Are you getting what you pay for?

If not, you better ask somebody!

I checked out a great forum that I frequent from time to time (http;//www.howardforums.com), in search of an answer to a Blackberry problem. I did solve the problem, but of course I wound up getting sucked into different topics altogether. One of the people who posted a comment had an interesting link in his signature (http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/speed_bumps), to the “Best Marketplace episode ever”. I must say, I DID thoroughly enjoy it. For anyone who is not familiar, Marketplace is a television show on CBC and “Whether it is a slick scam or maddening customer service, CBC News: Marketplace weeds out wrongdoing against consumers, and puts pressure on people in power to set things right.”

Essentially, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) advertise high-speed Internet with the famous “up to” much like clothing stores use “from” or “and up” in their pricing on racks. It may say “from $9.99” but you better believe that a handful of items are that price and many are more expensive. Once those items have been sold, do you think the sign changes? I doubt it. Similarly, Internet download speeds are marketed but if specific addresses can’t ACTUALLY achieve those speeds, do you think the provider is going to offer a less expensive option? Don’t count on it.

So how are you supposed to know what speeds you’ll be able to get at your address? The short answer is you probably won’t. Internet speeds do depend on a number of factors (location, equipment, network setup, etc) and most ads mention this in their miniature print.

We ignore it because we don’t want to believe that we’ll be in the group that CAN’T get the greatest, fastest download speeds. We convince ourselves that they write that to cover their ASCII’s (nice, eh?) but that WE will certainly get the 5/10/15 mbps that is advertised. We might, some of the time. And the rest of the time it may not reach the advertised speeds. Which begs the question: If I’m averaging 2.5 mbps (megaBITS, not megaBYTES) download speeds when I’m paying for 5 mbps, should I still have to pay the same price as someone who ACTUALLY gets 5 mbps?

I certainly don’t think so, and I doubt you do either. Can you imagine the chaos if all the customers who checked their speeds (http://www.speedtest.net/) contacted their ISP’s when speeds did not reach what is advertised? I am willing to bet that more than half of you reading this have never checked your Internet download speed to see if you’re getting what you pay for. Doing it once isn’t the best indicator. Checking at different times of the day over the course of a week or so will give you the best results.

NICKtionary

mbps – what the heck does this mean and how can you make sense of it?
I won’t get into complex math or definitions. Just know this:
1 megabyte = 8 megabits
So if your ISP advertised 8 mbps then you’d know that every second you should be able to download 1 MB (approximately ? of an MP3).

If your ISP isn’t advertising this then how do you calculate it? 5 mbps would be 5/8 of what 8 mbps would be, which translates to 5/8 of 1 MB. Using 1000 KB per MB (it’s really 1024, but for simplicity’s sake many people use 1000) you’d be looking at about 625 KB per second.

I pay for 5 mbps and most of the time when I check my speed I’m in the 4.5-5 mbps range. How are YOU doing? Are you getting what you pay for? In the news recently is Google’s outrage at Bell’s practice of “slowing certain internet traffic” (http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2008/07/07/tech-crtc.html?ref=rss), so if you’re not reaching your “up to” speeds, there could be several factors at play. Oh Interwebz, why can’t you just always be fast?