The Joys of Broadband

by wjw on March 13, 2012

Since I got broadband, six or seven years ago, I’ve had it through the local cable monopoly, Comcast.  No one loves Comcast— they’re too big, too slow, too expensive, and have infamously bad customer service (which, however, seems to be improving— when I had trouble last year, they really did their best, for all that the problem was too complex for them). So anyway, I’ve always been on the alert for an alternative.

Qwest, the local phone company, offered DSL in some neighborhoods, but not in my rural district.  They sent me a great many solicitations through the mail claiming that DSL was available, but whenever I called them, they said they didn’t have it in my area.  (This despite illegally raising many millions of dollars from their subscribers to improve service in remote areas— millions that they decided not to spend on the promised improvements— and millions which the state, for reasons of its own, decided to let them keep.  We still await the indictments.)

Anyway, Qwest was recently bought by Century Link, who started bombarding me with phone calls offering DSL at about a third of what I was paying Comcast.  “Are you really sure you can deliver fast internet to me over all that old copper?” I repeatedly asked, and was answered in the affirmative.  I was skeptical, but what the hell.  An appointment was set up for someone to come over and install the new gear.

The new gear arrived in a box, but the guy who was supposed to install it never actually set foot in the house.  (I was told he showed up to inspect the outside line.)  After waiting for an entire day, I decided I might as well install the stuff myself.  Which I did, after spending about an hour on the phone to customer service chasing down various bugs and getting passwords.   Tests told me I was downloading at a respectable 18mbps, for all that my upload speed was 0.6mbps, which strikes me as counterintuitive.   Why the weird disparity?  It’s the same copper.  Or whatever.

At any rate, I knew the real test was in the usage, and I went on Netflix to download a movie.  Which downloaded very, very slowly, and interrupted itself every few minutes as its buffer emptied and had to refill.

No joy.

And as for uploading, I can’t even send email.  The upload is so slow that the connection times out before I can send a few lines to a friend.

I’ll contact Century Link tomorrow and see if this can be sorted, but I’m thinking my skepticism seems justified.  Fortunately I never actually canceled my Comcast subscription.

So it’s probably back to the Old Dinosaur for me.

DorjePismo March 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Supposedly, Verizon is coming out with a rural broadband solution that it claims is faster than DSL. I don’t know about pricing, but can’t imagine it would be very cheap, and VZ is legendary for its contempt for its customers, but I did get solid and respectable 3G during lunch in the middle of the Valles Caldera, so the technology would probably work for you.

Brian March 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Walter- there are technical reasons (having to do with echo cancellation) that partially explain why you can’t get high bandwidth in both directions. However, there are also business reasons for this.

One issue is that if Centurylink provides high bandwidth in both directions, then it becomes easier for customers to use distributed file sharing services. These services use tons of bandwidth in both directions, since they count on individual users to pass files on to other users- while you’re downloading one pirated movie, you’re supposed to be uploading a pirated movie to go to some other user. Setting a very low upload speed limit effectively stalls these services while not seriously effecting most web browsing, watching youtube videos, and so on.

More generally, the ISP’s aren’t typically providing higher level services that require substantial bandwidth in the upload direction (one exception is online backup services like CenturyLink’s “Digital Vault”) There’s really no reason for them to go out of their way to provide high speed uploads- if they did you’d just use it to communicate with services provided by other companies, and they’d be stuck carrying your traffic and getting a pittance for it.

The larger battle here is over whether internet service will be a cheap commodity (moving bits) with higher value services offered over the internet by lots of competing companies, or whether a few large ISP’s will vertically integrate and offer those high value (and high price) services to customers over network connections that they have monopolized. You can be sure that ISP’s will continue to make life hard for other companies.

James R. Strickland March 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

My parents live in the same area. Qwest/Centurylink DSL isn’t worth having there. We had a similar experience in Colorado, and after going back and forth Qwest finally condemned our line for DSL and turned it off. Without bothering to tell us, of course.

I don’t care what Qwest calls themselves, they’re the same old incompetent bozos and I won’t do business with them.

Now a happy Comcast triple play customer. It also gets me free long distance in the continental U.S.


Ralf The Dog. March 14, 2012 at 2:52 am

If you can’t get dial up where you live, I recommend a bit of digital string and some cans.

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