(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

How About We Pay Some Amount 'Up To' What Your Invoice Says?

from the fair's-fair dept

For many years, mobile operators would try to hide the fact that their mobile data services really sucked by promising speeds "up to" some amount that was much higher than you were ever going to see in real life. It appears that cable and DSL providers have learned the same trick. The NY Times notes that it's not often that you get the actual speed your broadband provider advertises -- and the providers get away with it by only promising "up to" a maximum speed. The providers, of course, claim it's no big deal and it's true that you could, in some circumstances, get the promised speeds. Services like Broadband Reports help keep the companies at least somewhat honest with their speed tester tools that allow a small, but vocal, group of users to complain loudly if the speeds they get never get anywhere near what's being paid for. Meanwhile, there are those who claim that the speed is meaningless, since consumers don't really need those high speeds. Of course, that may be true, but if those are the speeds they're being promised, isn't it what the companies should deliver?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 1:15am

    Pity we'd get ... owned if we tried to do that.

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

  2. identicon
    Michael Long, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 2:23am


    I guess the question is whether or not the providers are deliberately throttling down to less than the promised rate, or are things like your distance to the switching office, line noise, cheap network cards and traffic and routing issues all impacting the maximum speed?

    And if they are significant factors, how could a provider ever guarantee you'd always get the maximum rate?

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

  3. identicon
    Divva, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 2:25am

    Bell South plays this game well

    They offer a three tiered DSL system.... the speeds they advertise are only possible on the top tier but the only tier they advertise is the bottom tier.

    Not knowing this, I took the bait and signed up for their DSL. IT WAS SLOWER THAN DIAL UP! My son couldn't use the connection to game online.... file uploads would take hours instead of minutes.

    When I called to cancel my service (and was passed through 6 different people during the process) I was finally told that I was on the lowest level plan. Would I like to upgrade so I could see the incredibly fast download speeds?

    My response: "Your sales person lied to me to get me to buy this and now you want me to give you another chance? "

    To the guy's credit, he sheepishly agreed and cancelled my account without passing me on to yet another flunkie.

    I wish I'd thought of paying "up to" the amount I owed for the service. In that case, I'd have paid $6.95 instead of $24.95.

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

  4. identicon
    Rob Maeurer, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 2:44am

    Time Warner in NYC good in spots, sucks in others

    Recently Time Warner upgraded their service from 5000/ 384 to 7000/512. I only recognized this change after broadbandreports.com tests. Cable apparently near my dad in the 11356 zip code in Queens gets lower than dsl speeds via time warner's roadrunner. He's hard pressed to break 1000 download. His upload is fine. $40+ a month for service that feels as slow as dial-up is ridiculous. Unfortunately we're locked in by monopolies. Earthlink is another cable internet provider, but they only use Time Warner's service to bring you theirs. DSL is only great if you're within a few thousand feet. If you're on the cusp of the coverage area, your service will suck. Can't win. All we can do is act like old men screaming at kids on their lawn on forums like these.

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

  5. identicon
    David Adams, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 3:00am

    Mediacom does this too....

    Our cable provider Mediacom here does something like this, they advertise 4mb down and 256up i think but if you use their modem or one of the same brand they will be more than happy to cap your connection down to about 2.5mb...

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

  6. identicon
    PhysicsGuy, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 3:44am

    When i initially had charter digital cable a couple years ago, i had a 3mbit plan and would get roughly a 2.6mbit downstream, could be better but the only thing i download that requires high speeds is torrents and those are variable as to what kind of transfer rate you'll end up getting... now i've moved and can't afford cable i have verizon dsl 756k ... that's 94.5 kbytes/s downstream and i get about 91 kbytes/s downstream... % error for what they offer to what i measure is significantly less for the verizon dsl... frankly i don't see taking the $0.68 off my bill...

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

  7. identicon
    Patrick, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 3:51am

    Law Suit

    Well, this will be settled in the courts **SIGH** and don't say who cares they won't win, but the price of the lawyers bad publicity will make something happen maybe they will change there ad campaign or give the promised speed, all I know is its gonna end in a law suit.

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

  8. identicon
    Darren, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 3:51am

    Internet speeds

    Instead of complaining I thought I would say as a customer happy with their isp. Internode (Australian ISP internode.on.net) ive found for myself and many clients have been very upfront with their speeds, and where customers are close to the exchange they do get above 20mbs. When you have a problem theyve always been of great assistance and unlike the major telco internet in australia (bigpond although everyone prenounces it as big pong) they are completely upfront when there is a problem.

    They have the bandwidth infrustructure in place for all their customers like me as well as for their heavy clients such as rising sun who do a lot of movie production and animation.

    Normally I would agree with most of the comments about ISP's, but they are not all tarred with the same brush.

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

  9. icon
    Peet McKimmie (profile), Nov 20th, 2006 @ 4:02am


    I'm on TalkTalk's "Free" BB service in the UK. Every letter I ever got from them refers to it as "Up to 8Mb", but I've never got over 2Mb out of it, sometimes less.

    I'm about to take them to court over another matter, and so I used a Data Protection Act information request (equivalent to the US FoI Act) to get all my records from them, and it amused me to note that every one of their records refers to my service as "Domestic 2Mb". They've never even attempted to give me an 8Mb service.

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

  10. identicon
    Protoplasm, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 4:04am

    FIOS, if you're lucky enough to have it, approaches very closely what they advertise (in my particular case).

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

  11. identicon
    Shag, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 4:37am


    They now do the same thing as well.

    They upgraded the speed from 2.5m to around 10, without raising the price. I had problems for a while with the upgrade, it actually went into the toilet. After a couple of months, someone figured it out. a

    DSL-reports is a great way to find out if something is wrong or not.

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

  12. identicon
    So whats the big deal?, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:02am

    Cable is the same

    I have Cablevision, they are talking about how their customers get up to 15mb down, 2 mb up. At around $44 a month, I run speed tests on their own site, and never have been above 7mb down. Funny thing is, I am usually above the upload speed, but I never upload anything.

    It was kind of funny, but Cablevision rolled out the higher speed to different communities at different times, I would put in my zip code in every once in a while to see if my area had been upgraded, I never saw any difference once they had upgraded my area.

    I will switch to Fios once its available here. They will lose both my video and my data.

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

  13. identicon
    Republican Gun, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:11am

    Up Speed!

    All I really care about it the up speed. Clients who use VPN, terminal services and other applications at the intro level pricing tiers always complain. Having a doctor view radiographs at home or attorney download large briefs requires the server to have a fast up speed. Clients always blame me and not the $29.95 DSL or Comcast intro special that says they are fast.

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

  14. identicon
    Mastermind, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:21am

    Speed in Florida

    I can say that Comcast in the Broward FL area actual delivers what they promise, Ive gotten almost 6 down and 230 up for the last 2 years. I know that this is not the norm but it is possible.

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:24am

    Re: Up Speed!

    Upload speed is the speed from your computer up to the internet, not the other way around. High download speed works well for VPN situations where the majority of data is coming from your office.

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:49am

    Re: Re: Up Speed!

    Yes and as it is the server talked about it, upstream is the concern. The discussion is that people claim the server is the problem, not the cut rate cheap service they use to try and save a buck, when downloading.

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

  17. identicon
    Haywood, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:58am

    Verizon "mostly" delivers the speed

    TYhe constant re-boot of the modem is the bigest gripe. After the re-boot their DSL is at least at the advertised speed, I've tested it higher. Then it begins to deteriorate to the point of slower than dial-up then it re-boots again. The more you use the more frequent the re-boots, the more frustrating it becomes. Rage becomes a bit justified if you are making a last second bid on E-bay at the time of the reset, or winning an on line game. They are cheating me ond everyone else out of several minutes a day and I'm sure it is deliberate. That few minutes multiplied by millions of subscribers that is enough bandwidth to sign up a million more with no increase in infrastructure.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 7:09am

    Just for the record, the "up to" promise is out there for a reason. It's virtually impossible for providers to maintain the top advertised speed to all customers in their coverage area, due to all sorts of circumstances like line noise, malfunctioning equipment, heavy usage, etc. I think cable providers have a much bigger problem with this since people on cable are using shared bandwidth, but it happens on DSL too. I used to have cable internet, and while I could get a full 3Mbit downstream at times, it often slowed down to literally the same as dialup speed during peak hours. With DSL, I get a solid, stable, fast connection that never slows down.

    It also has to do with the distance limitations for broadband. There are people here in my town that cannot get decent DSL service from us since they're out at the far end of one of the loops where the DSL signal just plain quits. We are continuously working to resolve problems like that and expand our coverage, but it's simply impossible to offer the top-advertised speeds to all people all the time.

    Unfortunately, there are those companies who are crooked and limit speed on purpose. My company is not one of those. We advertise "up to" certain speeds because that prevents crooked people from ripping us off for not delivering the advertised service, which we are doing our best to do. In fact, we inform people which speeds are available in the area they live in, and we would not charge anybody for our top speed (currently 6 Mbps) if we're only capable of delivering, say, 2 Mbps to their location. Please don't lump all providers into the same bunch, because we are not all the same.

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

  19. identicon
    Jack, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 7:33am

    The speed (or lack of ) of the Broadband industry

    I apologize for not remembering the hsows name in advance. I watched a documentary on P.B.S. about the tel-com giants. In the 80's they promised to have fiber optics and high speed internet ( not sure by when ) and didn't keep that promise. also not sure what locality voted on building their own fiber optic system and doing it with bonds. This went through and as soon as it did cable and dsl providers tied it up in court. not sure if it went through. The speeds in Japan are up to fifty times faster. And cheaper , apparently you can recieve this service here if you shell out $350.00 per month. I think the state was NV. I have a dsl line from sbc oops att , I am satisfied with it . The service they were showing in Japan was amazing to me full screen video conferening with now jerky pauses in the picture. Wouldn't it be nice if the tel-com giants could all just get along deliver what they promised and didn't try to stop the progress of the infrastructure by trying to monopolize it? If anyone else saw the show on PBS, or lives in the town on the show could you please update the progress of the fiber optic battle?

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

  20. identicon
    Joe, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 7:39am

    Comcast is the worst

    In my experience the worst is Comcast. I was paying the $50+ a month for Cable and didn't really care about my download speeds until xbox live launched. Then I started testing my connection because playing games was impossible. I learned I was being given a connection slower then a 28kbps (the slow dial up connection) I started a campaign, went door to door in my neighborhood to explain the situation to others and give them the links to test their connections as well (back when it was free to do internet speed tests) Eventually Comcast opened another "node" which they should have done a long time before it was a problem.
    My brother has Comcast now in Miami, it sucks we can't have a choice in our cable provider and it is a sad lack of competition why we pay the prices we do.

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

  21. identicon
    Adam, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 8:03am

    Re: Re: Up Speed!

    You're right in that upload speed is your computer up to the internet. You're wrong in implying that upload speeds aren't as important as download when doing remote office work over VPN. Outlook for example - a VERY COMMON application workers use over VPN is a bandwidth hog in both up/down streams. VPN users are also just as likely to upload large files as they are to download them. As for this whole conversation on delivering what they promise... They should be obliged in adverts to report "avg speeds" per a date and area as least for local /regional commercials. It is to difficult to do this nationwide since speeds will vary so much. This large fluctuation is also based on the congestion on their cable networks per a given area and given time, hence the fluctuations. Adam www.bridgednetworks.com

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

  22. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 8:53am

    why make a big deal of this so late in the game?

    Really. In the contract it will clearly state that you're not going to get the full speeds all the time and that's been common knowledge since 1997 that I can recall.

    On cable it's ALWAYS been known that if you were the only person on your node you could get the full bandwidth but if there were others on at the same time you'd have much less. Did you guys miss this aspect at some point in time?

    Let's make this easy to understand for some of you: When you pay for bandwidth as an ISP, you can't buy it as to how much you USE, you get a certain amount and you either use it or you don't; you can get 10mbit or 100mbit but not "58.235mb between 8am and 6pm". Let's use an analogy of a swimming pool(because they call the bandwidth for DSL/Cable customers a "pool" or "cloud"). You can only buy certain sizes for your pool, 10 person, 100 person, 1,000 person. If I buy a 10 person pool, 10 people can use it comfortably but if I add an 11th person, it gets a little tight if all 11 are in there at the same time. But if they swap out where 1 person waits for an hour then everyone gets to use it comfortably while it's still only a 10 person pool. Now at 3am, it's likely that nobody will be using the pool so the money spent on this pool is basically being wasted away but you find out that your neighbor would like to use it then and he's got 10 people for it. Well say that some of those people switch shifts at their job or whatever and they want to use it during the day, the pool gets crowded again. Now you can buy another pool, a bigger pool, OR let everyone deal with the situation till you can really afford another pool. That's the basics of what's happening including the financing side of it. I'm not saying that all ISP's will buy a new pool(I've worked with cable operators that think a T1 should be plenty for 100 subscribers and at the 150 mark they're still not considering upgrading) but most do and operate accordingly.

    Again though, why haven't any of you read your contracts? The terms will be clearly stated there just so they can't get in trouble for false advertising if nothing else.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 9:13am

    i like the pool analogy.

    i can understand the whole "up to" portion. it's very hard to maintain a large network bandwith. so, yeah, depending on who's on, the equipment status, and other factors line speeds can vary.

    so, that's why the up to is there. however if they activly decive the end user/customer, that's wrong/illegal.

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

  24. identicon
    William C Bonner, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 9:41am

    I get my advertised rates....

    I've got naked Qwest DSL, and I pay a flat rate for 1.5Mb down and 1Mb up and a set of static addresses.

    I can consistently use all that bandwidth, and I do use it playing with bittorrent stuff overnights.. Since I've got my client set to use 90% of the upload bandwidth, and up to 100% of the download bandwidth, and I graph the usage with MRTG I know that it's actually getting the bandwidth that I pay for.

    I've wondered what would happen if I was on cable modem or WiMaxx. (comcast or clearwire)

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

  25. identicon
    Irrelevant., Nov 20th, 2006 @ 10:23am

    Re: Throttled?

    The provider's problem is exactly that: their problem. If they can't do what they promise, they have no business making the promise. It's If a homeseller wrote "up to 2000" square feet" in a listing and the house turned out to be 1200, they'd be in for a lawsuit. Wouldn't matter if there was room to cut down the tree and build an 800 foot addition.

    Providers should be forced to charge based on the bandwidth they actually deliver.

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

  26. identicon
    Davey, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 10:31am

    Re: The speed (or lack of ) of the Broadband indus

    The show was a "Moyers on America" report. It's must-view stuff for anyone interested in what's happening with broadband access in the US. It's a history of lying, incompetence, and bribery on the part of telcos, cable companies, and their bought politicians. You can watch the whole show at


    (if you have the bandwidth, of course.)

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

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 10:43am

    Be sure keep in mind that speed issues on a broadband connection may not be due to congestion on an ISP's network. If you're too far away from a DSLAM while still having your address earmarked as "serviceable" (seen that), or if you have noise or signal strength issues on the line (Cable) they can certainly cause speed issues. With cable, you can have one way speed issues where only your upload or download is slow. Cable upload channels are designated between 4Mhz and 40Mhz. Download channels are around 700Mhz and up. There can be interference caused by a cut in the cable wire allowing over-the-air signals to leak into the wire (say CB or HAM for the 4-40Mhz range) that can cause problems with your upload transfer rates.

    Technical problems aside, some companies are better than others, and even within companies, some areas are better than others. Time Warner in Texas may have lousy broadband service, but Time Warner in New York may have first rate service. (I have no experience with either, but the point remains).

    The point of the article is taken however. Broadband in the US is lousy. When do I get symmetrical 100 megabit service? In 20 years? Jeez.

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

  28. identicon
    Rico J. Halo, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 11:33am

    Id love to

    Id love to send my dsl provider a payment somewhere "up to" the amount they charged me. Reminds me of an old urban legend of a guy that was caught speeding by photo-radar. They sent him a pic and a bill for the fine. He sent them back the bill and a pic of the money for the fine. Then they sent him back a pic of handcuffs. He promptly paid the fine. Great story even if not true.


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

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 12:15pm

    I work for a large credit card company, and in our advertisments we frequently offer customers credit limits "Up To $3000" or somesuch. Our compliance lawyers tell us that what that means is that at least 10% of the people that are approved for our credit cards must get the highest possible limit. This is because there is a lot of fear of lawsuits in consumer lending, but I don't know if there is any of the same sort of self-regulation in the telco world. And, really, only 10% of people getting the "up to", especially in relation to the speed a broadband provider gives you, isn't exactly honest.

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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 1:11pm

    neither is 10% of the credit market ;-)

    however it is more difficult to track if 10% of broadband users get the "full" speed.

    as it's been said, if the broadbands activly decieve you, that's worng. if they can't help the network activity, not much more they can do.

    just like cars and their estimated mpg. you have highway and city. both never equal the printed ammount.

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

  31. identicon
    PhysicsGuy, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 5:31pm

    Re: Verizon "mostly" delivers the speed

    you uhh... might want to check your computer for spyware and viruses... mine never resets unless i have a large amount of connections for a long time...

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

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 7:56pm


    We advertise "up to" certain speeds because that prevents crooked people from ripping us off for not delivering the advertised service, which we are doing our best to do.
    So, customers who would otherwise expect what was advertised to be delivered are crooks. Yep, you work for the industry alright.

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

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 8:05pm

    Re: why make a big deal of this so late in the gam

    When you pay for bandwidth as an ISP, you can't buy it as to how much you USE,
    And there's no technical reason for that. The ISP's just _refuse_ to sell it that way in most cases.

    Again though, why haven't any of you read your contracts? The terms will be clearly stated there just so they can't get in trouble for false advertising if nothing else.
    Terms that, for most people, are non-negotiable from a monopoly provider.

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

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 8:13pm


    When do I get symmetrical 100 megabit service? In 20 years?
    I'll sell it to you today! Of course, it'll be "up to", which includes zero. Ready to sign up?

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

  35. identicon
    Richard, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 10:47am

    They should advertise "As Slow As..."

    Have you simply been ignoring the commercials? They show the happy family chatting with video everywhere, blah blah blah. Then at the bottom, in small print, they say, "Don't expect to actually be able to do this."

    Lawmakers need to force these broadband providers to sync the commercials up with the language in the contracts. THAT would be entertainment.

    You must live in an area where you have a choice of broadband providers. Good for you. It just so happens that I, along with about 100,000 people in my area don't have options.

    There are 19 Comcast nodes in my area. There are actually 20, but one is called 19a. The techs that come to service my connection told me everyone on my node should be getting fast speeds above 3mbps download. Even if we become saturated all they have to do it tie in another node and they'd do it.

    I've been having severe problems with fluctuation on my 8mbps / 768kbps Comcast account. I'm up at 1 and 2am and I do speedchecks when I think about it just so I have some form of evidence when I ask for credit on my billing.

    I can tell you that at 2am I was at 264kbps down, 14kbps up. At 4am it wasn't much better the other night. I've had problems since September. I call phone support and they say, "yeah, we're seeing some problems with your line." A tech comes out, everything checks out perfect...except for 400ms pings. They bring their own modems in and try their own laptops and they get the same crap I get. They've dropped new lines to the house, given me a dedicated cable connection to my modem, etc. Still 300kbps down / 300-600kbps up.

    I don't have a choice.
    Yeah. I read the contracts just like we read the one before we go into a mandatory operation stating I can't sue the doctor when he f**ks up. J
    Just like the one from credit card companies altering terms of use.
    If you don't like it, screw you, we'll leave you out in the cold.

    Is it better than nothing? In my case, barely.
    Is it work $60 per month? Absolutely not.

    I'm beginning to place blame on AT&T since Comcast competes with them at the broadband level. I don't trust AT&T. Comcast keeps telling me there is a problem between a city near me and Atlanta.

    I hate corporations.
    They're faceless, untouchable bastards with no decency.

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

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