Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On internet service in metropolitan centers

I live in a large city in western Washington. Bellevue.
I'm in practically the second largest tech center in the world.
I can literally walk to the Microsoft Headquarters in less than 25 minutes.
I have two real options for internet.

In a day when internet video streaming has become so ubiquitous, it's beyond belief that the pipelines that bring that video to all of our electronic devices is so completely and utterly broken.

I'm lucky! I pay for 150Mbps down and 10Mbps up and it only costs me $51 per month including a modem rental. In reality I get about 125Mbps down, 13Mbps up, and a 15ms ping. In many parts of this country, people are paying three to four or more times that price for orders of magnitude worse service.

The difference is I am in a city. Not any city but a tech city that encompasses huge companies like Valve and T-Mobile USA and is right next to the Headquarters of Microsoft, Nintendo America, Amazon, and major corporate offices of Google and Facebook. That seems like enough to warrant some decent internet service right? How else are you going to enjoy 50+ GB games from Steam, 4K video streaming from amazon, and endless YouTube videos?

The problem is that regardless of these facts, I and everyone else around here save for a couple dozen high-rise apartment buildings downtown are stuck between two ISPs. The great Satan, Comcast, and Centurylink.
I can get the service that I get for the price I pay or if for some reason I don't feel like supporting Comcast I always have the great choice of paying $40 a month for blazing fast 7 or 12Mbps "broadband" service.

The funny thing is that on the off chance that I'm watching cable TV I'm seeing advertisements for Centurylink's Gigabit Fiber service for only $80* a month or Comcast's seemingly heavenly 2Gbps Fiber.

The issue here is that as far as I've seen, Centurylink's service is only available in half-a-neighborhood in Seattle and that star you see next to the $80 there is because you've also got to pay an extra $40 a month for TV and sign a yearlong contract.

The issue with Comcast's fantastic service I found after a wonderful call with their representatives is many fold. Funny story, the automatic voiceover for the Fiber hotline tells you about their "Two Gigabyte" Fiber service. The service however not only costs a whopping $300 per month plus a $20 per month mandatory modem rental but also requires a $500 installation fee as well as a $500 activation fee as well as a two year contract with a $1150 cancellation fee. Not only that but they also reserve the right to institute an arbitrary data cap on that service whenever they feel like it during that contract. To top all of that off you can be forced wait between six to eight weeks for the installation to even occur in the first place.

If you're not familiar with Comcast's fantastic new data cap policies that they've instituted in the southeast then I'll enlighten you. They decided that they weren't making enough money despite record profits so they thought they'd cap the internet that you already pay handsomely for at a measly 350GB per month and charge $10 per 50GB you went above that cap. If you're like me and enjoy in excess of 3 Terrabytes of data a month then you're suddenly paying an extra $530 a month if you forgot to pay the 35 bucks to wave the cap in the first place.

Luckily Comcast was gracious and just recently upped that cap to a marginally more reasonably 1TB of data per month but raised data cap waver up to $50.

I know that a whole Terrabyte sounds like a lot and it is but you also have to remember the following.
modern video games are now in excess of 50GB a piece, a 1080p Blu-ray movie is 50GB with 4K Blu-rays reaching 100GB, and video streaming in general tends to consume in excess of 2GB per hour for low quality 1080p streams.

Once you're enjoying high quality content, have multiple family members, or use your internet for high capacity offsite backups, 1TB stops being a lot of data.

I've done some calculations based on the $625 + $50 I spend right now on rent for a small room and internet and the fact that I could rent one of these apartments with true $80 Gigabit fiber for $1250 plus the internet.

If I needed Gigabit internet for less than 6 months, it would literally be cheaper for me to move to this fancy studio apartment with a full kitchen, washer/dryer, the whole shebang, and move back afterwards than it would be to get Comcast Fiber and pay the whole installation fees, service, and cancellation fees.

Orange = Fancy Apartment + GigaWave
Blue = Comcast Fiber and Rented Room

We need Google Fiber like Gigabit service for less than $100 and we need it in more than a dozen smaller cities nationwide. Just because some of us are still cool with dial-up doesn't mean most of us are. We massively under-invest in infrastructure which is why we're seeing bridges and roads collapse far too often but I'd argue that internet infrastructure is even more important for the future where we can get Amazon drones delivering everything and VR becomes something uncannily like reality.

Thanks for reading my little rant and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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