Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I drank your milkshake
May 13, 2011 11:08 PM   Subscribe

PBS's excellent weekly news magazine, Need to Know, explains why European broadband speeds are racing ahead of the USA. Britain now has 400 broadband suppliers with service available for as little as $6/month. Bonus: Harvard's Berkman Center reports on broadband supply trends around the world.
posted by anigbrowl (53 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, government regulated competition brings prices down, allowing for innovation, while government granted monopolies on cable keep prices high, stifling innovation? Just as Adam Smith noted?

So that's why the consistent, non-hypocritical Tea Baggers are for competition and Net Neutrality?

Remarks of [FCC] Commissioner [and soon to be top lobbyist for Comcast] Meredith Attwell Baker: Net Neutrality: The Wrong Path for a Pro-Jobs, Pro-Investment Agenda [PDF]

But that's just one hired gun, right?
Christian-right activist David Barton said on his radio program last week that "net neutrality" was against the biblical principle of the free market.

"Net neutrality sounds really good, but it is socialism on the internet," said Barton, president of Wall Builders and former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party.
Oh, America, you are Exceptional!
posted by orthogonality at 11:26 PM on May 13, 2011 [27 favorites]


US telecoms policy is as effective and makes as much sense as the Drug War. Absolutely Soviet.
posted by rhizome at 11:30 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Broadband for $6/month?! Here, Verizon would charge me $12/month for dial-up!
posted by Silly Ashles at 11:31 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I pay $6/month just to pay for the rest of my bill.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:55 PM on May 13, 2011 [24 favorites]


Verizon laid a lot of fiber-optic cable in this area, then got out of the internet business, dumping its customers on tiny Frontier.com which now discourages new business and, according to news stories, will charge $500.00 to move service from on address to another.y
posted by Cranberry at 11:58 PM on May 13, 2011


OK, it's late. "...to move service from one address to another."
posted by Cranberry at 11:59 PM on May 13, 2011


I've got 100 Mbit on tap, maybe $30 a month.
posted by Iteki at 12:05 AM on May 14, 2011


It must be that I miss something here. But I don't see how speeds higher than, say 1 MB, are useful or necessary at this point.
The example they give is of a company that has to share its ad media to clients. That's one rather exceptional need for extremely high bandwidth I think.
I realise that this is a question similar to the infamous "nobody needs more than 1k of memory".
posted by joost de vries at 12:15 AM on May 14, 2011


As anecdotal evidence, a buddy of mine spent a semester abroad studying in Belgium. He was very excited to get his 100Mbps connection... until he found out it came with a 30GB/mo cap. In the US he's quite the downloader, and abroad trying to torrent his favorite shows he blew through his 30GB in a couple days.

He much prefers his 20Mbps Comcast connection in the states (would rather live in Belgium overall though :)
posted by sbutler at 12:20 AM on May 14, 2011


Jeez. $6 a month.
posted by darkstar at 12:29 AM on May 14, 2011


No cap. What's nice about good bandwidth is playing xbox live while streaming music from spotify to the stereo, as my wife watches an on-demand movie and my downloads continue unperturbed in the background. Large amount of bandwidth means never having to say "are you doing something heavy" again.
posted by Iteki at 12:33 AM on May 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


But I don't see how speeds higher than, say 1 MB, are useful or necessary at this point

Do you mean Megabit or Megabyte? Because a 1Mbit connection is glacially slow when streaming films or downloading anything of a decent size. I'm just a bout to change my package to a 24Mb unlimited download connection for about $40 a month, this includes the phone bill too.

At the end of the year 100Mbit will be rolled out in my town (10k pop.) and the idea of paying for a 1Mbit connection starts to feel like dial-up.
posted by fullerine at 12:45 AM on May 14, 2011


Capitalism doesn't work if the government is actively supporting its worst excesses.
posted by Wyatt at 12:46 AM on May 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm jealous. Right now I get a decent 25Mbps unlimited through the cable company. But I pay hella more than $6/mo. DSL/phone company is out of the question-they're still using ancient copper, and I'm lucky to get 1.5Mbps with them. And they aren't much cheaper than cable, either.

For acceptable service, I'm basically stuck with the cable monopoly. I can get third party DSL, but the bottleneck is still the phone company's copper. Who knows when they'll rollout their competitive fiberoptic... even then, they suck as a company.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:53 AM on May 14, 2011


BBC to video to Netflix.
So I've been lately insulted by budgy. We all loves James.
posted by Mblue at 12:56 AM on May 14, 2011


I live in England. The trade-offs of low priced internet are:

- High basic food prices.

- High cost for heating and gas

- Inflated rental property "extras"

- internet to mobile calling is charged at an average of 35 US cents per minute.
posted by parmanparman at 1:02 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


How are those tradeoffs of cheap internet? Those are just other things you have in England.
posted by ryanrs at 1:12 AM on May 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


But I don't see how speeds higher than, say 1 MB, are useful or necessary at this point.

Jesus, are you still on dialup or something? I have a decently fast connection (more than 1 MByte/s), but there are a bunch of things that don't work so well. For example, I'd love to do regular off-site backups to a disk at a friends house, but my connection isn't quite fast enough to make that transparent.
posted by ryanrs at 1:17 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Net Neutrality has nothing to do with competition for delivering broadband.
posted by empath at 1:29 AM on May 14, 2011


It must be that I miss something here. But I don't see how speeds higher than, say 1 MB, are useful or necessary at this point.
The example they give is of a company that has to share its ad media to clients.


For the average home user right now, it's not, really. Part of that is a chicken and egg problem, though. People aren't making web applications that depend on 100MB connections because hardly anyone would be able to use them.
posted by empath at 1:32 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Net Neutrality has nothing to do with competition for delivering broadband.

Of course it does, because a broadband provider can distinguish itself from its competitors, by offering better prices, better service, or by offering a Neutral Net.

If I had a choice between Comcast's tiered internet and a competitor certified by the EFF to deliver an unbiased wire, I'd vote with my dollars and go with the competitor.
posted by orthogonality at 1:39 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Web surfing? Reading email? Watching funny YouTube clips? Yes, you can get by with 1-2Mbps as long as it's low latency.

Want to do that while your brother uses multiplayer on the Xbox? x2. Your sister does video iChat with her annoying friends? x3. I think a family can easily get by at good DSL speeds: 5-6Mbps.

Want to stream HD video from Netflix to your brand new 720p TV? How about a spur of the moment movie download from iTunes (1-2GB)? Now we are easily in the 10-15Mbps range. Perfectly reasonable city speeds in the US.

Now what the media companies want to do is unify their delivery systems around IP. Put three HD receivers in a house with On Demand programming from premium channels (HBO, Showtime) plus support all those services I mentioned above and we're talking 50Mbps. That's what U-verse and FiOS are all about.
posted by sbutler at 1:46 AM on May 14, 2011


If I had a choice between Comcast's tiered internet and a competitor certified by the EFF to deliver an unbiased wire, I'd vote with my dollars and go with the competitor.

But that's exactly the point. 99.99% of consumers don't have a choice. Some people can choose between their local phone monopoly and their local cable monopoly.

Here in DC, Verizon's phone network is almost universally too old to support DSL, while Comcast is so extensively underbuilt that access in most neighborhoods slows to a crawl around dinnertime, and have frequent downtime. FiOS is available in one or two very small pockets, and won't be available citywide until 2022 (not a typo).

You'd think that the ISPs would want to impress the regulators and legislators, but internet connectivity in this city is on par with the third-world.
posted by schmod at 1:59 AM on May 14, 2011


It must be that I miss something here. But I don't see how speeds higher than, say 1 MB, are useful or necessary at this point.

Internet bandwidth is one of those things, like energy, that uses arise to consume. There definitely are uses; the very presence suggests uses that wouldn't otherwise occur to one.

I sense a lot of FUD in the comments here. Maybe it's just my optimistic and sunny outlook.
posted by JHarris at 2:55 AM on May 14, 2011


Ok, time to post some numbers!

30Mbit down / 4 Mbit up, $75/mo for internet only.

Comcast in downtown San Francisco, edge of the financial district. The cable head end / neighborhood box is nearby (in my building or next door).

Caveat: I do not heavily use my internet connection for torrents or servers. I have not pushed the limits.

I have not noticed slow downs correlated to certain times of the day. On rare occasions, the connection is too slow to stream 720p youtube videos. I've not investigated, so I'm not sure what's up with that.

There is no explicit bandwidth cap, although I wouldn't be surprised if 24/7 torrenting was somehow punished. I think the 30 Mbit download speed has some kind of per-connection shaping. Long downloads may be slower after the first while. I believe this is advertised as a feature. Again, not something I have investigated.

A co-worker has Comcast cable in a neighboring city. He pays for "business service" which he says gives him a much more service-neutral bit pipe. Static IPs, no caps of any kind, no weird per-connection shaping, no DNS fuckery. But he pays well over $100/mo for it.
posted by ryanrs at 3:46 AM on May 14, 2011


There is no explicit bandwidth cap,...

Oh, but there is.

Also, there's this.
Last week the Associated Press reported that “Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.”
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on May 14, 2011


Reminder: I live in southeastern France (snooty-sounding version: on the French Riviera). I've been a Free subscriber for 11 years now, and have had unbundled ADSL for seven of those years (now it's ADSL2+). Cost: 30 euros/month for all 11 of those years, and that includes unlimited, free phone calls to EU countries and several international countries (including the US). They recently added free phone calls to mobiles, too. It used to include TV, which I don't watch, so I didn't mind when recent legislation was voted to make television an additional charge on these package internet-phone-TV deals. You have to check a box on your account to get TV now, I think it costs one or two euros extra per month. The Freebox has router and hardware firewall capabilities, and you can also plug in a WiFi card to set up a WiFi network.

Just now checked the bandwidth on my connection. It's 2pm on a Saturday: the test gave download at 12.23 Mbit/s (1.53 Mb/s) and upload at 4.14 Mbit/s (529.35 kb/s).
posted by fraula at 5:00 AM on May 14, 2011


Oh, but there is [a bandwidth cap]

Yeah, not surprising. But it's not something I'd run into. As I said, my friend buys their business service, which he says avoids all the restrictions. I don't know if he's actually tested it by torrenting 24/7, but he's happy with the service. Costs a bit more than residential service:
Mbit/s   $/month
down up  res bus
12    2   60  60
20    4   70 100
50   10  115 190
100  10  200 370

posted by ryanrs at 5:30 AM on May 14, 2011


I remember when BT was forced to allow the competition into their exchanges. They were not happy about it, not happy at all.

I live in England. The trade-offs of low priced internet are:

- High basic food prices.

- High cost for heating and gas

- Inflated rental property "extras"


The energy companies are effectively running a monopoly in the same way that BT and the cable companies used to, and they're quite blatantly screwing the country over. I don't know enough about the industry to know what must be done, but I do know mutterings from the regulator won't get us very far.
posted by Summer at 6:01 AM on May 14, 2011


It's like they limit broadband competition in the US to keep speeds down and make it annoying to download large files, like movies for instance. But we all know that couldn't possibly be true.
posted by tommasz at 6:22 AM on May 14, 2011


According to speedtest my DSL is 7/1 and costs me 80$ a month with my local and long distance phone service too. I don't feel ripped off as this cost is split 3 ways with housemates. But the only thing that more bandwidth offers me is quicker downloads.
posted by glip at 6:23 AM on May 14, 2011


"I pay $6/month just to pay for the rest of my bill."

I pay $11.21/month for the privilege of having a (PHONE! PHONE!) line at all because I live in a "rural area."

That super-famous rural area known as "urban Peoria, 3 miles from downtown."

Oh well. $11.21/month plus a $.50 calling plan plus $30/month for DSL plus all the miscellaneous taxes and fees on the phone bill is STILL cheaper than what Comcast wants to charge me for cable internet.

I'm just interested to see that 150ish years after the creation of home telephony, AT&T is still having trouble penetrating such far-distant, deeply-rural markets as DOWNTOWN PEORIA at a reasonable price.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:53 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Christian-right activist David Barton said on his radio program last week that "net neutrality" was against the biblical principle of the free market.
Wait. The biblical principle of the free market? Seriously? Ugh.

By the way, and this is important to point out: If you actually apply a proper 'property rights' theory about cable/broadband it's easy to see that the current situation doesn't have anything to do with the free market, because the cables and wires have to travel through private property. In order to do that, the local governments grant easements to allow the cables through.

So it's only through government force that broadband exists. I suppose you could run the cables under the roads, but that would be expensive and still mean running the cables on government property.

A lot of "libertarians" think of the cable companies "owning" the lines and thus having the right to do whatever they want with them, but that's not really how it works.

Also, I've been thinking. Apparently a lot of people have been bamboozled into thinking "Net Neutrality" means something like bringing the fairness doctrine to the internet. It should be called ISP Neutrality which has the virtue of actually being more accurate.
posted by delmoi at 6:55 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose it could be worse. At least I'm no longer paying for the Spanish-American War.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:55 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


If we are posting stats so, I pay for 100, am pulling down 50 Mbit on a speedtest a few moments ago, but I on wireless over a ten buck router. I said I pay 30 usd earlier, it's actually 40 now that I do a conversion. But on the other hand it's 20 according to the Big Max index, so translate it as you will. I could probably get down the rates with bundling in other stuff, but I haven't made any effort to that at all.

The government here (Sweden) prioritised the building out of internet infrastructure as a democracy issue, that everyone in the country should be able to have decent internet access at a decent price. Many of the smaller cities have extremely cheap or indeed free broadband. Eslöf have 10 Mbits for 3 BMI dollars and Jönköping can have 100 Mbits for 7 bucks a month.
posted by Iteki at 7:05 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


My state just passed the Level Playing Field bill, which should set us back on providing broadband at prices people can afford. There was an amendment to allow local govs to provide service to under served areas, but the cable company got it so if one person in a census tract had broadband, then it wasn't under served. Governor hasn't signed it yet.

What's a good site to do a speed test on my connection? A lot of those sites are kinda hinky looking.
posted by marxchivist at 7:43 AM on May 14, 2011


I recommend those of you who have the option via Android to look into tethering via an app like PDAnet or Klink. I'm in love with it. Google really should look into expanding with it's own brand and over-air-transmissions if the big cellphone companies try and snuff it out or double dip for profits. So far they don't seem to really want that legal fight for fear they can't argue their case and win it would seem.

But yeah, give T-W, Comcast, Verizon the finger.

Tether, my peoples....tether.
posted by Skygazer at 7:45 AM on May 14, 2011


MetaFilter: Doing something heavy.
posted by Eideteker at 7:52 AM on May 14, 2011


The trouble with the US is that it is so damned big that it is really expensive to upgrade the infrastructure enough to bump the averages up. And (I am just guessing here) our demographics are diverse enough that there really isn't enough demand to build a first-class network.

For some reason, I am reminded of the difference between the IL Toll Highway Authority and the "free" roads. They have done a lot of improvements lately, so the difference is amplified, but I think it somehow translates. For the princely sum of about 3 cents per mile, I can drive on nice, well maintained roads with a minimum of congestion. The "free" roads are poorly maintained and not nearly as nice. Small example of maintenance- the tollways go through every year and seal the cracks with tar so the cracks don't turn into bigger cracks. The regular highways don't seem to get that.

Same thing with the parking meters in Chicago. Everyone loves to complain about the high cost, but there is one problem that was solved: street parking is a viable alternative in the city now. In most areas, you can get a parking spot within a block or two of your destination, run your errand(s) and it costs $1 an hour. Previously, when it was cheaper, the parking was almost always full and unavailable.

My point: I would like to see some sane pricing of broadband. Change the incentives to the providers so that they lay fat pipes to the house, and then charge some nominal per-GB rate. This would allow the poor (and/or cheap) consumers to have adequate access, moderate users to pay roughly the same as they do now, and heavy users pay a bit more.

Because while the oft-cited idea that downloading a lot of data versus not makes no difference, as the pipes are just sitting there doing nothing, is only true in one direction. Yes, it costs the same to maintain the equipment whether it is idle or fully utilized. But it does start to cost money when the utilization is so high as to need to be upgraded. A LOT of money. Why should the average users' rates continue to go up when their usage isn't what is making the upgrades necessary?

If your backhaul capacity is 1GB, then it doesn't matter whether it is 1000 people using 1MB or four people using 250GB, each GB of usage contributes to the utilization of the backhaul equally. So charge that way, and nobody gets soaked.

The current rate structure encourages that line of thought. It costs a (relative) lot of money just to get hooked up, and people rightly feel entitled to get what they pay for. And then with caps and tiers, it costs a ridiculous amount of money to accidentally need to bump up a tier.
posted by gjc at 7:53 AM on May 14, 2011


You expect me to believe network infrastructure costs more to build and maintain than electricity or water or sewage? No way.
posted by ryanrs at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Christian-right activist David Barton said on his radio program last week that "net neutrality" was against the biblical principle of the free market.

I challenge Mr. Barton to provide a cite from a Medieval European text describing a free market as a biblical principle.

Or, for that matter, a cite from an Ethiopian or Georgian text from the period 500 CE -1000 CE advancing the same argument.

If this is, in fact, a biblical, Christian principle, there should be references to it in the most farflung and obscure branches of Christianity.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:56 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your backhaul capacity is 1GB, then it doesn't matter whether it is 1000 people using 1MB or four people using 250GB

There's so much dark fiber still that that really isn't an issue, from what I understand. It's a lot easier to upgrade infrastructure than the last mile to the customer.
posted by empath at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


the biblical principle of the free market

Is that the same bible that says Moses tied his ass to a tree and walked 20 miles?
posted by Twang at 10:56 AM on May 14, 2011


"You expect me to believe network infrastructure costs more to build and maintain than electricity or water or sewage?"

Infrastructure IS expensive that's why many people use septic tanks for sewage and other means for water. Not that they aren't greedy bastards, but there's a good reason why the U.S. telecoms are pushing for OTA broadband instead of wired. Comparative density levels in the U.S., Europe, and Asia explains a good part of the difference between broadband penetration.
posted by stratastar at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2011


You expect me to believe network infrastructure costs more to build and maintain than electricity or water or sewage?"

People aren't producing 100s of times more shit than they were 10 years ago, and probably won't be producing hundreds of times more shit in another 10 years. Sewage capacity just needs to be upgraded for increases in population, not for increases in per capita defecation rates..
posted by empath at 12:15 PM on May 14, 2011


Is that the same bible that says Moses tied his ass to a tree and walked 20 miles?

I think it's the same bible that talks about how Jesus traipsed through galilee charging for sermons and miracles.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:14 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The trouble with the US is that it is so damned big that it is really expensive to upgrade the infrastructure enough to bump the averages up.

This really isn't true. With that logic, the first places you'd expect to see infrastructure upgrades would be large urban centers. Except that's exactly the opposite of what you have happening in the U.S.--the last places to get upgrades are inner cities, because it's a hell of a lot harder to upgrade or replace lines in a city than it is in the 'burbs. You've got traffic issues, old buildings, old roads, hundreds of years of rats and shit… versus everything all out in the open and exposed on lines. No-brainer.

Take Boston, for instance. It finally ended up taking legal action to get residential high-speed internet availability downtown. These fuckers (telco & cable) were granted local monopolies under the provisions that they upgrade infrastructure, but as soon as the ink dried on the contracts upgrades effectively ground to a halt. I think it was in Philly they tried to set up municipal high-speed wireless but were completely shut down by the entrenched monopolies that went crying like little bitches to the government about "unfair competition." Which was a fucking joke, because in order for the competition to be unfair, they'd have to compete, which first requires you to have an offering to compete with!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:39 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been an LPB (Low Ping Bastard) for a long time, starting in the mid and late 90's I rented a room from a friend who had his home business wired up with a line that was effectively a T1 (it was supposed to be shared with another customer, but there was no other customer). These days I have fiber at home, and yeah, it's really nice. Stream two HD Netflix feeds simultaneously? Sure! While surfing the net? Sure! Download ISOs while the kiddo Skypes with Grandma? Sure!

Of course since I'm in America it's expensive, more than $60/month. But dropping it is practically unthinkable, so bring on the competition!
posted by NortonDC at 7:32 PM on May 14, 2011


Meanwhile, I'd really like someone to run some cables out to my area. I have to pay for satellite internet. $90/month for really slow broadband (that is still WAY better than the other option, dial-up) with a 250 MB download limit per day.

I got into a huge argument with my brother, who adamantly insisted that a company couldn't possibly limit me to 250 MB/day. "They couldn't get away with it!" he said. Not really a living in the real world kind of person, my brother.

I totally remember Obama promising broadband in rural areas in his campaign promises. Where is my internet, Mr. President?
posted by threeturtles at 8:45 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not sure if everybody here understands the capacity growth potential of fiber. Once you lay the physical fiber, you can upgrade the bandwidth by just upgrading the transceivers at either end. The glass itself isn't much different between a terabit trans-oceanic fiber and 100 Mbit fiber-to-the-home.

Your basic FIOS fiber can probably realize at least 10,000x bandwidth gain as transceiver technology improves. Hell, you could upgrade to 10 Gbit today with equipment ordered from Newegg.
posted by ryanrs at 10:20 AM on May 15, 2011


I can't even get the ISP I work for to run fiber the 400 feet to my apartment from the switch in the building next to mine. :(
posted by empath at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2011


Minneapolis has 6Mbps WiFi for $30/month. It works well enough for Netflix and Hulu, if not much Bittorrenting. Sure it's not Europe, but I think it's as good as you can do as long as there is monopoly control of cable and phone systems.
posted by miyabo at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2011


I'm glad all that pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-free market ideology in this country is so kicking ass over those necrotic socialistic throwback European countries who're stuck in the stone age.
posted by Skygazer at 10:13 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Original designs for the Thoth Tarot deck, painted...  |  Northern Fur Seal release... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments