When is “broadband” not particularly “broad” band?

I’m visiting the Lake of the Ozarks for a bit as I often do in the summer – our family has a house on the Lake and it’s great fun – but every year I’m faced with the challenge of semi-rural network connectivity. Usually I’ve just given up and used a regular dialup, hoping that the Network Gods would let me have some good throughput on a 56K modem. This year things are better – sort of – with a DirecWay satellite connection through DirecTV.

But the actual experience of using this connection is far, far less than I’d hoped it would be. Ostensibly DirecWay is a broadband connection with upload speeds of up to 128Kb/s and download speeds quite a bit faster than that, but there are two dramatic problems that make it less than advertised…

The first problem is that the system automatically throttles back downloads. Yes, you’re paying for broadband Internet access, but if you actually use it then you get penalized. I’ve been trying for about 20 hours now to download a 600MB file from a server in Texas and my download program shows speeds that vary from a high of about 130KB/sec (which is good) down to a pathetic 1.3 KB/s or worse. I can see the throttling of bandwidth occur; it’ll be averaging about 75KB/s or more, then suddenly it’s as if I’ve been turned off, and it’ll average 2-3KB/s for a long period of time. Then I’ll get a burst of higher speed download for a minute or two, and then it’ll plod along incessantly.

I understand the logic of trying to moderate usage of a shared network resource, but the solution is idiotic. Instead, monitor throughput by customer and if someone is using more than, say, 20x a standard customer pipe then ask them to pay a premium for high-bandwidth usage and/or throttle their connection down. But to do it within four minutes of beginning the first download from this network address in months is ridiculous and quite anti-consumer.

And if that’s not enough, how’d you like to go to somewhere like CNN.com and end up seeing this:

Suspected Recent Satellite Link Outage (Error 506)
The satellite link was operating properly up until the most recent web page 
request, but the last request could not be successfully sent across the satellite link
to the DIRECWAY Network Operations Center. Possible causes for this
include recent changes in weather conditions or equipment problems in the
DIRECWAY Network Operations Center. Retrying the web page may correct the problem.

A few minutes later and, well, I’m logged into my blog typing away.

All I can say is that if this is the best option for rural and semi-rural America, there’s still a lot to be done before the Internet and World Wide Web can really live up to its promise of being a truly universal communications channel.

4 comments on “When is “broadband” not particularly “broad” band?

  1. SPEED ISSUE GET DIRECWAY (and then you’ll have a big
    ugly dish in your yard as well as speed issues)
    I have business addition with direcway ,
    (dw4000 two way dish) and other than two or three meg downloads it is worthless .
    Networking is a new concept at direcway.
    Try finding a firewall.
    It took over a year to get firewall working with
    routing .
    I still need windows computer to run the satellite
    software.
    A 56 k modem would replace this dish , that is if I could get better than 26.6 or 28.8 k out of it.
    Honest, My wife will use dialup some times because it is faster.
    So if you need to waste your hard earned money
    GO TO VEGAS!!!

  2. HUGHES NET IS THE PARENT COMPANY NOW AND WE ARE IN 2006 WITH THE SAME OLD SAME OLD! THE LATEST UNIT CAME OUT IN OCTOBER SOMETIME AND STILL CANNOT MANAGE SPEEDS OVER DIAL UP CONSISTANTLY. THE SPEED TEST FROM HUGHES IN LATE NOVEMBER FOR EXAMPLE WAS A GREAT 922 ONE MINUTE, FELL TO 751 THREE MINUTES LATER AND FIVE MINUTES LATER WAS A WOPPING 6 KPPS DOWNLOAD SPEED. THE LOW UPLOAD WAS 84 KPPS, AND THE BEST UPLOAD SPEED WAS 184.
    THE PROBLEM FOR FOLKS IN AREAS NOT SERVED BY CABLE OR DSL, IS, WE HAVE TO DEPEND ON SAT FOR COMMUNICATION AND HUGHES SUCKS!

  3. Absolutely the worst combination of Internet speed and highest monthly rates for usage on the web. Throttling is something I see every day. It has rained recently and I am receiving the “Suspected Satellite Usage Error” nearly all day on Microsoft IE but with Netscape I can connect no problem.
    I am so disappointed with DirectWay but I have no options. Feel like punching that red head’s face on the DirectWay infomercial! There is no way to effectively influence DirectWay or complain about this service. You call a tech and you get someone in India named “Bob”.
    It is just the worst service!

  4. I am too! Direcway is an expensive service that’s crappy quality. I try to download a Linux distro, guess what? At 200mb I go down to 768 bytes per second! Reminds me of the old Apple ][ days. If dial-up weren’t so damn slow, I would switch over to it. But even at its speeds, at least then I’d get a steady 7.5 kb/s…

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