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TinotopiaLog → Sprint DSL Still Sucks ( 8 Dec 2005)
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Thursday 08 December 2005

Sprint DSL Still Sucks

I finally got a resolution of my DSL speed problem today: it turns out that despite being sold to me as 5mbps inbound/3mpbs outbound, and despite that speed having been confirmed by four different Sprint people as I called to try to track down what was wrong, Sprint doesn’t actually offer 5mb/3mb service; it’s 5mbps inbound and 640 kbps outbound.

After long searching, I finally found a list of the speeds they offer on their website:


Though I must admit that it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to see them talk about ‘three speed options’ and then list four options.

5 mpbs inbound is nice, but the real problem I have is that 640 kpbs outbound is totally inadequate. Sprint doesn’t offer anything faster than this though, because… well, because they don’t. Presumably they want to protect their much, much more expensive frame-relay options like T-1 lines and the line.

It’s not just Sprint, though. I say they ‘suck’ in the headline there, but in fact my experience with them has been far, far better than any other technological customer service experience I’ve had lately. Through this whole process, only one person at Sprint started down the path of blaming my computer for the problem; everyone else actually listened to what I said, and didn’t insist that I follow the pointless script.

The problem is with the whole residential and small-business network-service market. We’re seen as consumers, not producers, of data. This is probably true of most residential and small-business network customers, but it’s grating that there aren’t even any practical options for people who need something different.

What is this costing us? What’s the cost to society and to the economy of having a market for Internet connectivity that has a giant hole in it between the low-speed, highly-asymmetrical toy products of DSL and ISDN and the very expensive (and usually symmetric) ‘enterprise-class’ service?

Doc Searls has recently had a few things to say about this (also see here).

He specifically points out the fact the off-site backup — which is to say easy, no-brainer backup — services are essentially a non-starter without high-speed upstream service. I’m also forced to keep a lot of data on my laptop — movies, music, etc. — that would really be best left in the basement here, because if I find myself in need of that data when I’m not in the house, it’s not really practical to push it all up the soda-straw pipe that Sprint is willing to sell me.

But that’s not all. These policies that say that we are all mere consumers of information, and not producers, means that it’s harder than it should be for individuals to offer their information to the world. If you want to offer movies, music, or even just text in large quantities, you have to contract with someone for web-hosting services — there’s a special hurdle you have to jump to put yourself in the ‘producer’ class, rather than the ‘consumer’ class.

I’m normally not one to jump on this particular bandwagon, since it seems to require a view of the world that holds that social mobility is next to impossible. In this case, though, that’s nearly correct.

Imagine a car dealer with four cars for sale:

  1. The first car isn’t even really a car: it’s a scooter that needs a ring job. It might have been useful once, but it certainly isn’t now. And while it’s better than walking, it’s not much better at all. This is roughly analogous to dialup access.

  2. The second car is a 1973 Honda Civic. It’s not very expensive, but it’s not very fast, either, and you can really only fit 2.5 people in it. Some people can make do with this car, but most people need something better. This is roughly analogous to ISDN and low-end DSL service.

  3. The third car is a 1983 Honda Civic. This can actually get up to freeway speeds, and it’s reasonably useful for a lot of people. This is similar to high-end DSL service, something like what I have today.

  4. The fourth car is a gold-plated, rocket-powered Ferrari station wagon with power seats and a wet bar. It is capable of traveling at 740 mph all day long, while carrying six people in perfect comfort. It also costs seventeen million dollars, and you are only allowed to buy it if you live in certain areas. Oh, yeah, and they won’t actually tell you what it costs up front, because they’re not actually willing to sell you the car unless they also sell you all your office chairs, janitor’s carts, and so on as well — anything with wheels. Don’t have janitor’s carts or a large number of office chairs? They’re not really interested in selling it to you, then, even if you’re willing to pay. This is analogous to actual the actual high-speed network offerings available to the ‘enterprise’ (i.e. large business) market.

If you can see that there appears to be a gap in the market between the 1983 Honda and the gold-plated Ferrari, pat yourself on the back: you are smarter than the people who run the telecommunications industry. Which is, admittedly, faint praise. I cannot be the only person out there who needs to move large chunks of data around quickly, but who cannot justify paying thousands of dollars a month (i.e. many multiples of what I’m currently paying) to do it.

Posted by tino at 12:36 8.12.05
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