August 1, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Ups and downs of consumer broadband
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the need for faster upload speeds. For example, SBC Communications announced in August 2004 that it had raised its upload speeds to 256kbps from 128kbps on its basic service and to 416kbps from 384kbps for its premium service. And it has raised upload speeds on its basic service yet again to 384kbps.
But for the most part, broadband providers have not raised upload speeds at the same rate that they have increased download speeds. For example, when Comcast recently boosted its download speeds from 4mbps to 6mbps for its basic service and 6mbps to 8mbps for its premium service, it kept the upload speeds the same: 384kbps for the basic service, 768kbps for the premium.
"We pay close attention to the needs of our customers," said Jeanne Russo, a spokeswoman for Comcast. "We think we have hit the sweet spot in terms of our upload speeds. But we will continue to pay close attention to what our customers want."
While most major broadband providers today offer at least one service option with download speeds exceeding 1mbps, only two--Cablevision and Verizon--offer upload speeds over 1mbps throughout most of their service regions.
Cablevision offers 1mbps uploads with 10mbps downloads for a standalone price of $49.95. A representative confirmed that Cablevision, which serves the New York City suburbs, is testing a 20mbps download and 2mbps upload service.
Verizon, which competes with Cablevision in some markets, recently upgraded its DSL service. It now offers 3mbps downloads with 1.5mbps uploads for qualified customers for $29.99 per month. Since DSL speeds degrade over longer distances, customers must live within a certain distance of Verizon's central office to get the upgraded speeds. Subscribers to Verizon DSL must also purchase local telephone access from Verizon to get the service.
Verizon is also offering faster download and upload speeds with its new fiber-based service, called Fios, which is currently being built in several states throughout the carrier's local phone territory. The lowest-tier Fios service offers a 5mbps download/2mbps upload combination for $39.95 per month. The service, which uses fiber directly connected into people's homes, can also offer up to 30mbps downloads and 5mbps uploads for $199 per month.
Verizon's aggressive service offering has prompted competitors to raise speeds on their services in certain regions. Adelphia and Cox Communications have each announced that they're increasing upload speeds to 2mbps in targeted markets. Adelphia offers a 16mbps down/2mbps up service in Northern Virginia. And Cox offers 5mbps/2mbps and 15mbps/2mbps services in Northern Virginia and Rhode Island.
But for the majority of broadband consumers, upload speeds exceeding 1mbps can be obtained only by subscribing to expensive business packages. Ron Gonzalez pays $50 per month for a 3mbps/256kbps service in Burbank, Calif., from Charter Communications. In order to get the upload speeds he needs to share video over the Net, he said he'd have to subscribe to a business service that costs more than $100 per month.
"I resent the fact that they sell fast upload speeds only as part of business packages," he said. "I've been a Charter customer for four years, and overall I'm satisfied with the service. The download speeds are great, but the pricing structure is frustrating."
The gulf between download and upload speeds isn't likely to narrow anytime soon. Engineering a symmetrical broadband network is too expensive to deploy and maintain, said Glenn Lock of Adelphia. Uncapping upload speeds could create a strain on the network. But most important, service providers claim that the vast majority of customers don't need that much bandwidth. Many analysts agree.
"In a perfect world, symmetrical speeds would be better," said Mike Paxton, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR. "But only a small segment of broadband users really need higher upload speeds. Until we see a ground swell of customer demand, there's no reason for service providers to change it."
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