Want to see the impact of Google Fiber? Look to Comcast

Comcast(s cmsca) has connected almost a quarter of a million households (220,000) to its internet essentials program that offers $10 per month broadband to people who can’t afford it. In a release on Tuesday, the cable giant also noted that it has increased the speeds on offer to 5 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, which also happens to be the speeds that Google(s goog) is offering communities as part of its free service.
Since the anemic speeds (1.5Mbps down and 384Kbps up) when the program launched in 2011 were one of the biggest problems people had with it, the speed boost is both welcome and necessary. But if you look at this program as a bare essentials broadband effort, you’ll see Comcast has moved its minimum to match Google’s fiber to the home service minimum. Comcast would likely disavow any link between the two.
Of course, if you are not a family whose kids are on the free and reduced lunch program, you can still get Comcast’s economy plus tier which offers customers 3Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream for around $40 a month. In Fresno, Calif. that service is $5 cheaper if you want a 5 GB per month cap! But the 5/1 service is still a noteworthy upgrade for the internet essentials program.
And amid all the talk about why we need gigabit service, and Google’s ISP dreams, that effort to push the envelope on broadband’s minimum standard is sometimes lost. When I talk about Google fiber or gigabit service, the most common question I get is why do we need a gig? I usually tell people something along the lines of this post.
But I also ask them how much they pay for broadband. I spend $70 a month on a 30/5 connection from Time Warner Cable(s twc). In Kansas City, where Google Fiber is serving select areas, that would buy me a gig. In Seattle, home to an independent ISP called Wave Broadband, my friends spend $70 a month to get 50/5 Mbps service. Soon my friends in Seattle will get a gig from Gigabit Squared for $80 a month if they want it.
Clearly, my friends are lucky to live in a place where they have more than just the cable provider and the local telecommunication company trying to offer them broadband. But it drives home a big lesson in broadband pricing — competition matters. And because Google is getting a lot of national media attention for its fiber to the home offering and its rollout, it’s shining a light on pricing.
Most broadband providers offer slightly different prices in their service areas and force people searching for those prices to enter their zip code and a service address. They also tend to obscure broadband-only offerings or contract-free offers, making it hard to find the right rates for what you want. When I was trying to get pricing for broadband from AT&T in Austin for a story, I had to spend 30 minutes on the phone in order to get the information, for example.
But with Google Fiber, people are hearing about pricing that’s simple and well publicized. And the hope is that Google’s openness drives a new set of standards about minimum speeds and pricing. It appears that Comcast at least may have been influenced.