'Up To' No Good
Those words have been part of virtually every broadband service sold over the last 15 years, which is about as long as broadband has been around. Whether they refer to available bandwidth from a cable modem service, which shares bandwidth among subscribers within a given area, or the variable-rate DSL offering from a telco, the reality of broadband is that virtually no one has guaranteed download and upload speeds.
Instead, they have sold a service that delivers "up to" a certain speed.
Now UK regulator Office of Telecommunications (Oftel) is complaining about the "up to" reality of broadband services there, having apparently just noticed that broadband consumers aren't necessarily getting all the throughput for which they are paying. (See ISPs Shamed by UK Broadband Speed Tests.)
Certainly, research that shows a stunning gap between the advertised bandwidth and what DSL providers are actually delivering should be a wakeup call for UK consumers. But I suspect many who are paying for a 24-Mbit/s package and only getting 6.5 megs are actually already maxing out their PC's ability -- the scam here is in convincing the consumers that 24 megs of throughput actually does them any good.
Maybe what is needed is a marketing crackdown that limits how inflated "up to" claims can be. The alternative is to require broadband service providers to deliver a more guaranteed data rate, and that can be a tricky proposition.
Most broadband services involve shared resources of some kind, and the availability of those resources will always vary with the number of active users and the type of use. Thus the available bandwidth will also vary, and the best approach remains to deliver all that is possible at a given time, which today's variable rate services already do.
There are ways to offer guaranteed services. A pricing scale can be devised, and enforced via policy controls, that lets consumers pay for exactly the bandwidth they want. Those who want a higher guaranteed throughput can simply pay more and get it.
In the US, that kind of pricing scheme is likely to generate howls of protest from Internet users who simply want more bandwidth without the higher cost.
So what's a broadband service provider to do?
Combining tiered offerings with the ability to get greater data throughput when it's available is one approach that makes sense, but the telecom industry will have to do a serious sales job to convince regulators and consumers of the value of such an offering.
Tiered data plans are likely to gain traction first in the wireless world, where AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has already boldly ventured forth with data tiers, and others are likely to follow suit. Will they ever fly on a mass-market basis for wireline services?
I think that's still "up to" debate.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading