Is Using 'Up To' Speeds In Your Broadband Promotion False Advertising?

from the questions,-questions dept

For many, many years we've been among those pointing out the habit of broadband providers to use "up to" descriptions of their speeds. That is, they say "up to 3Mbps" or "up to 144 kbps" or whatever it is they're advertising. Of course, the "up to" speed is under perfect conditions on a clear day when no one else is using the system if you're using some experimental equipment and standing 3 feet away from the source -- or something like that. A few years ago, we even asked how come no one ever sues companies advertising this way for false advertising? Well, down in Australia that might finally be happening. The Australian equivalent of the FCC is apparently warning ISPs to come clean about their advertised speeds, specifically focusing on the mythical "up to" speeds that no one will ever achieve. Of course, we still think the most creative suggestion in dealing with these bogus advertised speeds is that consumers should get to pay some amount "up to" what they're billed if they're not getting the speeds promised.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    steve adns, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:04pm

    up to speeds

    Have been using comcast cable for five years, I have never got a 10 second download to maintain 500k ever!!! They advertise 6M.

    I want to start paying at the up to rate.

    Their TV is even worst than their internet, more drop outs

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    I have sbc/att yahoo as an isp at 3mbs dsl and I CONSTANTLY get under 10ms ping in CS:S games. People think I'm using some kind of hack because my ping at times gets to 5ms and just stays there.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:09pm

    Re: up to speeds

    That's COMCASTIC!!!!!! I have Charter.. it's ok... but i'm not getting the 3M speed either. I downloaded linux once and got around 312k/sec the whole time...

     

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    Wiley, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:10pm

    Re: up to speeds

    But they are "Comtastic"...
    Bwahahahahahaha

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:12pm

    Re: up to speeds

    bleh i never get more than 250k from timewarner..

     

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    Matt Bennett, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:14pm

    I find DSL to actually be more consistently fast than Comcast cable, "up to" rates aside. The turtle commercials really piss me off.

    Ever hear of "up to 75% off" and then most things are like 10% off? It's basically just a free way to lie. If you're going to clean that stuff up, no reason to limit it to one industry.

     

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    Yoda, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:18pm

    Transparent it is not..

    You would think this wording would be transparent to the average consumer, but really, it's not. It's probably not even relevant. IMO there is very little understanding of how the specified rate applies to anything they actually see or do.. Some exceptions, of course, (readers of this blog, for example) but for 95% of subs it just goes over their head anyway.

    FWIW here in Time Warner land, they advertise 3 Mb downstream, and tyically deliver between 5-6 Mb. Do they rock or what?

     

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    Andrew Pollack, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:19pm

    Up to 90% great post!

    There are places which sell guaranteed bandwidth. It costs about ten times what a consumer grade line costs, but you get an SLA (Service Level Agreement).

    Speeds of 6MB are great between you and the cable company (if you ever really get that) but the reality is you'll never get that kind of bandwidth across the internet to the place you're pulling data from. Torrents break that rule to some extent, but even they are limited.

    The real killer is how consumers don't know to demand better upload speeds. I'd rather have 2mb full duplex bidrectional service than 10mb down and 768k upload speeds. Of course, I work from home and send data up more often than most people.

     

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    diana, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:27pm

    I have never understood how come it takes me less than an hour to download 800MB but takes me eons to upload the same material. I agree with the last poster I want bi-directional speed not just download speed.

     

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  10.  
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    jd, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:27pm

    Doubtful Cynic

    As an American, I must have become desensitised to false advertising. Almost all retailers have ads with "up to 75% STORE WIDE SAVINGS." The "up to" portion is always in small print, therefore, deception is always the primary intent. So, with so many people practicing advertising by deception, I would think it will ultimately lead to advertisers making promises like "75% OFF - FOR REAL." Oh, my bad, they have already mastered that too with "Low Price Gurantee." It seems that manufacturers are willing to work with large retailers so that they often do not have the EXACT same product or item # for the same brand items. And, they allow the retailer to customize products by reducing the quality of certain components. These are interesting times in which we live. False advertising?? I have never won that argument, even with a convenience store clerk with a big banner on the front window that says "39 cent Coke." They are either out of stock, or they "forgot to take the sign down." And this goes all the way up the chain to the local car dealer that has all vehicles $15,000 below invoice (without the "up to" clause). There is always another way, six one way, half dozen the other.

     

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    haywood, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:31pm

    Perhaps thay should make naivete illegal

    I mean do people really believe that crap? I smirk when the local car dealers advertise "all credit applications will be accepted". Accepted perhaps approved, less likely. I do agree that having a better yardstick to measure competing services by would be a blessing. Even then it will depend on where you live. My DSL sucks, but as it and dial-up are my choices, I'll learn to live with it. I do wish they wouldn't insult my intelligence by telling me I get a free speed upgrade with my renewal, only to have it slow down to even slower than previous speeds a month later.

     

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    Robert, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:33pm

    Re:

    Difference is, that if you go into a store and see that most tags say 20% off you simply don't buy it. Internet is charged at full price no matter what they give you, and you get billed, so there's little choice on if you buy it or not without paying at least once for the service, which depending on the company might cost even more if you break the 12 month subscription that many service providers require to get the advertised deal.

     

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    Anonymous, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:35pm

    Good for Companies

    If they advertise the actual they can just charge you anytime it peaks above that... a la Apple. :)
    500k download on your cable? We only advertise 250K we will charge you for that "feature".

     

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  14.  
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    scate, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:39pm

    Imagine soda can "up to" 12 ounces...

    The up to rates are clearly deceptive. Other services and products generally have to be more specific in their claims. Imagine if other products could just give you what ever they wanted and claim they never have to give you the full amount because they only said "up to". How about "up to" 300 'any time' minutes in you cell phone contract? Or up to "500" milligrams per capsule of antibiotics? Or maybe "up to" however many gallons of gas the pump claims you have received?

    Using a theoretical peak rate in advertisements that has no relationship to the actual rates delivered to customers is clearly deceptive. With food products there can be some minor deviation in the fill rate but the labeled amount should have one standard deviation of extra product above mean--not peak--fill as a guarantee against short packing. (If they don't want to have to include a lot of extra product for free they need to have high standards to keep the sd low.) Comcast and ATT don't even come close to this ordinary, reasonable standard.

     

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  15.  
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    Paul, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:41pm

    Comcast speeds

    I have been using comcast cable for at least 5 years and I haven't had a problem reaching my "up to" speeds.
    In fact I just recently moved and had to re-order the comcast service (it was under a roommates name before)
    We signed up for the vanilla 6mbps service and for the first month we were actually getting a solid 8mpbs with bursts up to 9mbps.

    I think they do that on purpose to see if customers notice the drop in speed and call them up, then they can tell them it was just an introductory speed bonus but if you want the higher speed you can pay for it..

     

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    Matt Bennett, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Perhaps thay should make naivete illegal

    Just because many of us can figure out when we are being lied to, doesn't mean we don't have a huge issue with being lied to anyway.

     

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  17.  
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    Matt, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:43pm

    Speed Differences

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe they advertise in Mb/s (megabits/s) where as we see speeds as MB/s (megabytes/s).

    So if you are paying for 6Mb/s = 0.75 MB/s = 768 KB/s.

    Assuming you see only 1/2 that on average, you should expect about 384 KB/s at any given time.

     

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  18.  
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    Wolfger, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:49pm

    analogies

    Comparissons to "up to 75%" sales are not accurate. With a sale, you know what you're paying and what you're getting before money changes hands. With ISPs, you pay up front, and take whatever they give you. It's a quite a difference, in my mind. That's like a store advertising "we'll give you up to a new Ferrarri, for just $5000 dollars", and then you give them 5 grand and they hand you a bicycle. Still, it's not false advertising. "Up to" is quite honest. It would only be false if they exceeded the advertised rate, and I can't see anybody complaining if they get more speed than they paid for.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:54pm

    Re: up to speeds

    Errr... 6Mbitsps = 750kb. You're doing relatively good.

     

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  20.  
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    Jglide, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 12:54pm

    The last sentence kind of ruins your position. "...if they're not getting the speeds promised." That is the crux of any possible legal argument; are these speeds being promised? No, not from what I have seen. They "CAN" be "UP TO" or "AS FAST AS" these speeds listed.

    Is it unethical? Maybe. We've had used car salesmen making a living for almost as long as we've had automobiles, though. Do you think the stereotype about used car salesmen is completely false, or grounded in a kernel of reality that may not fit all salespeople? The other problem, as elluded to by others, is that your ISP does not control the whole of the internets. They don't own all the tubes, so they have no say when one tube is clogged up with some dumb-assed senators "internets" "mailzorz". (:P I was never so ashamed of american government as I was that day, even under W.)

    *shrug* Applause for the Aussie's for addressing this as they have; there's better things for the rest of us to lose sleep over, though.

     

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  21.  
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    Eric, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 1:03pm

    Sales

    How about when they say, "Save up to 75% and MORE!"

     

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  22.  
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    Cory, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 1:15pm

    My speeds usually meet or exceed the advertised speed, so long as that much data can be served at the other end.

    As far as store sales go, I've seen even worse than "up to". Try "up to 20% off or more". Which basically comes down to "We'll take something off, but even we don't know".

     

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  23.  
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    Ian, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 1:33pm

    Re: Speed Differences

    @matt
    This is why a large number of people think they are falsely advertising. They think they're getting ripped of but infact they just didn't notice that lower case b in Mb's.
    I have Time Warner cable and actually get higher speeds than I should.

     

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  24.  
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    Michael, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 1:39pm

    Anytime I see the words "UP TO..." I automatically substitute "much less than" in my head.

    It makes more sense that way.

     

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  25.  
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    Eric, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 1:39pm

    Morons, all of you

    yeah...

     

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  26.  
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    scate, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 1:41pm

    Up to xx% off sales not a valid comparason

    When a store advertises a sale such as "up to 75% off" they have to actually have at least one thing that is actually 75% off that you can actually buy. With internet "up to" speed claims, the provider doesn't claim you will ever get near the claimed peak speed--so mentioning the peak speed is inherently deceptive. Cars have to advertise their average mpg for highway or city driving. They don't get to advertise the mpg you get going downhill as "up to 100 mpg!!!!" That is essentially what the internet providers are doing in advertising peak speeds. The maximum peak speed that is theoretically possible is not a meaningful measure of the service they are providing anymore than the maximum amount of pills a nearly empty prescription bottle could theoretically hold. Only the amount actually delivered is meaningful.

    To create "tiered" price levels, the "up to" speeds are not the speeds you can look forward to but the speeds you'll never get above--without any mention of what you'll actually get.

     

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  27.  
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    DittoBox, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:08pm

    Re: up to speeds

    No, they don't.

    They advertise 6 megabits per second, which is 6000 kilobits per second (Kbps). That's roughly 750 kilobytes per second (KB/sec).

    Bytes != Bits.

    You are right however, cable is rarely that good. I've only known two people who get that speed because they do not share their break into the main trunk line at the street, even then the speed is only about 5Mbps. That's a very rare occasion since it costs about 5 grand to break into the Comcast main trunk line. Comcast will only do it if you pony up, or you're in a new neighborhood and they're doing it because it's profitable.

     

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  28.  
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    TechSay, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:10pm

    In Washington State there are a few dial-up providers that make some questionable statements. If you are not listening carefully or if you have zero tech knowledge, you would guess that dial-up was just as fast as broadband.

     

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  29.  
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    Chris Lindgren, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:11pm

    lack of understanding but i think your OK still

    Sometimes your posts highlight how little understanding of the real world you posess. But keep on keeping on. Do you want ISPs to say...

    "We do our best to provide service at a consistant speed but due to circumstances beyond our control and some within our control we can not guarantee you a paticular speed anyone that does is planning on you not following through on the guarantee or has a different business model than us."

    "Up to" is pretty clear to me and most people in the world. But thanks so much for highlighting this critical topic for the less informed.

    Come back into reality and stop thinking everyone else does not get it but you do.

     

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  30.  
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    Chris Lindgren, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:11pm

    lack of understanding but i think your OK still

    Sometimes your posts highlight how little understanding of the real world you posess. But keep on keeping on. Do you want ISPs to say...

    "We do our best to provide service at a consistant speed but due to circumstances beyond our control and some within our control we can not guarantee you a paticular speed anyone that does is planning on you not following through on the guarantee or has a different business model than us."

    "Up to" is pretty clear to me and most people in the world. But thanks so much for highlighting this critical topic for the less informed.

    Come back into reality and stop thinking everyone else does not get it but you do.

     

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  31.  
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    Daniel Britts, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:19pm

    I can type 'up to' 120 WPM...in short spurts....with lots of mistakes. I doubt that anyone would take me seriously as a typist. Same with broadband speed. Anyone that believes the claims should take a look at their drivers license....see if they were born yesterday.

    Fritts (Daniel Britts)

     

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  32.  
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    Ponder, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:22pm

    It's as dumb as "Closing Down Sale-Everyting* Must Go! *Selected Lines Only". My ISP gives 2Mb downstream, but only 200Kb upstream. Business can have symetrical line. Though as this is a cable company, and apparently its much more expensive to provide upstream bandwidth due to its structure, I can't really blame them. I just wish they would give consumers the option for a symetrical line.

     

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  33.  
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    Aussie, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:24pm

    WTF?

    It's a communication issue. Period.

    I'm on a ADSL2+ "up to 24Mb" connection. Do I get 24M? Damn straight, I'm only 800 metres from the exchange (1/2 a mile) with new cabling.

    This is about people expecting their "up to 24Mb" connection to run at full speed even if they are 3km (2mi) away.

    ISPs need to tell the customer, "We've received your application, and our records show you're 3km line distance, so your connect speed is likely to be around 3Mb"

    Stupid whiney customers.... BAH!

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 2:32pm

    It's all the same......

    How much speed do you get with your GB ethernet?
    How many miles per gallon does your car get?
    How many MB's is your harddrive?
    And on, and on...........

     

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  35.  
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    Rose, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:26pm

    Up to

    This all reminds me of a guy I saw in New York selling balloons. His sign read 25 cents ea. or 3 for a dollar. Time to wake up, folks.

     

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  36.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:37pm

    Average speed

    I have posted a similar comment on Techdirt (which linked to here). Possibly the best (or at least fairest) pricing method would be to have sped blocks, somewhat like posting a parcel. You specify what speed you want them to cap you at, and thier usage meter (such as Internode's MUM) includes a speed tester, which tests the speed to each of thier outward connections and thier hosting servers (obviously, the tester only uses spare bandwidth, and is excluded from your data allocation). The median of the speeds for each hour is recorded and provided to the ISP. The price for each speed range is published, and your bill might look like this:
    0 hours at $10 speed range: $0
    0 hours at $15 speed range: $0
    5 hours at $25 speed range: $2.08
    45 hours at $35 speed range: $26.25
    10 hours at $40 speed range: $6.67

    TOTAL: $35.00 Total time connected: 60 hours
    Your scelected maximum speed is *Mbps.

    The more mathematically minded amongst you would have realised that all I did was to make the proportion of your bill which is charged at each rate be the fraction of the time your computer was on which you received each speed. In practice, you would need to use a little box to plug into your modem if it was a combined modem/router, because otherwise the results would be skewed. That would also alleviate the issue of the quality of your network. A USB/internal modem obviously needs the computer it is connected to to be on for the modem to be active, so the usage meter program can be used for this job.

    One final tweak would be to make the bill be made up of your upstream and downstream in proportion to the ratio of the cap on each. Thus for a symmaetrical connection, your bill is based 50/50 on your up- and down- streams, wheres if the caps are in a 75/25 ration, the bill is also a 75/25 ratio of up- and down streams.

    BTW, there is an interesting graph of the speeds and reach of various ADLS variants here

     

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    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:39pm

    My post

    Possibly the best (or at least fairest) pricing method would be to have sped blocks, somewhat like posting a parcel. You specify what speed you want them to cap you at, and thier usage meter (such as Internode's MUM) includes a speed tester, which tests the speed to each of thier outward connections and thier hosting servers (obviously, the tester only uses spare bandwidth, and is excluded from your data allocation). The median of the speeds for each hour is recorded and provided to the ISP. The price for each speed range is published, and your bill might look like this:
    0 hours at $10 speed range: $0
    0 hours at $15 speed range: $0
    5 hours at $25 speed range: $2.08
    45 hours at $35 speed range: $26.25
    10 hours at $40 speed range: $6.67

    TOTAL: $35.00

    Total time connected: 60 hours
    Your scelected maximum speed is *Mbps.

    The more mathematically minded amongst you would have realised that all I did was to make the proportion of your bill which is charged at each rate be the fraction of the time your computer was on which you received each speed. In practice, you would need to use a little box to plug into your modem if it was a combined modem/router, because otherwise the results would be skewed. That would also alleviate the issue of the quality of your network. A USB/internal modem obviously needs the computer it is connected to to be on for the modem to be active, so the usage meter program can be used for this job.

    One final tweak would be to make the bill be made up of your upstream and downstream in proportion to the ratio of the cap on each. Thus for a symmaetrical connection, your bill is based 50/50 on your up- and down- streams, wheres if the caps are in a 75/25 ration, the bill is also a 75/25 ratio of up- and down streams.

     

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  38.  
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    Corrupt Data, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:43pm

    Re: up to speeds

    If you're downloading at 500KB/s on your computer that means your cable modem is recieving the data at 4mb or megabits a second. 8 Megabits = 1 Megabyte. You're on cable, and depending on the age / model of your modem and the number of splitters on your cable line you could simply have a bad signal. I'm not defending comcast, but they're not necessarily out to short change you on speed.

     

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  39.  
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    Michael, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:44pm

    Jewelry Mark-Downs!

    The jewelry industry is the same exact way. Have you ever noticed that jewelry is ALWAYS on sale for 50 to 80% off? Well, here is the deal: They mark the items up 400% for the suggested retail price then put it in the display window for 50% off. They still make a huge profit. For it to be considered an item on sale, it must be shown at the full retail price for only one day a year! The rest of the year it can be 80% off.

    Internet is the same way. The ‘up to’ speed is NEVER achievable. I would like any internet provider to come to my house (or your house) and prove that you actually get the speed you are quoted – or at least 75% of it.

     

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  40.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:45pm

    My post

    I had a decent idea for a improved way of billing customers, fairly, but it got flagged as potentail spam. basically, it charged customers for wha they got.

    THere is an interesting graph of ADSL speds against distance for a number of varieties on Internode's site. Telstra is the Ex-monoploy provider, and has now started offering un-capped ADSL and ADSL2+ on exchanges which have already been upgraded.

     

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  41.  
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    scate, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:49pm

    Why would you support deceptive language?

    Chris Lindgren writes:
    "Up to" is pretty clear to me and most people in the world. But thanks so much for highlighting this critical topic for the less informed.

    Really, if it is so clear tell me what average speed I can expect from a "6mps" connection? You can't tell me because the "up to 6mps" marketing claim is virtually meaningless in relationship to the actual speeds customers will receive. Why you would support this patently deceptive practice one can only speculate.

    You add [refering to a possible disclaimer]:
    "We do our best to provide service at a consistant speed but due to circumstances beyond our control and some within our control we can not guarantee you a paticular speed anyone that does is planning on you not following through on the guarantee or has a different business model than us."

    If they can't (or won't) guarantee any particular speed then they have no business advertising one!!! Granted, speeds can vary a bit which is why we have averages which allow us to still make meaningful claims and guarantees about things that can have some variability, such as 99% uptime guarantees--they don't guarantee to be perfect but they have a measurable standard they have to live up to. Your position is untenable and contemptuous of people.

     

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  42.  
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    Bumbling old fool, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 3:56pm

    Interesting...

    While I might work as a business analyst at one ISP, my home ISP is a competitor (my house is outside the service area of my employer), so I'm not really inclined to mention their name when saying something nice.

    HOWEVER, I often achieve my "up to" speed and far beyond.

    Just like not all used car salesman will rob you blind, not all ISPs will either.

    (and yes, I know how to divide by 8 so I really do know I am getting my advertised speed.)

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 5:05pm

    In the UK the problem I have is not the "up to" speeds advertised as I'm smart enough to call a potential ISP and get them to provide an estimate of the speed I will actually get. If it's a decent ISP they will do this with a pretty good level of accuracy.

    My issue is with data usage. My current ISP offers "unlimited" data usage subject to a Fair Use Policy (FUP).

    The clause in the FUP that directly relates to how much data you may transfer up and down is as follows:

    "Making excessive use of, or placing unusual burdens on, the network, for example by sending or receiving large volumes of email or excessively large email attachments"

    Now you thought the up to speed was bad. You tell me how much I can download/upload each month?

    In all fairness I average about 200GB per month with no problems, but they could easily turn around and say 50GB per month is too much, or 10GB or 500GB or whatever.

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 10:46pm

    Very few of you actually have a clue about what you are talking about.

     

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    Me, Feb 1st, 2007 @ 12:29pm

    Talk about the devil...

    I just saw this on a Dell advertisement... look at the advertised processor for this computer and they used similar "up to" descriptions for several other models. Don't they know this makes them look shady? Maybe that is why we have an article today about Mr. Dell taking over the ship again.

    Inspiron E1505
    All Around Performance

    FREE upgrade to Genuine Windows Vista™ Home Premium3
    Up to Intel® CoreTM 2 Duo Processor
    Offers a flexible combination of mobile productivity and versatile entertainment at a great price
    Free Shipping & Handling!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    tom abate, Feb 1st, 2007 @ 4:39pm

    Re: Imagine soda can "up to" 12 ounces...

    I am in agreement; can we communicate offline? tomabate_book@hotmail.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Jeff, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 1:21pm

    1 megabit = 128 kilobytes
    2 megabit = 256 kilobytes
    3 megabit = 384 kilobytes
    and so on...

    ISPs measure in megabits (Mb) and windows measures in megabytes (MB). So when you purchase a 3Mb connection from a provider you should see around 384KB in download speed in windows.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Washington State DUI, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 8:39am

    Beef Tacos

    I like beef tacos. They make my teeth happy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    brian leamy, Jul 3rd, 2008 @ 3:32am

    sbc dsl it

    there ads claim pro speed is more than enough to play online games well its not and i had bacis sbc dsl runing at least 600kb dl & 128kb uploads upgraded 2 times thier ad clearly states doubble my up & down loads i doubble it twice basic i was 128 upload x2 first upgrade 256k secoud upgrade x2 512kb at least they say up to 512kb but i had 128kb upload speed i paid to x2 twice do they have to provide me with at least 512kb minimume and upto 3mb some times and i prove it its under 300kb and my dsl was 10 mo now its 30 mo. what can i do .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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