« Verizon and Motorola Announce Public Safety “Solution” | Main | LightSquared (May Be) a Viable Alternative for 4G »

National Broadband Map Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

Shopping for Broadband Reveals Cable Still Out Front

It’s been a week since the National Broadband Map was unveiled, and as fate would have it, I’ll be moving into a new home soon, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to test the tool and select my broadband service provider for the new place at the same time.

Sadly, I have found the tool to be disappointing, buggy, and the data incomplete.  Sure, the site asks you to let them know if you don’t see your provider, but in my southern New Mexico community it seems a fair bet that cable provider Comcast (Nasdaq:CMCSA) is probably the largest broadband service provider around—and in repeated tests Comcast didn’t even appear in the list.  

Not only is this an obvious omission, it’s also disconcerting because NTIA awarded nearly $150m to all the states for gathering this information every six months.  That’s $3m per state—I’d like to bid on the contract for NM, please!  Here's what the map showed me when I plugged in my zip code:

As for what was revealed, the map is really nothing more than a starting point.  But it was interesting to compare and contrast the current options as a consumer rather than an analyst…our ILEC readers, however, may be sad (unsurprised?) to find I’m going with Comcast as my broadband service provider. Here are the reasons why:

The National Broadband Map listed Qwest (NYSE:Q) and Covad as the only two wired options, but a quick glance at the yellow pages confirmed that Comcast too serves this area.  Covad targets business users and its cheapest service is $80/month for DSL—not an option for Richelle.  

Qwest has a special for the first six months where you can get any speed DSL service for $15/month and you don’t have to be a landline customer…sounded interesting, but the devil’s in the details—or rather the speeds.  You will pay $100 up front for a modem, or lease it from Qwest for $8/month.  After six months, the monthly rates without a “qualifying home phone plan” range from $40/month up to $70/month, based on the data speeds.  As a video cord-cutter who occasionally streams Netflix movies, I want a pretty high speed, probably 12 Mbps or 20 Mbps for download.  These will run $50 or $60/ month after the first six months, and the upload speeds are just 896 Kbps.  All in, I figure I’ll spend $41 or $42 /month with Qwest for the first year, more if I decide to lease rather than buy the modem, but the second year we're talking $60/month. 

Next I looked at Comcast.  Comcast’s current promotion is $30/month for the first six months for its Performance package, with a download speed of 15 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.  The plan is $45/month for months 7 – 12, and could range as high as $50-$60/month thereafter.  Here you can provide your own modem (which run about $50 at Staples, with WiFi), or lease theirs for $7/month.  I figure I would buy my own.  So the pricing looks slightly lower than Qwest's DSL service--not a lot less, but its speeds are also higher.

The national broadband map lists four wireless providers in my area, and Verizon’s (NYSE:VZ) is actually listed as the fastest provider included, with speeds of 3 Mbps to 6 Mbps (of course, if Comcast were actually in the list, it would be the fastest!).  When I plug in my zip code on Verizon’s web site I’m given the option of acquiring a 4G USB modem for $100 with a 2-year contract or for $170 with a one-year contract.  The data plans are $50/month for 5 Gigabytes of monthly use and $80/month for 10 Gigabytes.  But how much is a gigabyte of use?  Before I pondered that question, however, I read the product reviews for the two modems presently available and at least half of the reviewers were unhappy with the product; many said it didn’t hold the 4G signal—reverting back to 3G instead—and it lost its connection often.  I’m not in a high population area so I have my doubts as to whether I would actually get a 4G signal here.

AT&T Wireless’ (NYSE:T) web site had a very cool data usage estimator that helped me answer the gigabyte question.  Based on 140 emails/day with no attachment, 100 emails/day with a photo or other attachment, 200 web page views per day, and 30 minutes of streaming video per day, my estimated monthly usage according to AT&T Wireless would be 3.74 Gigs.  But the calculator wouldn’t even let me figure on streaming more than 50 minutes of video per day, which tells me their service isn’t really an option for a cord cutter. 

The other odd thing about AT&T’s site is that it promotes a DataConnect 4G service as well as DataConnect 3G.  We all know AT&T doesn’t actually have a 4G service at this time, but both it and T-Mobile have decided to call their HSPA+ system 4G.  Speeds, however, are closer to those of DSL, well below the 5 – 12 Mbps that LTE systems are delivering.  Nevertheless, AT&T’s DataConnect 4G service is just $50/month for 5 gigabytes, whereas its DataConnect 3G service is offered at $60/month.  For what is essentially a 3G WiFi hotspot, however, AT&T did have very good reviews.  In fact, it didn’t have any bad reviews, a fact which gave us pause…

The last two wireless “broadband” providers in my area are Sprint (NYSE:S) and Leap (Nasdaq:LEAP), which markets its service under the Cricket brand name.  Sprint (Clearwire) doesn’t have 4G service in my market yet, but it offers a 3G/4G USB modem for free with a 2 year contract, which is $60/month and limited to 5 gigs of data per month on the 3G network. Data usage is, however, unlimited in markets where 4G is available.  Speeds here are reportedly less than 800 Kbps according to the national broadband map. 

Cricket actually had a better deal for 3G data:  the modem is free after a mail-in rebate, you don’t have to sign a contract and the plan is $60 per month for 7.5 gigabytes of data.  Cricket says its speeds are up to 1.4 Mbps, though the national broadband map has it at the under 800 Kbps rate.

So, while I was initially hopeful there might be a wireless option that would work for me, the speeds simply aren’t there yet (not here anyway).  And compared side by side, for the speeds I find the cable broadband option more palatable.  Of course, if Qwest didn’t insist on a home phone line for its cheaper pricing, I might have come to a different conclusion…(something for you ILEC managers to think about).

As for the National Broadband Map, it was a year in the making, it cost an awful lot of money, and it doesn’t seem to be fully baked just yet.  Ah, government at its finest… 

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>