When home Internet service costs $5000—or even $15000 – Ars Technica

When Cathy Corman bought a house in 1998, she didn’t mind that it had no cable service. Corman was finishing a dissertation, her husband was starting a new job, and they were raising five-year-old triplets—they didn’t spend much time watching TV. And to get on the Web, all they needed was a phone line and a dial-up Internet subscription.

But years passed and dial-up Internet became a quaint memory for most Americans. The cable industry that gained its dominance by offering TV service became the top provider of high-speed broadband. For most of 2016, Corman’s house still didn’t have cable, fiber, or any access to reliable, high-speed Internet service despite its location outside of Boston in densely populated and affluent Brookline, Massachusetts.

Corman, a university lecturer and journalist, needed fast Internet service, and the local cable companies, RCN and Comcast, were offering it to nearly all of their neighbors. But for reasons that weren’t totally clear, her family’s house had never been hooked up, and the cable companies wouldn’t wire up the house unless the couple paid for all of the necessary construction and permitting.

“We and our next-door neighbors are the only two residences in all of North Brookline without cable,” Corman told Ars. RCN has a manhole in front of the house, and “Comcast has a node in a manhole around the corner. What will it cost to bring cable to our homes? A bit more than $10,000. That’s before we even begin to pay for monthly service.”

The RCN manhole across the street from Corman's house.

Corman and her husband spent several years trying to convince town officials and the cable companies that they shouldn’t have to subsidize the companies’ construction costs, to no avail. Ultimately, they decided to pay RCN to connect them. The owners of the two houses without cable split the bill so that each homeowner paid RCN about $5,000.

In late November, shortly after Corman first spoke to Ars, RCN finished the construction connecting its network to the two houses. She is now enjoying 330Mbps download speeds at home.

Still, Corman is baffled that she and her husband had to pay so much just to get modern service at their house. Corman recognizes she was fortunate; her family has the ability to eat these unusual costs and get service (“We obviously can afford to pay this, we’re doing it,” she said). But as a teacher working with the area’s low-income communities, she regularly meets with students that don’t have Internet access at home. “It might be available to them, but they can’t even afford it,” she said.

That’s why Corman believes, especially after her recent experience, that Internet access should be treated like “a utility, just like water or electricity.”

“We were never asked if we wanted to be hooked up, even when the companies were bringing service to massive new construction projects just down the street,” Corman said. “It’s just not right.”

Most homeowners balk at cable construction fees

Corman is not the only Internet user who paid thousands in recent years to merely get started. In the outskirts of San Jose, California, in so-called Silicon Valley, a man named David Martin paid Comcast more than $15,000 in 2013 to run cable to his house. Both Corman and Martin contacted Ars after a previous story about Charter charging other US Internet users $9,000 for access in New York state.


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