users for how they receive bits on Verizon’s network

    Comment by Brooks -

  43. There\’s a danger in trying to convince the companies to do this. When the companies are reluctant, some busy-bodies will want their legislators to force companies to do what\’s best for the country!

    Comment by SoftwareNerd -

  44. Mark good idea, but the red tape and lobbyist would kill any movement towards it immediately

    Comment by pdr tools -

  45. But Mark, that frees up bandwidth within the cable provider\’s network. What about bandwidth on the Internet itself? If all that bandwidth was available for use from every home (38Mbps, or 76, etc.), the connections between each cable operators network would be completely over-saturated.

    Well, that\’s what they\’d like for us to believe anyway. Maybe this is just a case of telecoms not wanting to shell out money to build out a bigger Internet backbone the same way oil companies refuse to build refineries, thus driving up prices.

    I still think the point you\’re making is a great one. Now if only cable companies would stop discriminating against users of Cable Cards, insisting that everyone use their appointed cable box.

    Comment by Armen -

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