Internet Speed Hype

Reportedly, the USA is falling behind the rest of the world in bandwidth:

The 2008 median real-time download speed in the U.S. is a mere 2.3 megabits per second. This represents a gain of only 0.4 mbps over last year’s median download speed. It compares to an average download speed in Japan of 63 mbps, the survey reveals.

US also trails South Korea at 49 mbps, Finland at 21 mbps, France at 17 mbps, and Canada at 7.6 mbps, and the median upload speed was just 435 kilobits per second (kbps), far too slow for patient monitoring or to transmit large files such as medical records.

But don’t tell Chris Blizzard’s commenters.  He writes about Comcast’s annoucement of a 250GB/month bandwidth cap, and gets an earful from commenters from Canada and Europe:

A boo hoo hoo. Major Canadian ISPs have had a limit of 60 GB for months, if not years.

Oh wait… probably the same way as most of the world manages on 10-20GB, for far more money than you’re paying for $250. Not a lot of sympathy from this corner…

Yep, no sympathy from here either — in Australia, with the only _independant_ ISP left, $280 AUD gets you 100GB.  $50 with a major telco (the rest of the ISPs here) gets you 5GB.

eg with my current ISP, a 8 MB line with a 300 GB monthly cap costs 20 GBP/month. A 8 MB line with unlimited bandwidth costs 160 GBP/month. Quite a difference!

I pay the equivalent of $40 a month for 30GB, and extra GB on top are $3 each. That’s with Plus Net (

I’m in South Africa paying about $130 for a 10GB cap.

So who’s really better off?  By my calculations, if a Canadian ISP provides 7.8 mb/s with a 60 GB cap, that’s about 17.5 hours per month of sustained maximum bandwidth before you’ve blown your limit.  By contrast, an American ISP with 2.3 mb/s and a 250 GB cap gives you about 247 hours per month of sustained maximum bandwidth.

Perhaps part of the answer is that only one country–Canada–shows up in the list of “faster countries” and in the comments section of Chris’s post.  That could explain the apparent disconnect; maybe Great Britain and Australia are worse off than the USA, while Finland and Japan are better off.

Still, this does bring the question to mind: which is better, raw speed, or the ability to actually use it without fear?

10 thoughts on “Internet Speed Hype

  1. “which is better, raw speed, or the ability to actually use it without fear?”

    Well, both is better. In France, none of the major ISPs sets limits on used bandwidth. The lucky ones who are getting 100 Mbits fiber access pay the same price (30 to 50 € per month), without a limit either. AFAIK the same holds for Japan, where fiber is the rule.

  2. In Finland major ISPs don’t set limits on used bandwith either. I think limiting amount of traffic is a far worse setback than just having a smaller average speed.

  3. What good is a really fast line when you can’t use it? Take your Canadian example – you can only use your line at full capacity for less than a day before hitting some totally absurd cap, even with the slowest speed available from the big ISPs. I call that absolutely bonkers.

    If an ISP actually has the capacity in their network to offer all their customers the speeds they advertise, they wouldn’t need to place caps, and they most certainly wouldn’t need to rate limit 10 hours a day *cough*BELLCANADA*cough*. Caps and rate limiting are always definitive proof that a given ISP can’t deliver on the speed it promises, and either they’re incompetent, or they care more about mantaining their obscene profits than they care about satisfying their customers. Basically what these ISPs are doing is exploiting the limited knowledge of their customers on subjects like megabits and gigabytes.

    I recently cancelled my 7Mbit/1Mbit line from Bell in favour of a 5Mbit/800Kbit line with no limits from a smaller ISP, all because I’m so fed up with these deceptive telecoms conglomerates and their asinine, anti-customer policies. My new ISP has 2 plans, both with the same speed. The unlimited is $40/mo and the other has as 200GB/mo cap for $30/mo, which is at least in line with the monthly capacity of the upload stream. I really loved having a megabit of upload capacity(I wanted more though!), so much that I’m a little sad that I’ll soon have less – but I was sadder supporting a company that was quite happy to lie to me, alter contract terms and implement these horrendous policies.

    250GB/mo isn’t the same kind of slap in the face that the 60GB/mo the major Canadian ISPs offer their customers(at least in my area), but if Comcast is offering lines of 20Mbit/s down and more than 1Mbit/s up, then it’s certainly awful close to one.

  4. Geoff: caps aren’t always about that. In Australia, international traffic is the most significant cost to an ISP, which is why we have quotas. The non-incumbent ISPs don’t bother capping ADSL speed, you can go as fast as your line allows (up to 24/1mbps, or 20/3 for business accounts with Annex M), with the majority able to get 10mbps+. Most of the countries that are uncapped are non-english speaking, so a lot of their traffic is local, vs .au, .za and .uk. .ca has no real excuse for quotas though.

    Back to the question, I have 8/1 and could probably get 24/1 if I upgraded my modem, but there’s no point since my quota would be the same. So beyond a certain point (which I’d say is somewhere between 2-4mbps) speed becomes less important. Obviously once you get towards 100mbps there are things you can do with that speed that just aren’t feasible at lower speeds, but basically no-one has residential access close to that at the moment.

  5. It’s all a matter of perspectives. My ISP ( doesn’t throttle or cap – they just have charges for exceeding a contracted usage level. My current package gives me 3GB/month peak time, 100GB/month offpeak, and unlimited nighttime usage.

    I find the raw speed far more useful than the ability to use my line 24/7. Typical uses for me include pulling source code from a VCS, then working on it, or browsing the web. In the first case, time spent waiting for the pull to complete is wasted time; in the second case, I’d rather pull in a big page (e.g. quickly, and not have to wait for it to load progressively.

  6. Indeed, both is best. In The Netherlands virtually no ISP has a montly cap, and one can get 20MBit/s downstream 1MBit/s upstream for ~20 Euro per month.

    Of course, most areas of Netherlands are densely populated, which lowers infrastructure costs.

  7. ThePhone.Coop (UK) doesn’t cap, but charges extra if you go over your subscription amount. We have a monitoring system that lets you check your usage fairly easily and set up email alerts when your prepaid amount is almost used up. (I work for agent AG_471 of ThePhone.Coop but I think I’d like them anyway.)

  8. I urge anyone who has never had to deal with caps to read my post about HughesNet satellite “high-speed” Internet access. “UnusableNet” would be a much better name. Run afoul of their limits and your connection clamps to FAR WORSE than 21.6 dialup!

    It is impossible to do what I do even when I paid $140 a month for their “Pro” version. (I hit the cap almost immediately on their $70 month version!) Read the answers I got when I escalated the problems to their “Executive Customer Care” people:
    * We aren’t supposed to EVER open more than one tab at a time
    * They never claimed their service would work for filling out forms on the Internet on sites like Yahoo Local or Google Maps
    * That even if I couldn’t use the Internet there was absolutely nothing wrong – I should just “wait a few hours and try again”

    If THAT is where this is going, intelligent Internet users are in for deep problems. If you only open one tab at a time and don’t actually DO anything online besides wander around it might work – maybe – but no YouTube or other videos, no downloading large files, and you will have to install software or update your operating system in the middle of the night.

    The plutocracy appears to have decided that China is the new golden country and the time for the U.S. to need cutting edge technology is over. The facts are all in evidence including this from your post here:

    “This represents a gain of only 0.4 mbps over last year’s median download speed.”

    So-called High Speed access in the U.S. is a joke. If you live beyond the reach of cable or DSL – and even those often limit speed. Your best bet is to find an independent point-to-point wireless ISP aka a WISP. Links to do that are in my post linked to this comment. If there isn’t one get some people together and get an existing wireless ISP to expand to your area.

    This issue affects another kind of wireless: that sold by cell phone companies. BEFORE you decide to switch be sure the limits aren’t too limiting and it gets reception where you plan to use it. There is an excellent company in that post that can assist you in the best equipment and service provider in your specific area.

    Something else you need to know: satellite and cell ISP contracts can be extremely difficult to get out of even when THEY break them by not providing the service you are paying for. I am still paying $70+ a month for that almost worthless HughesNet connection (I use it for backup and to monitor Social Network accounts) and will be for a long time.

    It costs almost twice what my WISP charges for a connection that is almost at 6 meg download now. (The WISP did not have service in this area when I first needed high speed.) The new Canopy equipment they use can hit towers over 10 miles away. (In rural areas they put the equipment on water towers; in cities on tall buildings or nearby hills/mountains).

    I HIGHLY recommend a good wireless company over any other available choice. DO read their reviews as wireless equipment is prone to damage during lightening storms and some companies are much better at restoring service than others.

    As for true improvements we are not likely to see those because those who control what happens do not care what we want.

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