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Are speedometers for high-speed Internet service a new must-have?

With all the recent discussions, testimonies and other rhetoric given by spokespeople from the incumbent telephone companies, cable companies, their opponents as well as their lobbyists, we should be asking this simple question: "Are they delivering what they are charging for with these various broadband products?"

What speed are you really running at on your PC? Have you ever checked? Are you getting a half T-1 for a full T-1 price? These would seem to be good questions to put to rest all the allegations and charges that customers are bringing forth. Some people are saying they aren’t getting what they bought. If that is the case, we have much stronger issues to resolve before moving forward to more complex issues.

Is Comcast delivering?

Who checks the scales and pumps at the store and at gas stations to ensure their accuracy for the consumer? State and local agencies make these checks. They have been doing this for years because consumers were always leery of stores cheating them with inaccurate scales and pumps. Should we start doing the same for the Internet and network service providers?

Some customers of Comcast in Michigan are checking the network speeds they are getting and finding out that they are not getting what they have bought. Theo Gantos, a former student of mine who now lives in Flint, Mich., did several speed tests and found out he wasn’t getting what he bought. His test results and comments follow:
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Here are two speed tests to Speakeasy’s speed test server in Chicago. They were done just a few minutes apart:

March 17, 2006 at 11:10 p.m.

Download speed: 1121 Kbps (140.1 Kb/sec transfer rate)

Upload speed: 344 Kbps (43 Kb/sec transfer rate)

March 17, 2006 at 11:14 p.m.

Download speed: 1792 Kbps (224 Kb/sec transfer rate)

Upload speed: 337 Kbps (42.1 Kb/sec transfer rate)


Speed test result from DSLreports. on March 17, 2006 at 11:19 p.m.:

Download speed: 1285 Kbps (160.7 Kb/sec transfer rate) (71.7 percent worse than an average user on Comcast.net)

Upload speed: 351 Kbps (43.8 Kb/sec transfer rate) (10.4 percent worse than an average user on Comcast.net)


Are the PUCs doing their job?

The tests appear to show something is definitely wrong with the transmission. This is from a corresponding article that focused on his dilemma:

Gantos plans to present evidence at the upcoming quarterly Flint Cable Commission meeting this month and discuss suggestions to improve network performance and customer service for subscribers in Flint, Mich. Gantos feels that Comcast has a "major failure in its tech support escalation and resource coordination processes" that is unlike other major telecoms Gantos has worked with over the years.

He added: "Comcast does not appear to coordinate technical resources, [does not want to] discuss potential problems and is slow to post known outages for subscribers calling into tech support." This was most recently evident during the cutover last summer to the new in-house modem provisioning system (codenamed "Bedrock").


Quality assurance test

Where is the Michigan Public Utilities Commission at in ensuring quality levels of service? For that matter, where are all the state utility boards when it comes to even knowing where to find a test let alone how to run it to uncover network problems at the consumer level? What quality assurance tests do all PUCs run regularly to ensure that the network is providing what network providers are charging?

As more people go out and buy the "broadband product" from different carriers and network providers, who’s going out and ensuring that they are getting what they purchased? The average consumer doesn’t have a network operations center (NOC) running in their basement and monitoring their network connections. They are buying the service and assuming that they are getting what they bought.

Network speed indicators

While a "Netometer" sounds so basic, it seems as though we are taking for granted the claims and marketing hype from our carriers. With all these "next-generation services," are they really delivering what they promise? How can you tell?

Maybe we should have network speedometers running constantly on the upper right-hand corner of your screen to show the speeds at which your lines are running. That really sounds like a good idea. Across the board, every carrier should provide a little dashboard-type icon that clearly shows a real-time readout of your network speeds.

If they did that, they might be jammed with phone calls stating that the speed was nowhere near what people bought. Instead of all the complex regulations that most people can’t understand, maybe the PUCs could require something like this so the average consumer could see whether or not the broadband service was actually performing the way it should.

They have meters on every house to show the amount of electricity used. How come you don’t have a virtual Netometer on your screen showing how much bandwidth is being used?

Carlinism: You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Comments

CarrieM responded 8 years ago: #1

Great article! I suspect if more consumers knew how to test they would. I suggest trying http://www.dslreports.com/stest which has a free upload/download report. It even allows you to compare the results or what other users are getting in your area. Good resources too.

LynnW responded 7 years ago: #2

Great article...makes you think. So often people trust what someone tells them. They do not think of the whole picture on how things come to be. Personally, I am one of those who had no thoughts that I could be cheated. The common person using the Internet does not understand. Someone needs to be looking out for the best interest of every consumer. Whom better than our government?

austinian responded 7 years ago: #3

Most PCs already have a spedometer built in, in Windows XP and Vista, it's called the task manager networking tab. The problem with it is that it isn't always easy to understand. Also, another problem is that users will rarely use the full capacity of their Internet connection. The reason for this is that the majority of the servers they connect to don't deliver information to any one person at such high speeds. This would cause a person with a spedometer installed to believe that they aren't receiving their full service. The only way to test that your connection to your ISP is what you are paying for is to test that connection with their software on their server, not some website, because you will get a slowdown from all the intermediate connections between your ISP and the website you are using to test your speed.

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