If you are setting up a high tech business in Charleston SC you are going to have some challenges finding a decent Internet Services Provider (ISP). Depending on what street you live on, you may have the choice of anywhere between ZERO and THREE possible service providers. Rarely do you have a choice of more than one.
Limited Choices – Our Experience
Our First Home
For example, in our prior offices in North Charleston we had ONE choice for an ISP when we moved in. That choice was AT&T Fast Access DSL. The cost? $125/month for 6Mbps downstream and 512Kbps upstream. Not exactly blindingly fast for a software development company. Since we are constantly uploading media, software, and other large payloads to our clients the 512Kbps upstream speed was horrific. Some uploads would take hours instead of minutes.
After our first first few months in the new office we finally hunted down Knology as a potential service provider. Nowhere did they advertise their service. The first people we spoke with didn’t even think they served our area. It wasn’t until they did a “site survey” that they determined we could get their cable service with 8Mbps / 1Mbps service. A big improvement on the upload speed, but still nothing like you’d get in a “big city” like Charlotte or real cities like Boston or L.A.
The sad part was that after telling our representative that we needed as much bandwidth as we could get with rock solid stability they never mentioned one small but important detail; they provided fiber service as well. After a year on the slowest “Fast Access” we’ve ever had + a cable line backup we learned we could get T1 class service on a 4Mbps/4Mbps line from Knology. We only had to pay a $1,000 setup fee and $600/month for that service. Kind of sad considering that in many “wired” cities you can get 20Mbps/20Mbps service for that rate.
Later we also found out that Comcast would run a line for us for a nonimal fee. In return for a $1,000 install fee and a 2-year contract they pulled a line all the way from their hub 3 miles away to our office. In return we paid $125/month for 16Mpbs/2Mbps service on an unshared line. That meant we regularly saw throughput of 20Mbps+/12Mbps for $125/month. Now that is what we consider normal cost & performance ratios from an ISP.
Our New Home
Just over a month ago we relocated to a new home in Mount Pleasant. The rent was far cheaper and the neighborhood far nicer. We are now in decent office park with great food and shopping right down the street. No more vagrants stopping in to sell us leopard skin rugs or tie-die t-shirts or offering to spit-wash our windshields. All-in-all a win-win upgrade. Then we found out about the Internet access.
Turns out our new location only has TWO options, period. No hidden cable or fiber services. We have $125/month DSL again or $600/month for 1.5Mbps T1. Ouch. That is it. No other choices, no-way, no-how. On the particular street we are on a fiber line runs across the back of the property and down to the big apartment complex at the end of the road. Want to tap into that? Try a $50,000 installation fee. What? Really! Cable? Nope, nowhere near us.
We went with dual DSL lines bound together with a decent size Cisco Router. That works… sort of. Actually not really well at all. The worst part is that we originally ordered 3 lines from AT&T. One of the lines never worked. We finally agreed to shut it down and AT&T agreed not to charge us for it. The other 2 lines run at anywhere from 6Mbps/512Kbps to 2Mbps/128Kbps depending on which way the wind is blowing. In fact just today BOTH lines went out at 11AM on a Friday. A half-dozen employees at a software company with no Internet. Even better, AT&T’s “4 hour response time guarantee”, well they guarantee you’ll get a … woohooo… $10 credit on your next bill for every 24 hours you are offline. Our estimated “fix date” is sometime this weekend. Wow, can’t wait for that $10 credit after losing thousands in overhead expenses for the day. Grrrrr.
Charleston SC High Speed Internet
So what are YOUR choices? Well, that really depends on the neighborhood. In fact, as we learned at our new offices, the EXACT LOCATION you are at makes a difference. Just 1/4 mile away they have cable, DSL, and T1. Just 3 miles away they have cable, DSL, T1, and fiber. Our location? DSL or T1. The company offering the service also changes. Even then, virtually EVERY company ties back directly to AT&T, Comcast, or Scana. The fact is that AT&T owns ALL copper circuits in the area (phone lines, T1, DSL, ISDN, etc.), while Comcast owns all the coax (cable TV, cable Internet, etc.), and Scana owns 90% of the fiber in the area. Most competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) such as Knology, Spirit Telecom, and others are nothing more than resellers for AT&T or Scana or tie directly into their backbones. Very few companies in the area run their own fiber, and those that do are not ISPs.
Charleston SC ISPs
AT&T (formerly Bellsouth)
Available almost anywhere in the Charleston area. AT&T in the incumbent carrier and has a near monopoly in the market and certainly owns 99.99% of the copper in town. Even if you get T1, DSL, or ISDN from a CLEC you are really using AT&T, however the CLECs are almost always cheaper.
We strongly recommend AVOIDING AT&T AT ALL COSTS.
Their “business class service” is anything but. In the past 2 years we’ve experienced several multi-day outages. Both times covering 2 or more business days. This latest outage has been 96+ hours and the technical lead supervisor “Francis” told us “the outage is a bad DSLAM in the field but is only affecting 20 customers so it is not a high priority, it probably won’t be fixed until at least Monday since it is the weekend and none of the techs are working today.”!!! What?!?!? This is after having lost a full day of work already. Good to know AT&T’s “business class service guarantee” says that if we report the call & it is not fixed in 24 hours we get 3 days credit…. WOW, Really? A whole $12!!! Awesome!
Another important note is that AT&T Fast Access DSL no longer publishes phone numbers or email addresses on their site to contact support. In our opinion this is an indicator that they receive numerous calls regarding the service, why else would you hide both your phone numbers and contact info from your customer base?
- T1 : 1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps, very reliable, one of the highest cost/Mb running $650+/month (April 2010)
- DSL: 6.0Mbps/512Kbps, stability depends on location anywhere from somewhat stable (1-2 hours/week downtime) to horrific (6h+/week downtime), around $125/month (April 1020)
They are building up a business class service, having simply used their residential division in the past. They still have a lot of learning & training to get under their belt on how to deal with business class clients. We’ve already had 2 missed appointments and downtime of hours/week for “planned maintenance”. This is not yet true business class service.
- Cable: From 16Mbps/2Mbps to 50Mbps/10Mbps, what you have access to varies by location, as does stability and up-time. We’ve experience 10 hours/year downtime at our old location to 10 hours THIS MONTH at a home office location. Cost is $125/month for 16Mbps to $250/month for 50Mbps (April 2010). Actual throughput can vary significantly depending on who your neighbors are.
They are available in very limited areas in Charleston, and while they say they will bring service to ANY address in the area with a 2-year contract the reality is that you need to be very close to an existing line of service. More than a half-mile away and you’re out of luck.
- Cable: Data rates vary by location, typically 8Mbps/2Mbps for $150/month. Stability varies from 2-hours of downtime/week to 1h or less/month, though we did experience several multi-day outages.
- Fiber: The PON/Matrix service is very stable, same quality of service as T1 and nearly 100% full utilization of bandwidth with no degradation or loss (as compared to 80-90% maximum on cable or DSL services). This was a very stable service but also very expensive. $600/month for a 4Mbps/4Mbps service (the lowest end offering as of April 2010). You can get up to 100Mbps/100Mbps service for $5k/month. That would be nice but it is a little out of our budget.
Windstream (formerly Nuvox)
Two North Main Street
Greenville, SC 29601
A CLEC and provider of enterprise class business services. They resell the AT&T copper for a decent price and are available in most locations in Charleston.
- T1 : 1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps, very reliable, one of the highest cost/Mb running $450+/month (April 2010)
That is our list for now & if we had a choice we’d not select any of them. The few reliable providers are 5-10x as expensive as the larger incumbent carriers such as AT&T and Comcast. None of these providers can offer 99.999% uptime and their “guarantees” are meaningless. All the “guarantees” of response time mean nothing more than if they don’t live up to their promise, which they often don’t, you get a whopping $10-$50 credited on your next $100-$500 bill. If only we had access to some real competition like a good WiMAX carrier, that would be wonderful. In the meantime we’ll just have to put-up with unscheduled vacation days and slower-than-molasses upload speeds.
We know there may be some other high speed carriers in Charleston, but we’ve not found any that provide viable service for small to mid-sized businesses that don’t want to take out a second mortgage just to get reliable & quick Internet service. If you find someone else in the area please let us know.