I was one of the first people in my part of Virginia to get Verizon’s fiber to the premises service fios. I really loved the service, especially the following:
- It has the same upload and download speeds.
- It was very reliable and consistent.
- It encouraged competition with the cable company for lower prices and better offerings across the board.
Unfortunately Verizon does not service Minnesota, my new state of residence. In fact, for being such a large metropolitan area, there is surprising little choice for broadband here. Qwest offers fiber in very, very select parts of the area. Comcast cable services some areas, with an even smaller subset offering business class connectivity. Frontier offers DSL, but the price-to-performance ratio is so bad they were a non-starter.
That left Charter and their DOCSIS 3.0-based cable service. There was plenty to dislike about it, even before the installer arrived.
- No competition in the area means that Charter can offer whatever they want at whatever price they want. I wound up getting the 60/5 Mbps Ultra60 package for almost three times the amount that I paid for my 25/25 line from Verizon. More on why this more than just “paying for faster speeds” in a moment.
- The upload speed is just sad. I will work from home occasionally, and transferring large Photoshop, Visio, or SketchFlow files will take longer.
- The service is fast, but not very consistent. Sometimes I will transfer files at around 50Mbps per second, but sometimes the service craters to around 500Kbps. Verizon was the same speed, all the time, unless the host I connected to was having problems. So far, the problems all seem to be on Charter’s side.
- Data caps. This is a bullshit policy and the #1 reason I had to buy the most expensive plan. Charter caps the lowest priced plans at 100GB per month. Mid-tier plans are capped at 250GB a month, and the Ultra plan has a cap of 500GB a month. If you go over this cap you get two warnings. The third time your account is suspended for up to six months. I don’t know what happens after that.
500GB seems like a lot, but if you are as connected to the Internet as we are it can be dicey. We use a lot of bandwidth while streaming videos, watching on-demand movies from services like Netflix, playing online games like Call of Duty or StarCraft 2, backing up family photos via CrashPlan and yes, doing work from time to time.
For example, I watch the Day StarCraft 2 daily commentary show online. Each segment is roughly 512MB. Some shorter shows are smaller, longer shows are longer. Day9 typically posts five times a week so that’s over 10GB of data just watching one program a month. Sedagive? likes to watch a lot of programs over Hulu. I have no idea how much data playing StarCraft 2 or CoD consumes. I also buy a lot of music via Amazon’s MP3 service. Last month there was a huge sale of PC games on Steam, a online gaming distribution service. One game I purchased was over 7GB alone.
Anyway, I never had to monitor my usage, and Charter doesn’t provide an easy way for you to do so, either. I figured that 250GB wasn’t going to be enough, and all of the sudden I’m paying $94 a month for a very fast pipe that I don’t really need.
It’s terrible, but because there’s no local competition Charter can get away with it.
- Data throttling. Charter reserves the right to throttle all connections down during peak hours, regardless of plan, usage, or what you are downloading.
On a positive note, the service — when operating at the speeds I am paying for — is very fast. I am also glad the service is strictly DHCP and not PPPoE like FiOS was in Richmond. PPPoE added an overhead that slowed everything down. Ping times are also good, which is important for the online gaming that I do.
Lastly, there was no need for a big installation like with FiOS, where they trenched my yard and had to install a lot of hardware inside of the house. A gentleman came over and was done in about thirty minutes, including time spent tromping about in the snow to find where the cable line entered the house.
Here’s my current Charter Ultra60 plan:
and the latest Speedtest.net for my old Verizon FiOS plan. My plan was upgraded to 25/25 at no additional cost, but this was the last test I ever ran.
So far, so good. Here’s to hoping it’s as reliable as Verizon’s FiOS.