One Person's Quest for Faster Broadband

Several months ago, I wrote about how pathetic my broadband options were in San Francisco and, in fact, how bad things are in the country as a whole.

Since then, I decided to make the switch to something faster. At 7,500 feet from an AT&T central office, the fastest standard DSL speeds I could get were 2.5 Mbps down (about 310 KBps) and nearly .5 Mbps up (about 60 KBps). For things like downloading giant Apple software updates and uploading photos and HD videos, that just didn't cut it. Although I've had a great experience with my ISP, DSL Extreme, over the years, the company simply couldn't offer me better speeds for a reasonable monthly fee.

After I wrote the original story, Comcast--our local cable provider--expanded its broadband options to our house to include several faster tiers. Although weary of the company's 250GB-per-month bandwidth cap, I bit the bullet and ordered a 15 Mbps/2 Mbps plan for about $65 a month (I don't have Comcast cable or phone service, otherwise it would have been less expensive).

What happened after I ordered was a tragedy of errors that reaffirmed my contempt for Comcast. After one appointment where the tech was unprepared to complete the job, a second that Comcast cancelled during my appointment window, and a third during which nobody even bothered to show up, I canceled my order and started the search again.

While expressing my dismay at the unbelievable incompetence of Comcast on Twitter, I got in touch with local ISP Sonic.net. The company's Fusion Broadband product promised speeds of up to 18 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up using ADSL2+ technology. But once I talked with Sonic.net's CEO, I found out the company had even more ambitious plans to offer a bonded product that combined two DSL lines (two pairs of wires) to dramatically improve both download and upload speeds. I volunteered to be a test subject.

The installation process is a bit more complex than standard DSL, in that it requires two unused pairs of copper phone wire and a special modem (which the company sells you for $100 plus tax, a good deal considering such modems cost twice that if you buy one retail).

After an appointment with AT&T to run a new line from the telephone pole to the box on my house, Sonic.net came with the modem and set everything up. (The tech told me this was the first such installation he, or anybody, had done outside of the company.) Residential installation costs $99 on top of the modem, but there's no commitment required.

The plan I chose was 12 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up, with dynamic IP addresses, for $70 a month (the company offers up to 30 Mbps down, but 2 Mbps is the max for upload speeds). A lot pricier than the $30 I was paying DSL Extreme, for sure, but since installation, I'm consistently getting four times both the download and upload speeds that I was getting before, for less than two-and-a-half times the price. And I don't have to worry about my ISP shutting down my account for going over an arbitrary bandwidth limit.

So to Comcast I say, thank you for forcing me to keep looking. I'm very happy with how things turned out.

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