The main event, Cable vs. DSL
By Rick Smith
If you're like me you've been around long enough to watch the internet online revolution. It started with 33k external modems that were eventually kicked up to 56k and culminated with US Robotics putting out a dual bonded 128k. If you had two phone lines it would dial out on two lines and bonds the connections together for the ultimate dial-up experience. Of course as I've already pointed out in previous rants America Online was king of the world. If you needed to go online during peak hours you would often get the dreaded busy signal instead of "You've got mail." Alas, those days are gone for good for most of us. I even remember being a member of a BBS service downloading pirated software at 28k and experiencing the beginnings of rudimentary chat. As the old Bensen & Hedges commercials used to say, "you've come a long way baby." Needless to say now we're experiencing a renaissance of online experiences with social networking, streaming movies, music & video and the cloud. Which, by the way, Is hovering over all of us, ready to consume us if we let it. But I'll save that subject for another day. But there has been some movement in the market the last couple of years with some trends developing and I'll try to share some of my insights with you. If you're on the cusp of making a decision to switch internet providers maybe these insights will help or then again if you consider the source, put all of this where it belongs, you decide.
I'll start with the main players in our area today. You have AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner and Charter Cable. It pretty much works out that you have three choices from where to get your Internet service. You can get DSL service from your telephone company, cable provider or your wireless phone service. All of them have advantages and disadvantages. I shall elaborate.
- Wireless Internet: The "GRID" as I call it has improved greatly over the last few years. Gone are the days of "Can you hear me now?" You are hard pressed to find a spot with no cell reception in Ventura County unless you get up into the Los Padres National Forrest. They have mounted cell towers everywhere disguised as palm trees and other natural objects. They say if you have prolonged exposure to the microware energy outputted by these transmission towers it can lead to health problems. Consider yourself being cooked for a long period of time in a microwave oven set at the lowest setting. They say the new smart meters from SCE have the same effect. I just got a notice that they are replacing the row of meters directly on the other side of my shop wall this next month. So I will be exposed to the radiation of almost 20 of these critters on a constant basis. If my testicles swell up to the point I'm walking around with a wheel barrow I'm going to blame somebody. They say there are no health risks but I'm not so sure. Anyway, you can now get internet service for your PC, notebook, netbook or handheld device for about $50.00 a month last time I checked. The main advantage to this service is you are able to get to the Internet anywhere there is cell phone coverage. This is a huge asset for some people who are not in static location when the online need arises. The main disadvantage is the service is more expensive than other plans and has much slower connection speeds. There are also issues with bandwidth throttling. If you use this service too much your service will be throttled down with some plans. Definitely something to consider when shopping for a plan.
- DSL: This service is the most popular because of many factors. Mostly because it will piggy back on your existing phone service. In the beginning when people had separate phone lines just for internet service you could cancel your 2nd line and pay for the "new" high-speed service. At that time any DSL speed was extraordinary. DSL does have it limits though. It is totally dependent upon line quality and distance from the main switchbox on the street. Certain areas, rural locations and also those near the ocean have a difficult time. In DSL it's location, location, location. If you don't have it you're screwed on bandwidth. In fact, just because they promise you a certain speed, they really don't have to deliver it. The slowest service is 1.5mbps download. They say up to 1.5, but what you don't know is they will only guarantee you half of that. I have had clients only getting 768k download and AT&T support says that's all you're going to get and you might as well be happy about it. If you get pissed off at them and order up DSL Extreme or NetZero you still have to carry the signal over there lines. There are those out there who argue that one DSL service is better than the others but if you ask me, they all have problems. Don't get me wrong, I have AT&T DSL at home and it works quite reliability. I have to call them occasionally to lower my bill when they jack it up but other than that I'm satisfied with the service. On the other hand some of my clients in trouble spots have AT&T tech support horror stories all day long. Sometimes you just have to hope on the luck of the draw. So the advantages of DSL are fast service starting at under $20.00 a month, with easy add-on of service with your existing phone line. You can even order a dry line and have DSL service even if you have no other phone service now. The disadvantages of DSL are slow speeds in bad locations and the fact that they jack up your rates after the first year and if you don't call to complain you get charged too much for service. One more thing though. Even at the high rates it's still slower than cable. This brings us to our last category.
- Cable: By far the fastest of all the services. The Three big players in our area are Time Warner, Charter & Verizon's FIOS. FIOS comes with a maximum home user plan of 50/20 - available as individual or bundle tier. The tiers are distinguished by data transmission speed measured in Mbit/s downstream and upstream. Time Warner has a 30Mbit download and Charter has an Ultra 100Mbp package for $60.00 a month. Now that may sound good but to get that price you have to bundle and the price is only good for 12 months. Cable providers had gotten a real bad reputation the last few years for poor customer service and shoddy quality due to virtual monopoly of service. Since then most providers have upgraded the cable systems and competition has fostered a renewed desire to keep existing customers and reclaim those who have left. The pricing has improved so much that they can offer better service for less than DSL. Let me give you an example. I have some good clients, a retired couple living in Ojai. They had AT&T's elite service of 6mps download speed. Their $25.00 month teaser rate for one year expired and they were bumped up to the $43.00 per month. I called AT&T to see if they could drop the price under threat of switching to a competitor. I was placed on hold for 45 minutes. During that time I ordered Time Warner Internet services 10Mpb download service for $29.99 a month. Mind you they gave them a free modem with no service contract agreement. The rate would go up after a year of course but at that time my clients could then switch back to AT&T at the discount rate. Time warner showed up to run cable and lo & behold when we ran a speed test it showed a whopping 27.5Mbps download speed. Almost three times the rate contracted for. I told them to go down right away to the store and buy as many lottery tickets as they could afford because they were hot and not to waste their good fortune. Anyway they ignored my lottery idea. But this goes to show that I believe right now cable is turning out to be the best internet service available. You get the ability to effectively stream movies without delay. The prices are now competitive and the service is on par with others, if not better at times. All in all, having competition and multiple providers is all good. I can't predict what would happen tomorrow or else I'd be buying lottery tickets. But I do know now that cable is shaping up as the consumers choice for internet service.