The Plague of Modern Internet Speeds

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Recently, I moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Columbus, Ohio. Besides moving to a cooler climate, I wasn’t expecting much change. That was until I decided to move my internet service to the new apartment. The new internet speeds are less than flattering.

Table of Contents

Personal Internet History

When I was a kid, my family had a shared desktop computer. For reference, the monitor was a CRT, and it was probably at least 40 pounds. Around 2008, I started playing World of Warcraft, and I was lucky to get 5 FPS. In other words, be thankful for the technology we have today.

In addition to incredibly slow computers, I used to have internet service that would cut out when the phone rang. Heaven forbid anyone was doing anything important when someone decided to give us a call. On top of that, lightning used to knock the internet service out as well.

At 24, I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the internet for most of my life. Whether it was AOL dial-up as a kid or modern AT&T broadband, I’ve always had some way to connect to the internet. In fact, I spent most of my youth taking advantage of that fact through Xbox Live.

Of course, I eventually had to pay for that internet service myself. Since then, I’ve paid for four different internet packages:

CompanyYearLocationDownload Speed (Mb/s)Upload Speed (Mb/s)Price ($)
Coax Cable2015Edinboro, PAUnknownUnknownUnknown
Time Warner Cable2016Erie, PA50575
AT&T2017Atlanta, GA501040
AT&T2018Columbus, OH181.550

In 2015, I was splitting bills in an apartment, and I couldn’t find any documentation of costs. If I had to guess, we were probably getting internet speeds similar to Columbus but at twice the cost.

Anyway, I present this information because I’m about to go on a pretty solid rant about internet providers, so come along!

How Internet Speeds Work

I’m going to be overly simplistic here, but I think we all need some background before I dive into this little rant. The major concept I want to cover is the following: internet traffic runs in two directions. We call these directions download and upload.

For most people, downloading is obvious. If I want a copy of a song on my computer from the internet, I download it. When I stream YouTube videos, I am actually downloading that video content live.

Naturally, it follows that uploading is the opposite of downloading. If I want to backup my computer on the cloud, I upload my files. When I stream on Twitch, I am uploading my content live.

Notice how downloading and uploading seem like separate processes. As it turns out, they’re not. That’s because data is sent over the internet through the exchange of packets. Every time you receive a packet of data, you have to let the source know that you received it. See why both download and upload matters now?

Keep that in mind as we move forward.

The Plague of Modern Internet Speeds

As technology improves, we would expect everything to scale properly. For example, as Netflix makes streaming popular, we would expect to see increases in download speeds by internet providers. After all, Netflix cannot succeed without proper streaming speeds.

Unfortunately, even as download speeds have increased, there has been a major imbalance in support for upload speeds. And, this really bothers me.

Think about Twitch, a video game streaming website. In order to stream to Twitch, you’ll need about 4 Mbps upload.

And what about cloud sync services? Have you ever wanted to backup your PC to the cloud? As it turns out, I have, and my current provider has prohibitively slow upload speeds.

Apparently in Columbus, 18 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up is all you need according to AT&T. Meanwhile, when I try to upload a single photo from my phone to Google Photos, my internet service essentially grinds to a halt. Really? We’re in 2018, and I’m still dealing with this.

To be honest, I’d be happy with even 3 Mbps upload if it meant being able to upload a photo without taking down everything else. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t any packages available in my area, and I live in a city! I can’t imagine what it must be like in a rural area. Forget backing up your computer, streaming to Facebook Live, or uploading a YouTube video.

A Call to Action

At what point will internet-based companies (Netflix Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) fight for the rights of their users to have reasonable internet connections?

Thanks to the terrible internet service provided to me through AT&T, I can no longer use PlexOpens in a new tab., a media collection service. In the past, I used Plex Cloud to stream videos and music. With the terrible upload speeds I have currently, I am no longer able to reliably push content to the cloud for use with Plex.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only example of an issue I’ve had with internet service since moving to Columbus. Gaming is now next to impossible. If my wife decides to surf Facebook on her phone, I might as well be playing Halo 2 matchmaking on a CRT with dial-up. It’s really that bad.

What makes matters worse is the fact that I poured nearly $2,000 into a computer that has lost a lot of potential due to the upload speeds available in my area. What’s the point of having a GTX 1070 if I can’t even play a game of Overwatch?

Come on, AT&T. You were great in Atlanta. Perhaps because you had some competition with Xfinity. Now, I’m paying even more for less. What a time to be alive.

A Glimmer of Hope

Since writing this piece, I decided to reach out to AT&T to see if there was anything they could do about the upload speed. Within 20 minutes, they managed to try to sell me on ten other packages before letting me know that they couldn’t fix my problem. Apparently, I’m supposed to wait until they’ve upgraded their service in the area.

In response, I called Spectrum to see what kind of package they could offer me. Within 10 minutes, they offered me their base package with speeds of 100 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up for $49.99. Are you kidding me? I’m able to get more than 5 times my current speed for the same price.

Of course, there was a bit of a catch. Apparently, AT&T had cornered the market where I live, so no one in my area had ever tried to get Spectrum. As a result, they’ll have to go through the process of doing a full installation, so we’ll see how that goes.

Despite the good news, AT&T is still destined to screw me over. During the process of changing my name, I forgot to update the card on file at AT&T. When the automatic payment occurred, my old card was denied. However, I never received any indicator of this. In fact, I only found out when I went to inquire about changing speeds. They won’t even answer the phone until you pay your late bill.

To make matters worse, AT&T automatically enrolled me in some deal to save me $10/month when I moved and was forced to change plans. If I decide to cancel my service, I owe them $180. What?! I could understand just reimbursing them for the deal. In my case, I’d be happy to hand over $20 for the two months of terrible service. A $180 ETF is just insane.

Did I mention that AT&T caps data rates every month? If I transfer more than a terabyte/month, I have to pay an extra charge. Naturally, I experienced this firsthand as I attempted to backup my computer in Atlanta.

Let’s Chat

At any rate, I’ll have an update on the status of their service shortly. In the meantime, let’s chat internet providers. Has anyone had to deal with the same problem? How have things worked out?

Personally, I’ve found a lot of evidence that people are fed up with their service. Perhaps my favorite so far is an article by Tod Kelly titled The Reason Why AT&T Sucks is ImportantOpens in a new tab.. Check it out!

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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