dctrud's Random Road

Occasional unimportant nonsense.

2020-08-08 - The Sad State of US Internet Access

Haven't posted on this gemlog for a bit as work has been rather busy and I've not felt like tapping the keys on the laptop from the sofa in the evening. Now that I did plan to do some internet-y things I'm stuck without internet access, for the 3rd time in as many months.

We live in one of the largest urban areas in the US, but thanks to the corrupt structures that talk about 'encouraging competition' without actually doing anything to support that, we can pick from 2 internet providers. One is a cable network provider, and one is the the local telephone network provider. In our case we are luckier than many as the telephone provider has a fiber optic network, so we have that available instead of DSL. Both options advertise internet access speeds in the 100s of Mbps, and they do provide that on a good day. The down side is that they have horrendous outages and terrible support. They will also give you a half decent price for about a year, but then jack it up a huge amount so that you are forced to keep switching between them to keep the cost down to a reasonable level.

Right now we are using the cable provider. We have periods of slow or intermittent access every week. History tells us that the cable network has marginal signal-to-noise, and lots of errors especially upstream. We can't actually check on that now though, as the provider has locked down their cable modems so the customer cannot access any signal status page. In the online account management you'll always see 'connection good' even when you are having trouble browsing at all. Customer service will insist things 'look fine', and aren't interested in details like packet loss statistics, failing speed test runs etc. that indicate an obvious problem. Faced with some detail from a computer connected over wired ethernet you'll get told it's a WiFi issue, or to try turning everything off and back on again.

Aside from the common slow speeds and short outages we have periodic total outages for multiple hours. I'm now sat with this computer tethered to my phone as the internet has been completely down for 5 hours this Saturday. This is the 3rd similar outage in as many months that has *not* been linked to any weather event.

Our cable provider is Spectrum. They are the result of Charter and Time Warner merging a while back. Under that agreement they had to promise not to impose data caps or raise certain prices for a period of time. They are currently trying to get the FCC to allow them to impose data caps and raise prices early, against the agreement made for the merger. The way the FCC works these days I'd guess they are quite likely to succeed.

This morning we looked again at switching back to the fiber provider. They also have a terrible history of customer support and outages, but our luck on cable seems to have gone severely downhill lately. Frontier, the fiber provider, are now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy which isn't a good start toward being confident they'd be any better now. Pricing is as opaque as ever. They simply will not tell you the taxes and fees on top of their listed price until you sign-up. They do declare a $3 'internet infrastructure surcharge', though. They also require a $10/month wi-fi router payment, despite the fact the service comes into the house through a standard ethernet cable, and we won't be buying IPTV service that requires their special router.

10 years ago we lived in the UK, and though we only had ADSL available we could pick from multiple providers. The choices available often had cheap, clear pricing, and we stayed with a provider at the same price for several years. Our speeds were actually increased at no cost and I can't remember any lenghty outage at all.

It's hard to comprehend the mess of anti-competive rules that lead to the cable / telephone provider abusive duopoly in much of the US. Providers in urban areas advertise speeds which are fairly good compared to other countries, but they are massively unreliable and expensive. Rural areas of the US have extremely poor coverage. Some places do have genuninely competitive municipal or commercial fiber or wireless providers, but most are not lucky enough to benefit from them.

The internet connection just came back on as I finish writing this... 5 1/2 hours this time. It's a weekend so it didn't impact working from home. I suppose I should try to look on the bright side, as this is not something that looks like it'll get better any time soon.

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