A Bandwidth Showdown’s a Comin’ – Do You Want to Do More Online, Faster?

I believe there’s an impending bandwidth showdown.  When it will occur is not certain.

When it comes to streaming content over the Internet (not inside between computers on your home or office network), such as Netflix, playing content from Hulu and more, success and satisfaction is determined by the speed of your Internet service and NOT the speed of your router, wireless or otherwise.

There are good reasons to suggest user should have a certain router capabilities even if just for in-home or office use, but consider what is happening.

Check your speed – go to www.speedtest.net and get a reality check.  It should be at least 3 Mbps down and 768 Kbps up. At this speed, users can stream Netflix content, but maybe at less than best quality. Also, what else is going on?  What other downloading or uploading is occurring simultaneously in your home or office?  That takes bandwidth, Internet bandwidth.

If you want to stream (at high quality) Hulu PLUS, HBO GO, even YouTube, play console games with others online, stream music from the Internet, share videos and high-quality photos, download BIG files or upload big files to share with others out of the house, perhaps simultaneously, you’d better have speedy Internet service.

What’s higher speed?  In the US, I see cable companies offering 15 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up, for example.  While the 15 Mbps figure is not so bad, the 2 Mbps number is atrocious for anyone interested in uploading videos or high quality photos.  I regularly communicate with others in far-flung places outside the US.  Earlier today I was Skyping with someone in Cape Town, South Africa.  He was elated that his Internet speed had just increased to 1 Mbps!  Now, we could successfully play with a south africa online casino and video Skype. His image quality to me was marginal with many freezes. He was excited to pay the equivalent of $25 per month for this service. Cape Town is a big city, yet their Internet speed is very slow, as it is elsewhere in big cities in that country.We have all been encouraged to do more with the wonderful capabilities afforded by Internet access, yet we are at the same time being squeezed by most providers of that service. ISPs are (mostly) not providing the bandwidth needed for maximum enjoyment.  We need faster download speeds AND faster upload speeds.  I just checked online with Comcast and Time Warner, to see what they offer.  In addition to high outrageous prices, in my view, they tout fancy names for their services, giving the appearance of speed, but only show the download speeds prominently. Big deal!  Downloads up to 15 Mbps, with upload speed of  . . . wait for it . . . 2 Mbps.  Just try to upload high quality photos, even to Facebook, or share videos or . . . do high quality video chat.  That requires robust UPLOAD speed. And I like to stream my Netflix at the highest quality (that’s at download speed).

Most providers do not even have the higher speeds I believe you would want were it available and affordable.  The exception to this is Verizon FiOS, which I am so fortunate to have.  Relatively speaking, our 25/25 speeds for about $45 screams, and there is never any waiting for anything I do, all simultaneously.  Sure, I’d love it to be higher, but this is sufficient.  I’ve experienced higher speeds when visiting our youngest daughter at college, where I measured speeds of about 143 Mbps down and up!

Maybe you did not know or do not care about the speeds you could get or the things you could do if you had that speed.  For now, I urge each of you to do the speed test as suggested above, at www.speedtest.net, so you will know where you stand.  Look at the bill for your Internet service, which may be combined with TV and phone service, and ask, if needed, to learn what you pay for the speed you have.  Then learn if you are eligible for higher speed, and at what price.  You might even find that by simply asking, you will get more for the same cost, or for less, especially if you have been on your plan for quite some time.  Regularly check and ask for a better deal, then learn of any competitors for your Internet business, which may provide leverage for you with your current provider.  And be sure to not succumb to a teaser plan, a get-this-for-six-months deal so that afterward they stick you with a higher bill for that new speed.

Even with higher download speeds, the upload speeds are still problematic.  Why shouldn’t consumers be able to watch high quality video AND send it?  Why not be able to see and hear high definition video while chatting with distant friends and relatives.  Remember, if their download speed is higher than about 3 Mbps, they could see higher quality if you could serve it up to them (that’s your upload speed).  And if their download speeds are even higher, so much the better, for better, glitch-free video chatting, perhaps with multiple people at the same time.

I believe consumers should be able to do multiple uploads and downloads at the same time AND at reasonable cost.

The reason this is available from Verizon for its FiOS customers is because they chose to deploy an all-fiber system, with fiber optics all the way to each and every customer’s home or office.  There is no sharing of service to each user as there is with cable Internet service.  My service never slows as do cable company’s Internet services that are delivered over coaxial cable and not fiber optics.

Cable companies have built their systems, for the most part, on the concept of sharing bandwidth among several users.  It’s cheaper this way, much cheaper.  They did not plan ahead for what today’s and tomorrow’s consumers want and so, do not natively have the capability to do as does Verizon.  Cable companies will need to fix things, installing fiber as the only way to satisfactorily provide what amounts to the capability of virtually unlimited bandwidth to its customers as does Verizon. For more info on fiber optics, click here.  A direct, fiber optic home run is the only way to provide ultimate bandwidth.

Cable companies cheap it out by limiting your upstream speeds as one way to control YOU, so you do not do as I, and as you might wish to do if you could. They are also fearful of providing too much of that good thing as this would also encourage consumers to be able to run businesses that rely on bandwidth out of their homes and offices.  Mostly, it is about limiting bandwidth because they don’t want you using more speed, even if available, unless you pay for it, but they don’t want to tell you.  And they lack capacity to provide seriously nice upload speeds, in most cases.

And what of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line – aren’t you glad you know what that means!)?  DSL is Internet service from your phone company (and others piggybacking on their infrastructure) delivered over the “twisted pair” of copper wires still entering most homes from the phone company. These are the wires used for good old phones, much the same as it was dating back to the early twentieth century. Traditional DSL supports only limited speeds, usually to about 6 Mbps, but sometimes as high as 10 Mbps.  This service is not much better than most cable company offerings except that users do not share bandwidth with their neighbors.

An offshoot of standard DSL is what AT&T uses for its U-verse service, called VDSL, with achievable download speeds approaching 24 Mbps, but with upload speeds no greater than 3 Mbps.

I am certainly not the consummate expert here, but something just does not make sense.  I know areas of Los Angeles served by both cable and AT&T U-verse.  Competition would be great, but it does not exist because areas long served by cable companies with an established customer body dissuades AT&T, in this case, from building out better service in the area because their studies indicate not enough users would switch, even though they could offer faster service. As it stands, in some areas I know in SoCal, affluent, but older areas, cable OR AT&T U-Verse is offered, but high speeds are not.

Contrary to some claims from the past, it has been shown that the Internet expands its capabilities to accommodate growth.  There is no shortage of bandwidth.  There is only a shortage of what cable companies, even phone companies other than Verizon, provide.  It’s all about making the most money, which I certainly understand.  But they are not providing the best service to customers as things are.

I believe in capitalism and maximizing investments, but there is a showdown looming.  If providers do not step up to the plate and aggressively build in greater bandwidth AT an affordable price, we consumers are going to be even more screwed than we are today. And what is the incentive for providers to do what I consider to be the right thing?

Let me also throw into the mix some alternatives, though none are more cost effective.  Wireless everywhere is a strategy deployed in a few cities, though not widely and with inconsistent speeds.  Clearwire is a company associated with wireless Internet service though a small, portable device that broadcasts signal for sharing with up to eight users within a few feet of the portable device.  Most of these are battery operated AND can also plug in to AC power.  Another strategy is through similar devices from wireless phone companies as well as wireline phone providers (the phone company).  These use cellular data technology, but they do NOT make phone calls.  Finally, even more limited in its big city availability, free or paid wide area wireless Internet service. It would be as if connected to a wireless router in your home or office with very long range. This is achieved by placing wireless repeaters where required to blanket a large area with service.  These alternatives do not generally provide high-speed upload capabilities. They are more in the category of a convenience and necessity when nothing else reasonable is available.

What can we do about it?  Ah, that is the question!  I wish I had THE answer, but solutions are complex.

In most cities, there is a monopoly that allows but one cable provider to operate in the city in which they do business.  It IS all about the money paid by the provider to the city for the privilege. It has NOTHING to do with any benefit to the consumer.  Look into such a monopoly in your locale.  Leaders CAN insist that providers do better and more for the consumer and also offer to allow competitors. But providers argue that they have already made the investment in their infrastructure and do not want to share their cable right-of-way to your home or office.  I think city leaders can insist on better service and modernization OR allow competition over that same right-of-way, but this takes leadership.  Do I need to remind you that politicians live to be greased by special interests, even bought with large campaign donations and other perks?

Are there leaders who have what it takes to actually do right by their constituents and not be beholden to large entities/contributors who feel ownership of these elected officials?  (It’s a rhetorical question, folks.)

Now that you (hopefully) know more than before, are any of you prepared to take up the cause in your city? That’s what it is going to take.

I do not know if our congressional leaders can or would do anything to help, as they, too, are politicians.  The only hope is that certain standards could be mandated that see Internet access as something the feds want everyone to have.  That takes funds and the government, that’s you and I, to come up with the money.  It has to get to the companies who can build out networks where now there are none and where more robust performance and future proofing is needed.   Were this to happen, it only makes sense that the providers would be only too happy to take OUR money to do the job.  That could happen.  And doesn’t it make sense that the companies, even now, are taking a wait and see attitude to learn if the government will pay them to do some or the entire job.  If this is the case, why not wait, do nothing now and save their money?

Then, there is the issue of cost to the consumer for this better service, and I do not believe it is appropriate for a business to be told what it can charge for its services. This IS a free market, isn’t it?  That is where competition comes in. Competition is good and promotes better prices whereas the monopolies that exist today do not.

This concludes my rambling rant.  I needed to get this off my chest! Feel free to add your own comments!