Where providers are free to gouge and customers are free to... well... complain on Slashdot, but that's about it.
It's only actually free when there's freedom. Freedom to choose between genuinely different providers is a start. If they go to the same tier 2 provider, then the that will define the prices and services, so isn't a choice at all. If they ARE the tier 2, then they're the ultimate source of services and pricetag for all the tier 3s out there.
But there has to be more, since bandwidth throttling dictates bandwidth availability downstream. You can't sell what isn't there - unless you're Time-Warner or Comcast, of course. Try that with a physical product ("It'll cost you $elebenty, payable now, no refund, and if it doesn't do what we claim, that's not a lemon, that's the fault of some unidentified someone doing something somewhere somehow and we'd rather screw you than bother them"). So, freedom to know what you're actually buying and freedom to use statuary rights to obtain that product or a refund.
This is actually one reason I'm a little unhappy with free software. It has been telling vendors that it's ok to not provide what is offered. Not so much by actually doing that - free software has been, in general, superb about being up-front about what it can and cannot do, known defects and limitations, etc. More by saying in the license that the producer is entitled to lie through his teeth without consequence. A quick look at Oracle's conduct shows that vendors have paid very close attention to that clause.
Free Software relies on there being a viable alternative, that users can go elsewhere if dissatisfied. The resilience to fixing bugs in GCC and GLibC, in present and prior administrations, demonstrate that when viable alternatives are scant, such software is too complex to fork or replace unless it gets really, really bad. Which it has occasionally done.
When it comes to cable companies, it's infinitely worse. You're not in a position to run fibre from your home to an alternative tier 2 in another State. Partly because of expense, partly because laws governing interstate activities make it impossible for private individuals, and partly because the cable companies would raise all hell, three quarters of bloody murder and a dash of pint of high water to stop you. Which would not be hard for them, all they need to do is to persuade the tier 2 provider to not sell the capacity. If that failed, they could keep you tied up in knots with the FCC over whether you were an unlicensed telecom operator or not. Mind you, some of you might like knots. I dunno. If all else failed, they could SWAT the people running the cable, get you listed for suspected terrorist ties, or just repeatedly run a backhoe through your cable until you got the message.
You have no choice. You have no freedom. The cable operators have been redefining "monopoly" and "telecommunications" to whatever serves their purpose, not yours, and on multiple occasions. They have been free to do so because everyone likes simplified services and nobody in the States is going to vehemently oppose the "market at work". Even when it clearly doesn't. Not until it is far, far too late to stop things happening.
And we're way past it being too far. It was too far when telecos started replacing copper for fibre at select spots. Supposedly to improve service (which never improved). The reality was that DSL companies competing with the teleco all went out of business where this happened. No great surprise, you can't run DSL over fibre and everyone knew it. It was too late when telephonic "service of last resort" stopped being mandatory in many States. It was too late when ADSL was all private users could buy, SDSL was only sold to select businesses.
It was too late when rival multistate networks got bought up by the Big Telecos with not a murmur from anyone.
It was not because these were fatal in themselves, it's because people had become too stupid and too utterly dependent on being spoonfed by corporate giants (who are far less efficient than any big government ever thought of being, except at defrauding customers). The time for people to learn to think had passed. There wasn't anything left to think about. There were no examples to learn from. All that was left was a self-inflicted oblivion.
It's as if a hundred billion endpoints all screamed out and then fell silent.
And no Consumer Jedi to notice or care.