10. April 2005, 13:40 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

Broadband in Canada and North America

While I don't always agree with John C. Dvorak in his various columns, his piece titled “Failed Promises, Failed Initiatives” (PC Magazine; October 19, 2004; pp. 67) was dead on, and addresses a pet peeve of mine.

I live on the east coast of Canada. From the mid-late 90’s the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island enjoyed a broadband service known as MPowered, offered through the telephone companies. At the time it was one of the first residential DSL services and, to the best of my knowledge, the fastest available at the time to that market in North America. Subscribers could enjoy 7 mbps downstream and 1-1.5 mbsp upstream, comparable to some modern cable installations, for $50-60 per month, depending on if you were already a telephone company subscriber.

By 2002 the speed had been reduced to 3 mbps/1 mbps. While cost of equipment was officially cited as the reason (a shift from Paradyne to Cisco hardware) technicians and engineers admitted off the record that it was due to customers at the very edges of the service complaining about line conditions. It was cheaper to reduce speed for everyone than upgrade service lines at the periphery. Indeed this seems likely since the Cisco hardware was capable of supporting the same speed as the Paradyne.

Then a company named Aliant moved in and bought the three provincial telcos. It wasn't long after that speed dropped again to 1.5 mbps downstream and 640 kbps upstream. It seems that while cable companies increase speed, where cable is available and satellite companies can provide high speed links in the middle of nowhere, the telcos in their search for the almighty dollar will, given the current trend, have us at dial-up speeds and broadband prices in a rollback to the 1980’s.

To be fair, I should add that you can still get 6 mbps downstream (640 kbps upstream) DSL, but now it will require a business connection and cost you $400 installation and $380 a month. It's all very frustrating when one can read that a 20 mbps connection is available in Korea or Japan for about the same price as North American 128 kbps - 1.5 mbsp service. And this is residential, business services have a more varied but similar trend; check out T1 prices around North America compared to Europe (Sweden comes to mind) and Asia (especially India).

In my geographical area a virtual monopoly doesn't help either. You either get DSL from the telephone company or cable from the only cable company or you get dial-up from one of four ISPs, one of which is the telephone company (not counting AOL or MSN). If one can afford it, one can try satellite broadband but this area is on the edge of most of the satellite footprints for North America.

I have been “on-line” since the days of using 110-300 baud modems to connect dumb terminals to mainframes (45 cps teletype too but that’s a speed I'd rather forget) and put in relative terms, little has changed in telco provisioning. The companies still provide as little as they can and charge as much as they can without running afoul of regulators, lawsuits or the organized ire of the majority of their customers. Despite regulation in the United States, and somewhat in Canada, competition is still not a major factor when it comes to pricing or providing data services.

At the risk of offending some people’s sensibilities, I’m reminded of the scene with a pay phone from the movie “Hackers”. They used a quote from the piece “Conscience of a Hacker” (aka the Hacker's Manifesto) written by Lloyd Blankenship in the mid-1980’s that seems appropriate to the situation:

“... what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons ...”

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Categories: ,
Keywords: DSL,broadband,Aliant,pricing,telco



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