Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Case for Google Fiber in Dawson Neighborhood

Here's my attempt at a breakdown of high speed Internet services available in Dawson Neighborhood, Zip Code 78704. Several competitors I did not include were Earthlink DSL, Earthlink Cable or Clear Wireless. These 3 were consistently more expensive or encumbered. For instance, Earthlink's services simply resell Time Warner's and AT&T's, but they provide significantly lower speeds for slightly lower prices.

AT&T DSL and Uverse

Prices may vary from street to street, but at our address in 78704, AT&T provides the following tiers and prices when ordering Internet-only service: http://www.att.com/u-verse/explore/internet-landing.jsp

Service Tier Advertised Monthly Monthly

Name Speed in Mbps Promo Price Regular Price

Uverse Max 12 $39.95 $51.00

Uverse Elite 6 $34.95 $46.00

DSL Pro 3 $29.95 $40.73

DSL Express 1.5 (no promos) $24.95

DSL Basic .768 (no promos) $19.95

-Service reverts to regular price after 12 months

-These prices omit substantial taxes and other fees

Gotchas: LOTS.
  • Contracts. AT&T will lock you in for a year, two years, and you'll have to keep paying a high price long after the competitors have slashed their prices. Cancel your contract, and their "early cancellation fee" will ensure that they get everything they expected to make from you, BUT now won't have to provide you with the service. My personal view is that, if they're compelled to lock you in like that, they know they're going to be doing something to make you want to leave if you were still free to do so.
  • AT&T is likely to pretend that the "classic" DSL tiers are no longer offered. They're WAY more expensive when measured by the cost per Mbps, anyway. Very small increments of price get you enormous increases in speed.
  • Uverse requires the purchase of a new modem for $100. They sidestep listing this fee because you "may" qualify for a refund... but only if you get particular bundled packages with TV/phone and sign contracts. I treat this as an additional $8.33/mo on top of the "promo" price you pay your first year. Also, $100 for what is essentially a DSL modem is highway robbery. Nor can you use your old DSL modem with Uverse if you're upgrading from "classic" DSL. Not because it won't work, but because they won't let you.
  • AT&T has set "data caps" limiting the combined amount of data you send and receive throughout your billing month. Exceed your cap, which is like a ration, and you will be charged extra per unit, or even have your service terminated. AT&T claims there is a shortage of bandwidth, and it's rather expensive to provide. I outlined these basic reasons in my appeal to Mark yesterday. It's a total farce. One point I didn't mention was that it's widely thought that AT&T is trying to make it too expensive for folks to get their TV and other video services from 3rd party providers. AT&T has their own TV and video offerings, which will never count against your "data cap". Interesting, hmm?
  • A comprehensive study of how close Internet providers who only promise "speeds up to..." determined how close America's providers come to that mark. Under the best of conditions, AT&T only provides 94%-100% (varies by tier) of the speed they promise to provide.  
  • https://www.fcc.gov/measuring-broadband-america/2012/july
  • Prices compiled here do not include taxes, fees, and other prerequisites. There is no indication whether you will also have to pay separately for local phone service, plus telcom taxes and fees, as has been required in the past, and still is in some areas.

It seems necessary to recalculate the actual speeds you get with the actual prices you pay during your first year to provide a more realistic picture:

Service Tier Actual Speed Monthly Promo Price Monthly Regular Price
Name in Mbps* Promo Price+ Per Mbps*+ Regular Price Per Mbps*

Uverse Max 10.92 $48.28 $4.42 $51.00 $4.67
Uverse Elite 5.16 $43.28 $8.39 $46.00 $8.91
DSL Pro 2.49 $29.95 $12.03 $40.73 $16.36
DSL Express 1.26 (no promos) n/a $24.95 $19.80
DSL Basic .645 (no promos) n/a $19.95 $30.92
*Adjusted per 2012 FCC study +Including Equipment Fees
-Service reverts to regular price after 12 months, substantial taxes and other fees omitted.

All of those prices still lack "taxes & fees" so they're lowball figures. If you work out the percentage of speed degradation, you'll see they vary, as I have various exact figures for most of the tiers. I would shop for the best deal by "Price per Mbps" figures. It works like "price per ounce" at the supermarket. You'll notice that nationwide, the "Pro" tier typically supplied 2.49Mbps, so I was actually fortunate despite our complaint of only getting 2.57Mbps consistently.

It is worth discussing, that while Uverse is advertised as a "hybrid" fiber optic network, it is really just DSL. Copper wire telcom companies have been dismayed to discover that their lines are degrading faster than anticipated, and they are often unable to supply an adequate signal to homes from the "central offices" where the DSL connection classically joins the company's fiber optic infrastructure. As a stopgap, telcoms like AT&T have extended their fiber networks to cabinets throughout the city, where the same old copper wires lead onward to homes and businesses. By shortening the length of the wire, they are able to supply higher speeds again.

Uverse is touted as a fabulous new expansion of AT&T's network, keeping abreast with demand for the future. Actually, Uverse is a rather expensive band-aid, that barely keeps AT&T in the Internet business. Over the coming years, AT&T seeks to abandon wireline services completely and focus on wireless phone and data, as their profit margin is much higher for the time being. If they acquire permission to supply service only where they wish to, as Google enjoys right now, this could mean AT&T will even shut down existing wireline services wherever they can. This is the REAL reason they recently announced they were "prepared" to build "a gigabit infrastructure" in Austin, provided they receive the same deal Google got. They won't be providing gigabit fiber to homes, as this suggests, they just want the legal framework to prune their network and get their internal projects done ahead of budget.

Time Warner Cable

Now, let's examine figures from Time Warner. Time Warner plays a whole new game. They won't tell you what they'll be charging you after your promo rate expires 12 months later. They claim that they're constantly adjusting this, but if you really press them, they'll say "10-15% higher". In practice, they don't change those prices very often, and you can sometimes get them to tell you what regular prices are now. Furthermore, I've had Time Warner 3 separate times in different parts of Austin, and my figures show the bill actually increased 31%. The prices below will reflect this factor where estimation is required:

Service Tier Advertised Monthly Est. Monthly

Name Speed in Mbps Promo Price Regular Price

Ultimate 50 $74.99 $98.24

Extreme 30 $64.99 $85.14

Turbo 20 $54.99 $72.04

Standard 15 $44.99 $58.94

Basic 3 $29.99 $39.29

Lite 1 (no promos) $19.99

-Service reverts to regular price after 12 months

-These prices omit substantial taxes and other fees

Gotchas: Several.
  • Time Warner now charges an additional $4.99/mo to "rent" your cable modem. You may be required now to pay to rent an old modem you've already had "free" for any number of years. You can escape this rental fee if you purchase a modem model listed on their approved modems list. Prices for modems range from $30/used to over $150 for very nice new ones. TW does not sell modems, even your old one. Some modems cannot be used with higher speed tiers. Weirdly, they will rent you models of modem which they will not approve of for purchase. They will switch you over to your new modem via phone call, then your rental fee, prorated, will cease on the day you bring your rental modem in to their business office. Even if you're planning to switch to Google Fiber, I highly encourage you to buy a modem, as it will pay for itself in several months. It will also have resale value when you are done with it. 
  • Your coax cables may not be capable of handling the speed tier you've ordered. It's up to you to check your speed, and order a downgrade if you wish to save some money. 
  • Time Warner also has "data caps" but their policy is even weirder. They won't tell you how much it is they think is too much for you to use. But they'll notify you if they think you've crossed that threshold. Repeat offenders have their service terminated. Note that TW is also a TV provider, and their digital TV (though not really comparable to AT&T's digital TV) does not ever count against your data ration. 
  • Time Warner also underprovides their promised speeds, per the same study cited above. 
  • There are still some fees and taxes which are not available until you discover them on your first bill. Fortunately, these are minor in TW's case. 

Let's take a look at adjusted figures:

Service Tier Actual Speed Monthly Promo Price Est Monthly Regular Price
Name in Mbps* Promo Price*+ Per Mbps*+ Regular Price*+ Per Mbps*+

Ultimate (not surveyed) $79.98 $1.60 $103.23 $2.06
Extreme 30 $69.98 $2.33 $90.13 $3.00
Turbo 18.8 $59.98 $3.19 $77.03 $4.10
Standard 14.1 $49.98 $3.54 $63.93 $4.53
Basic 2.91 $34.98 $12.02 $44.28 $15.22
Lite (not surveyed) (no promos) n/a $24.98 $24.98
*Adjusted per 2012 FCC study +Including Equipment Fees
-Service reverts to regular price after 12 months, substantial taxes and other fees omitted.

When shopping by Price per Mbps, folks will now see why cable modem Internet is a much better deal than DSL, in every tier. Additionally, TW offers speed tiers above and beyond AT&T in our area. It's still not too late to fire AT&T and enjoy a year of much cheaper, much faster Internet before getting Google Fiber! Once you have a connection that isn't a slow Pain I.T.A, you'll discover whole new uses for it. This kind of speed makes the Internet an extremely cheap replacement for TV and phone services. My phone service (multiple numbers and lines) is 100% free through Google Voice, and I'll likely stick with them if they begin charging for it at some point. Other digital phone (VOIP) service can be had for as little as $8/mo. Something more well known, like Vonage, costs about the same as a land line at $30 or more (after promo period). Frankly, Vonage and it's immediate competitors charge way too much. Some customers mistake higher prices as some kind of guarantee of reliability. Experience proves that it isn't.

Google Gigabit Fiber

Google Fiber's Austin prices aren't set in stone yet, but it's safe to work with the ones charged in St. Louis. Basically, you can contract with them for monthly service and pay no installation, or you can pay for installation and have a much slower speed for free, through the next 7 years or more. For the "free" tier, I've divided up the $300* installation fee over 7 years of months. Free service does not come with TV, but you can still download movies and watch internet video of all kinds. Google Fiber is also SYMMETRICAL, unlike TW and AT&T. This means that you can upload as fast as you can download. Upload speeds that are slower than download speeds (asymmetrical), are a legacy of first generation technology. It largely remains in force today because it makes it inconvenient for customers to share files. Some fiber broadband providers offer asymmetric tiers, but it's an entirely artificial configuration for that type of technology. Google also offers TV services and free telephone service, but I'll only be considering Internet-only prices below:

Service Tier Advertised Monthly Regular Price

Name Speed in Mbps Regular Price Per Mbps

Internet + TV* 1000 $120.00 $0.07

Internet Only 1000 $70.00 $0.07

Free Internet** 5 $3.57 $0.71

-These prices might omit taxes and other fees

* $5/mo for extra tuners ** Pay $300 or $25/mo through first year.

*The installation fee has been widely listed as either $300 or $400. Google currently states $300.

Gotchas: several.
  • Standard Wifi is not yet gigabit-fast, so you'll need to cable your PC to the provided router to get the best speeds. 
  • Your PC and switching gear will need gigabit Ethernet jacks. Your PC may not actually be capable of keeping up with incoming data at that speed. But the PC you buy in a few years absolutely will. Until then, your speeds will still be several multiples of the highest speeds DSL or cable modem can summon. 
  • There's insufficient data to determine whether Google Fiber manages to provide the speeds it advertises. In any case, Verizon FIOS consistently provided MORE than 100% of the speed they promised, though this was at a lower speed level. 
  • GF Prices listed above appear to be total prices, and not "base prices" before taxes and fees, but again, this isn't certain. 
Compared to our old service, by proportion, AT&T would provide 1Gbps for $16,360.00/mo. Google Fiber would provide 3Mbps for under twenty-five cents per month.

Some reports are coming out that suggest it only costs $.50-$1 to supply the bandwidth for one customer for one month, though it isn't clear at what average speed (this refers to wholesale pricing in the NYC area):

If you like charts, prepare to have your eyes pop out. The blue bars indicate full regular price in dollars, and the orange bars indicate actual speeds, in Mbps.

And, here's what it looks like with Google Fiber Gigabit tier. It's a massacre!

*UPDATE: Some typos, math errors and formatting corrected on Monday, June 11 2013.

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