As more and more people use the Internet for online streaming services and other heavy bandwidth websites, connection speed is becoming a pressing problem.

For many years, cable operators have offset their declining pay-TV divisions by offering high-speed broadband services. Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable operator, said in November that more than 22% of broadband subscribers are opting for higher-speed packages, compared to just 10% in 2009.

Faster speeds on the way. However, there are several competitors on the horizon that are offering even faster speeds, and cutting into cable companies’ bread and butter. 

Google Inc. is one of those companies. By working with cities like Seattle and Urbana, Ill, Google has begun building a fiber-optic network that offers speeds of a gigabit per second (more than three times as fast as broadband subscribers currently receive).

Verizon Communications has taken steps in the last few years to bring fiber lines to residential consumers. They currently offer their FiOS service that has the potential of gigabit speeds with the right equipment in a consumer’s homes.

Not everyone is on board. In contrast to these strides forward, many cable companies are holding back. About half of the nation’s cable systems would need to upgrade their fiber before gigabit speeds could be transferred over the lines. Cable companies use neighborhood “nodes” to deliver television and high-speed internet, which is less-efficient than the methods used by the fully fiber Internet-service providers.

It would cost billions more to upgrade their existing networks to higher speed lines, and the logistics would be difficult to manage. Since most cable companies were criticized by investors for their investment in high-speed lines in the first place, some companies are hesitant to take their services to the next level.

Even though they may be gun-shy – the fact remands that the need is there. The demand for high-speed Internet from consumers, online media buyers, companies and investors is growing, and cable companies may either need to invest or get out of the high-speed game in the future.