For as much as people like to complain about their Internet providers these days, Internet service tends to quickly fade into the background for most people, being one of those things that’s just there. As I’ve noted on several other occasions on this Blog, it tends to fall into the category of everyday items that most people don’t pay much attention to unless something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. In my case, for as long as I’ve lived here I’ve had one of these relatively mundane Internet connections through Comcast, one of the two Internet providers I can get here.
As you can see, by most standards it’s a pretty fast connection. Although the connection I have goes (theoretically) up to 50 megabits, in practice it’s rare that I would ever see that type of speed, and in extended downloads I think 25 megabits is probably closer to reality on a day-to-day basis. For all the various drama I’ve had with Comcast over the years over my various troubles with cable service (mostly, it turns out, of my own making,) their Internet service has been a relatively drama-free affair, one or two account issues aside. It becomes one of those things that just happens to be there, only occasionally gives me trouble (none of which seems to require much more than resetting the modem to fix) and mostly does its job. And yet, as seems to be the case with a lot of people I know, I would be ready to drop it in a heartbeat for any other viable option that isn’t Comcast.
I suppose I haven’t had nearly the number of technical problems or customer service headaches that some people have had with their Comcast service, but there seems to be a pretty widespread perception out there that Comcast is at best the lesser of two evils, and at worst the greater of one evil. Then again, most people don’t have a lot of choice in the matter; typically here in Downtown Bellevue your choices are either Comcast or CenturyLink (formerly Qwest, formerly, USWest, formerly Pacific Northwest Bell, formerly Ma Bell, etc.) and I think the fastest connection I could get from CenturyLink would be around 12 megabits, which maxes out at a bit less than half of the (theoretical) bandwidth I’ve been getting on my Comcast service. Over in Redmond, a few years ago Verizon was starting to install FIOS (their fiber optic service) in various neighborhoods around town, but just before I moved out of Redmond they had sold off their entire network in Washington and several other states to Frontier, who as far as I can tell would just as soon ditch the whole entire thing and move people back to DSL (which claims to do up to 25 megabits on the highest service tier, but I don’t think I ever had more than 3 megabits down and 768K up in my old apartment). In other words, if you want an Internet connection that isn’t terrible in most areas around here, you’re stuck with Comcast. So we put up with it, hoping that some day other feasible competition will show up, at which point there will probably be a line out their door of people looking to switch for the simple reason that they’re not Comcast.
That long awaited alternative to Comcast just happened to show up here unexpectedly last Friday in the form of a notice in the mail that CondoInternet, a small Internet provider that provides fiber optic service to a number of high-rise apartment buildings in Downtown Seattle, Belltown and surrounding neighborhoods, would soon be offering 100 megabit service within my building for $60 a month. They do this by taking advantage of the fact that the Westin Building, a major Internet regional hub, is located in Belltown, so they can take advantage of the existing infrastructure for enterprises and datacenters to offer residential Internet service. And I just happen to be lucky enough to live in the first building in Bellevue to get wired up for their service. Sure, I have existing service that’s reasonably fast mostly trouble-free, but most people around here can’t get a connection that fast around here at all, and even if they can it’ll generally cost twice that much, if not more. After about three or four seconds of considering my options, I naturally decided to go for it.
If the connection was fast, the speed at which it got hooked up was also surprisingly fast. When I got the notice, I went to their website, where they offered to put people in this building on a list to inform them when service would be available. I filled this form out at roughly 11pm on a Friday evening. By 11:30 I was being contacted by someone from CondoInternet to set up an installation appointment on Monday. A few more e-mails went back and forth, and the arrangements were made. When I came home from Work on Monday, everything was hooked up and ready to go. This is what I came home to:
In technical terms, I think that falls somewhere in the category of “Holy freakin’ crud that’s fast”. Just for grins and giggles, I went and downloaded some stuff off Steam, and was able to install Left 4 Dead (about 6GB) in under ten minutes, at a speed hovering right around 10 megabytes a second. To put that in a little perspective, I can recall a time back in my pre-Internet days when a 10 megabyte download (usually some Apogee or Epic shareware game from one of the local BBSes, this was back before I could afford to actually buy software) over a 14.4 modem would have taken over an hour to complete, now I can download that in a second. Some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations put my new 100 megabit connection somewhere in the neighborhood of nearly 7,300 times as fast as dialup over a 14.4 modem. And I don’t even want to know how that compares to a 2400 baud modem…
So, at least until someone else starts catching up, I’ve got just about the fastest residential Internet connection in town, and I’m even paying a bit less per month than I would be for Comcast internet service… Which I fully expect that I won’t be doing anymore pretty quickly. Then again, right when I get my blazing new Internet connection, down in the Kansas City area the first customers on Google Fiber are starting to come online witrh their much vaunted gigabit Internet service, which from early reports blows even this stuff out of the water. I guess that’s why technology is a moving target, right?