When Downloads Take a Century


Back in the good old USA and the first thing that smacks me in the face is how bad my Internet service is. In Paris, France I clocked my Internet speed at 66 Mbit/s. Here in Parker, Colorado, just south of Denver, a major center for telecommunication companies, I clocked my speed at 0.93 Mbit/s. That’s not a whole lot better than a dial-up modem (remember those days?). That’s YouTube in low resolution mode, with lots of stuttering and buffering. That’s a no to Netflix and HBOGo. I would call this Third-World Internet service, except the service in the Third-World is probably better. The US is sorely lagging in providing good broadband service compared to Europe, for instance. In the face of this miserable service, huge internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Time Warner Cable want to merge.  Sure, let’s see how much worse they can make their service!

My ISP is CenturyLink which provides Internet via DSL. There is no alternative provider where I live (Monopoly, anyone?). On their website they boast about their amazing connection speeds. But according to CenturyLink, the fastest service I can get in my home is a measly 1.5 Mbit/s, which they claim is what I am getting now. They blame my 0.93 Mbit/s measurement on other factors, like server speed. Right. I’m sure at 1.5 Mbit/s the rate limiting step is the server on the other end of the connection. Not that it matters. A full 1.5 Mbit/s is no cause for jubilation.

I have used this ISP and its predecessor QWest for the last 10 years. The connection speed has always been about 1 Mbit/s. When I have complained in the past about the slow speeds, they have said I would have to wait until they upgrade their lines. I have been waiting 10 years. So I wrote a nasty letter to them suggesting that their CEO, Glen F Post III, might consider parting with some of his $13.74 million per year salary  in order to “upgrade their lines.” I also filed a formal complaint with the FCC stating that CenturyLink misrepresented their connection speeds and weren’t doing anything to improve the speeds. Regarding this complaint, I just received a copy of the reply CenturyLink sent to the FCC. The letter states that Century Link advertises their “internet speeds as ‘up to’ the designated speed.” They then blamed the slower speed I was getting on “the latency of the internet as a whole” even though the speed test I was using was their very own speed test on their website. They then went on to say that “in reviewing this case with its DSL Escalations team, CENTURYLINK facility records have determined that the complainant’s premise is too far from the central office to qualify for a higher internet speed.”  Actually my “premise” is 1 mile outside the city limits sign of Parker, Colorado, a town of about 47,000 people, located 20 miles from Denver, Colorado, a city of about 650,000 people which sits in the middle of the Front Range area, which has a population of about 4.5 million people. So not really in the middle of nowhere, as one might assume from this letter. Yet surely there must be plans in the works to upgrade the infra-structure?  Not according to the letter: “Engineering records do not show the area on the list of upgrades for fiscal year 2014. CENTURYLINK will continue to monitor the area and apprise the consumers of any change in status.” Well, that’s reassuring.

The US government has invested heavily in the ISPs, who promised to bring broadband speeds to rural America (yes, living 20 miles from where the Denver Broncos play is rural America, at least in the eyes of my ISP). They have failed to deliver on this promise. This article  explains why. In brief, in exchange for propping up the virtual monopoly status of the ISPs, these same ISPs were supposed to invest in “the final mile” — improving the infra-structure to allow faster connection speeds. Other governments, such as in Europe, took to investing themselves in the Internet infra-structure, with results that far outstrip what is seen here. Of course you may live in a well-served area and might be getting great Internet service already. If so, consider yourself lucky. Not everyone is so fortunate.

So when you hear the ISPs whining about the need to overturn net neutrality, keep in mind that they are monopolies (or at best duopolies in some areas) who could care less about providing good service. Don’t trust them.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.


  1. Wow , that is a lousy connection. I read about rural america having to rely on these ancient internet speeds, and i thought it was just for places in the middle of nowhere. What about cell phone data speeds? I imagine it’s the same or worse?

    1. Great question. I hadn’t checked the cell phone data speeds. So I used the Ookla speedtest app on both the CenturyLink Wifi and the Verizon 4G networks. Results:

      Download 1.37 Upload 1.31 Mbps
      Verizon 4G
      Download 10.65 Upload 0.47 Mbps

      So I am getting a little better speed now on CenturyLink since I complained (or it’s just random variation) but still short of 1.5 Mbps they claim I am getting. And the Verizon 4G is reasonably fast. Maybe I should get a USB cellular modem for the laptop.

  2. Your comments and the Bloomberg article lay it out well. Sad that all we can do is be disappointed.

    An idea: what are your thoughts about making free to doctors the articles in the literature that have been derived from tax payer funding? I wonder what you think of that? It roils me to find articles and have to pay thru the nose if I don’t subscribe already. It limits the flow of useful information to medical providers just like poor connection speeds.

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