Saturday, November 18, 2006

Not Always Full Speed Ahead

To quote the great mid-Twentieth Century philosopher Gomer Pyle: "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!"

The New York Times reported Saturday that consumers are having a difficult time figuring out what they are paying for bandwidth these days (at least, those consumers where there is genuine competition for bandwidth!).

Here's the gist of the article in a few short paragraphs:
In more densely populated areas, many Americans now have not only a choice of broadband providers but also a range of different speeds to pick from. As the options proliferate, consumer advocates say it is getting tougher for people to tell what service is best for them — and which packages promise more than they deliver.

Confusing matters, broadband lines are increasingly being bundled with television and phone services, making it difficult to determine how much the high-speed connection actually costs.

The offers, consumer advocates say, are not always straightforward. With few exceptions, they include language that says consumers will get “up to” a certain speed, typically expressed in megabits per second. (An MP3 song file that takes 12 minutes to download over a dial-up line would take 27 seconds on a 1.5-megabits-per-second broadband line, and 8 seconds on a 5-megabit connection.)

In many cases, consumer advocates and industry analysts said, customers do not get the maximum promised speed, or anywhere near it, from their cable and digital subscriber line connections. Instead, the phrase “up to” refers to speeds attainable under ideal conditions, like when a D.S.L. user is near the phone company’s central switching office.

“They don’t deliver what’s advertised, and it’s inherently deceptive,” said Dave Burstein, editor of DSL Prime, a newsletter that tracks the broadband industry. “ ‘Up to’ is a weasel term that should be taken out of the companies’ vocabulary.”

The companies argue that their marketing is not misleading because the speeds they promise can actually be reached.
I don't know what BellSouth is charging for DSL these days -- and I'm not interested.

I am, however, a Cox customer for video, voice and data. The speeds Cox delivers varies wildly here in my part of town and the modem needs an inordinate amount of resetting from time to time. I've tested the speeds using various 'connection speed' sites and don't ever recall getting any speed near the x-megabit speeds that come with the package (they say the speed's been updated recently, but I haven't noticed it).

So, for now — like a lot of folks across the country — we're all stuck paying premium prices for sporadically mediocre Internet speeds. Getting the LUS fiber project built would change all that, but we find ourselves at the mercy of courts.

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