Suddenlink has a monopoly on high-speed internet service in Victoria.
Anyone who has dealt with the cable company knows this to be true. Customer service is awful, and prices are unreasonably high.
You also have only to look at the Federal Communications Commission’s definition: modern high-speed internet is at speeds of at least 25 mbps. Only Suddenlink can offer this in Victoria through its coaxial cable lines.
The confusion comes because other services are allowed to advertise high-speed internet when they simply lack the technology to deliver on that promise. DSL, for example, is not at this speed.
At the same time, the government has done less than zero to promote competition. Instead, the state took away municipalities’ ability to regulate cable companies in 2005, and in the past year the FCC removed states’ ability to do the same.
Confused? Don’t feel bad. Even the Victoria City Council doesn’t understand the mess. Council members heard so many complaints from Victoria residents about Suddenlink they felt compelled to pass a resolution in protest. That’s a commendable step showing they are listening to their constituents.
Unfortunately, the protest is going nowhere. The council sent it to the state Public Utilities Commission, which no longer governs high-speed internet. And, if the complaint ever makes its way to the FCC, you can be sure the federal agency doesn’t care what happens in Victoria.
The solution is more complicated than complaining to a state or federal agency. The answer very well could be much bigger than the city and county of Victoria.
Nonetheless, Victoria must do all it can to promote internet competition locally. Along with helping unhappy Suddenlink customers, competition for high-quality high-speed internet service is a key driver of economic development in the digital age. The issue is that important.
Help on the horizon could come from the Victoria Electric Co-op, formed 80 years ago when the national goal was to provide light to the darkness, i.e., bring electricity to rural America. As a power provider, VEC has the network to lay new fiber lines required to bring high-speed internet to the rural areas surrounding Victoria – and potentially to provide true competition for Suddenlink within the city.
The barrier to entry for VEC and any other business is the high cost of laying fiber lines. That is how Suddenlink and other U.S. cable providers established their monopolies in the 1960s and 70s, when governments made conditions favorable for them to enter American cities without competition.
Since then, high-speed internet has become almost as much of a necessity as electricity was in the first half of the 20th century. If Victoria wants to stay competitive in the digital world, the city and county have to act now to promote more high-speed connectivity.
Although the PUC complaint will go nowhere, the city took a positive step by also complaining about Suddenlink services to state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. Lawmakers took an important step last session by making it easier for electric co-ops to provide high-speed internet to rural customers.
Similarly, the city has the power to make it easier for VEC to enter the market, starting by collaborating with VEC to apply for grants to cut down on the upfront costs of laying fiber lines. The Victoria and Nursery school districts also can do this, as the Calhoun, Bloomington and Industrial school districts already have.
Other steps the city can take are to survey residents about their interest in signing up for high-speed internet; conduct an asset map so VEC and any other company will know what city property such as light poles could be used for expanding service; and bring VEC officials in for a City Council workshop to discuss the possibilities.
Suddenlink has a stranglehold on Victoria today. It doesn’t have to be that way tomorrow.