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Charleston High Speed Internet Grade: D+

I am really getting frustrated with high speed Internet here in Charleston.   Most of Charleston, whether a business or residential address does NOT have access to fiber.    In the few business locations that do have access the fiber is at least $100/Mb and you can only get pricing that low if you sign a 3 year contract with steep disconnect penalties.   Then you get to pay all those fun telecommunications fees on top which makes it more like $140/month.    Days like today make me miss the REAL Internet available in Boston and Los Angeles.

Why am I writing about this on a blog about software development?  Because the access of RELIABLE high speed Internet is critical to productivity.   Case in point.   My main workstation was acting up this morning.  Time for a reboot and when I do that I install all the Windows Security Updates.    First issue, could not connect to the Internet at all.    Reboot the modem, my router, and my PC.   Finally get connected but it is S-L-O-W.    Windows is pulling a piddly-little 58MB of update files.    On my 20Mb/2Mb service (fastest Knology provides) it should take seconds.    20 minutes later the file is downloaded.    Not good.   So I connect to Speed Test (not a “tweaked ISP version”) and find this:

knology speed test 2013-02-19
knology speed test 2013-02-19

As suspected, my throughput with Knology is less than 1/10th of the promised speed on the download side.    As it says the download from a test server less than 100 miles away is worse than 61% of other US services, a grade they give a D+.

This means pushing my updates, pulling new repos, pulling test data, and more all take 10x longer than normal.   In an average development day that sucks.   It means drinking 5x as much coffee as a 20-second operation now takes 3 minutes.  Literally.

Soooo frustrating.

Alternatives

What are the other choices here at my home office in Mount Pleasant?

mount pleasant providers
mount pleasant providers

AT&T/Bellsouth DSL

They have THE WORST customer service in the industry.  By far.  Hands down.   They are also expensive and while I’ve not tried their new “highly touted” (meaning 3 sales people/month coming to my door) AT&T Uverse service, the speeds are horrific.    They also cannot keep a network online.    Last time I used the, over 5 years ago, the service was off multiple times/week and average throughput was < 1Mbps/256k.   Welcome back to dial-up days.   I guess that should be expected from an old-fashioned telco.   At least they finally upgraded from the telegraph this year as I was having a hard time typing in my passwords in Morse Code!

Grade: F

Comcast

High speed Internet, yup they have it.   I can get 50Mbps/10Mbps service at my house.  It actually is almost that fast most of the time.  Until 10 of my neighbors get online and start streaming Honey Boo Boo on Hulu.   Any evening the actual throughput drops to more like 5Mbps/2Mbps.   Comcast swears up & down that this does not happen and that they don’t pool resources on a business class line.   It is a lie.    Real world tests prove otherwise and like clockwork the network comes back up to full speed when the “normal people” go back to work.

Also like clockwork… the network goes offline.   Just about every week on Friday and Saturday evening after midnight the network goes offline.  Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for several hours.      You will also find that many Saturday mornings it is still not online.    That sucks when you are trying to push out a new development release.

Comcast swears they do not do routine maintenance at that time.   I find that hard to believe.  Literally nearly every-single Friday or Saturday this happens.  The Internet is completely offline and I can see in the modem log files it is the head end router (their end) not responding.

So true high speed but always off.  Also kind of pricey at $150/month for just the Internet service alone.

Grade: C-

Knology

Finally Knology dropped some new lines in the ground 2 summers ago.  I could now choose something besides the OMFG This Is HORRIBLE service of Bellsouth and the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t service of Comcast.    Knology would save the day, or so I thought.     Last year I decided to finally “make the switch”.   20M/2M service for Internet plus phone plus TV for just $130/month after taxes.   Great!  Not as fast as Comcast, but I’ll take it.

The honeymoon was perfect.   I always got 20M/2M or BETTER speeds.   The network connection NEVER EVER NEVER went down.   I think I had 3 minutes of down time in 6 months.

Then the “in laws” arrived.  And by “in laws” I mean Knology got bought out by a company that was trying to become the next big conglomerate to follow in the footsteps of Comcast.    It didn’t take long.   Within a month my new in laws trashed the place.    Someone decided to reconfigure the network and while Knology claims “backhoe in idaho” (Atlanta actaully) the network was 100% completely dead for most of the southeast for more than 3 days.

First of all, if a SINGLE network fiber can shut down the entire southeast segment of the network and you are an ISP then you’re doing it wrong.  Fire the CTO.  Now.   The guy is an idiot.  And while you are at it fire the network engineer.    Secondly, it is obvious from the network routes (thanks traceroute) that the configuration of the network was notably changed.

After the “backhoe was backed up” and the problem was fixed, nothing has ever been the same.    The in laws may have left but the damage to the relationship at home has been done.   And just to remind you of the experience, the “in laws” send a friendly post card in the mail every now & then… OK about every DAY…. by giving you 1/10th your contracted service speed.    The New Knology (post merger) has completely FUBARed their network.    Now days of 1Mb downloads are common and it is killing my productivity.

Not too mention I can no longer stream Honey Boo Boo without waiting 12 hours… I might as well watch it on… GASP…. regular ol’ television.     I’ll have plenty of time while I wait for my Windows Update to download.

Grade:  A (last summery) to D+ (today)

High Tech Yes, High Speed No

Apparently, even with all the high tech businesses in the neighborhood, NONE of the perks that come with it have trickled out into the local economy.    Benefit Focus and Blackbaud are miles from my home, they have high speed.  But they only pulled private fiber to their buildings.    Google is up in Goose Greek about 20 miles away.   Again, nothing for us down here in Charleston County as the major trunks all stop right outside of town at their facility.  Amazon is in the upstate and again has a private fiber network that nobody up there can get.  People Matter is moving in downtown, I’m not sure what they are using but I’m guessing they will provision with AT&T or SCANA directly to get a dark fiber lit.   Again, the network here is not improving.

Part of the problem is that SCANA owns 80% of the fiber in the ground.  More than half of it is not lit.   But I’ve tried working with them in the past and they want an exorbitant rate to utilize their lines.   You also can’t get it very far from the main Route 26 corridor, which means tens-of-thousands of dollars to run it to most “outlying” locations like the “boonies of Mount Pleasant” (a significant metro area adjacent to downtown Charleston).

charleston population
charleston population

I’m not sure what “powers that be” are stopping new companies from getting into the ISP business, but some unusual market factors are at work.   Charleston Metro Area hosts over 300,000 residents and it growing by more than 10% annually.   It is an up-and-coming major metro market yet there is near-zero investment in high speed infrastructure ANYWHERE in the state.   You can see from $7.2 BILLION dollars that was offered by the US Government to improve high speed just how much South Carolina earned in comparison to our neighbors.

south carolina broadband act share
south carolina broadband act share

So here I wait for some new savior to come along.    Google Fiber…. Verizon FIOS… maybe some company down the street on a private fiber line will install WiMAX.    I can dream can’t I?

Looks like my 10MB download is finally done… back to work…. for now.

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Charleston High Speed Internet – Part 2.5a

A client told me tonight that they are switching Internet Service Providers in Charleston.  They are dumping Windstream because they had been “been bundling 2-T1’s into one and calling it two” and replacing them with DeltaCom because they had a 4.5M Internet service. Yikes!  DeltaCom scares me. They almost killed my last company with a 10 day outage on my primary redundant T1 lines, but that is another story.   The interesting part is that they are pretending they are even selling something different at all.

Bundled T1s

As for Windstream bundling 2 T1s, that is how it works until you get to a higher class service.    It is called bonded T’s and is the only option for data services over copper wire until you get up to something like DS3 (45M).   I’m curious what DeltaCom is providing.  I’m certain it is bonded T1s exactly like Windstream, they are just giving it a new name.  They’ve just added another T1 to the bonding group (each T1 is 1.5M), which any T1 provider can do.  In fact in the good ‘ol days… literally over a decade ago, that is how you got “big fast Internet”.  You just kept adding 1.5M chunks of T1 until you used up the entire telco bundle coming down your street.   These days real cities offer fiber everywhere and the few places without use cable so this sort of thing is rare.

Charleston Area ISPs

I’m sure it will work out fine for my client, but these data communications providers in Charleston really irk me.    I am somewhat knowledgeable about this stuff & they still try to convince me how their subpar & overpriced service is “different”.    T1 services are nearly 50 years old and survives only by government mandate & scare tactics of “ohh…. only T1 is truly reliable” (true in 2001, not true in 2011).   And the fact that all the big telcos have billions invested in that infrastructure that they still need to recoup.   Selling old crappy services for 10x what they are worth really aggravates me.  Especially when I know how arbitrary the whole price model is from the bottom up through the incumbent carrier and the competitive local exchange carriers.    Even more aggravating is that bad overpriced Internet services affects everyone these days, especially my client base, and we have so few choices in Charleston right now.

Internet service in Charleston is horrible compared to “big boy towns”.   When we moved into Wando Park we only had DSL (unreliable and slow) or T1 available, which is why I had numerous discussions with the town, Comcast, Knology, and AT&T about pulling fiber or cable to our area last summer.  When everyone started saying “not enough interest in that area of town”, I actually looked into getting VC funding for deploying WiMAX in small cities. WiMAX is basically a big bad-ass wireless router that covers an entire section of town (11 miles+) with 100Mbps service.   No more wires & true high speed everywhere.

On a bright note, there is progress in Charleston with general connectivity if not on the pricing front.  In the past 12 months we’ve gone from having DSL (copper pair) and T1 (expensive copper pair) to also having business class cable Internet at the office park.  At my home, just 6 miles away, we have gone from DSL and a single cable provider to having TWO cable providers on the same street and there is even rumor that the new provider (Knology) pulled fiber alongside that new cable line this past fall.   Can we possibly have the option of Knology’s FIOS eqiuvalent service in a Charleston neighborhood before 2020?

Copper Lines? It’s The Second Decade Of the New Millenium!

Can you tell this stuff gets me going?   Damn Internet Service companies!

I only hope my customer doesn’t get bamboozled into signing a typical 3-year contract for 4.5M internet at $800/month.   The fact that anyone is even allowed to still sell that kind of service going into the 2nd decade of the new millenium is truly sad.

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Charleston, SC High Speed Internet ISPs

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)

Comcast

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.

Knology

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)

http://business.windstream.com/

Two North Main Street
Greenville, SC 29601
T: 864-672-5000
T: 877-466-8869
E: info@nuvox.com

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)

Summary

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.