Yesterday, I posted about six things that need to change. One of them was entitled "Broadband Bandits", where I basically denounced broadband companies' artificially limited bandwidth options. After re-reading it, I think I need to clarify a few things.
Certainly, these companies aren't in this business for wholly altruistic purposes -- they're in it to make money. That's the whole idea. The problem that I have with most broadband offerings is that they're specifically designed to limit end-user options without any reasonable alternative. Most areas with broadband access have one or two options, and they're generally both playing this game.
One of the major issues is the ridiculously limited upstream bandwidth provided in most residential packages. For $50 a month, I would expect to get better than 39KB/s uploading images to Flickr, videos to YouTube, pictures to my eBay auctions, and when sending email attachments. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, since upstream bandwidth has been squeezed as low as possible.
Even RoadRunner, a company that does not generally limit users' bandwidth, nor block well-known ports, delivers 5Mb/384k service with their standard package. I tested a freshly-installed RoadRunner line the other day, and found that it's just barely possible to get 5Mb down, with the 384k upstream completely maxed out with TCP ACKs. Other companies do the same thing, offering a 15:1 up/down ratio service that can just barely reach those levels, hampered by the upstream caps.
The DOCSIS cable standard isn't synchronous. Current DOCSIS installations based on the 2.0 standard are capable of delivering 38Mbit/s downstream and 27Mb/s upstream to a group of modems. A small neighborhood would have this bandwidth split between any number of modems, and using the law of averages, most users will get their rated download speeds. But notice that the 2.0 standard's down/up ratio is roughly 5:3. This doesn't coincide with the 15:1 ratio found in most broadband plans. Some offerings in the US and Canada are nearly 20:1. This doesn't jive with the capabilities of DOCSIS, so there's no technical reason why these plans exist. Upstream data is subjected to higher noise levels across a cable plant, but that doesn't justify the low caps found nearly everywhere.
The new DOCSIS 3.0 standard is very new and hasn't been widely adopted yet, but was designed to give FIOS a run for its money, offering 160Mb/s downstream and 120Mbit/s upstream to the same number of modems. Again, we see a similar down/up ratio in play.
I've seen many commercials for broadband service showing a fellow sitting in his kitchen with a laptop, telling his wife he can't go to the mall because he has to finish some work. Suddenly, we see a screenshot showing a "Done" dialog box, and voila, due to the power of XYZ's broadband service, the lucky fellow can go to the mall and relax on the hard wooden benches outside Bed Bath and Beyond. The problem here is that the ad specifically targets those people that can telecommute, without mentioning that if he was uploading a PowerPoint presentation, he'd be sitting there for a long, long time... assuming that the provider hasn't blocked IPSec and he can actually connect to the corporate network in the first place.
Consumer broadband needs to change. It needs to provide at least a 5:3 down/up ratio as part of the standard package for a reasonable price. I know dozens of broadband users that would gladly trade a few Mb downstream for a few Mb upstream, and this trend is only going to grow. Fears of illicit filesharing and copyright infringement be damned -- you can't penalize a captive audience for something they might do.