I just upgraded my Internet in Grass Valley from 1 Mbit/s to 12 Mbps. And it is so good. I no longer think about scheduling Internet access, about starting a download when I go to sleep or having the iPad download the newspaper while the coffee is brewing so it doesn’t interrupt my email. And I no longer worry about software upgrades killing my network.
1 Mbps is just not fast enough for modern Internet. That’s 450 MBytes/hour, or about 30 minutes to update a typical medium-size program. It’s just about fast enough to stream a 360p video from Youtube, but you better not be doing anything else. It takes a little over a minute to download a crappy modern web page. I’d never click on video links and those cute animated cat GIFs everyone likes were just pain. And while slow is annoying but predictable; the worst thing is trying to do two things at once online. Once a week I’d be wandering around the house unplugging devices because some autoupdate decided to run and ruined whatever I was trying to do on my desktop computer.
Right now I think there’s a usability inflection point at 6 Mbps. That’s fast enough to watch a 1080p video stream while leaving some headroom to do something else; casual web browsing or the like. Faster is better of course; I have 100 Mbps in San Francisco and it is amazingly good. The FCC recently defined broadband at 25 Mbps, seems like a good goal.
Why was my Internet so slow? My house is in a rural area. Only a mile out of town, but all hills and trees and only a few houses. The Comcast/AT&T duopoly refuses to provide service to houses like mine and the toothless FCC won’t compel them. Wired service does not exist. Our local wireless ISP SmarterBroadband is pretty good but we were limited to 900MHz radio links because we didn’t have a clear view to one of the other sites in their peer to peer network. I finally paid someone to climb 70’ up a tree to get a good view and install a 5GHz antenna. Works great, at least until we have to repair it.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect SmarterBroadband is only able to provide my service thanks to federal subsidies. They upgraded a lot of their internal network in the last year with a federal grant. They were also nicely proactive in getting us to upgrade, which I suspect is tied to some sort of bounty or benchmark for customer bandwidth.