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ISPs Behaving Badly: Fiber in Your Diet Does Not Count, Either

May 19, 2009 , ,

What do you think of when you hear the term, “Fiber Optic Internet Service?” My guess is that it means the same to you as it does to me, a guy with 25+ years of communications experience.  It means that the media between your connection to the Internet (as provided by your ISP) and the peering/exchange points (where your ISP connects to other network operators) is all based on fiber-optic technology.

A lot of ISPs are trying to trick you into believing that their network is like that, when it actually is less.

Take this link from Qwest’s site, which leads to a page entitled “Qwest Fiber Optic Internet Service.”  Except, it’s not Fiber Optic Internet Service, it’s their ADSL2+ service.  Yet the letters DSL don’t appear in the ad.  Only in the 9-point font do we see, “*Fiber optics exists from the Neighborhood Terminal to the Internet.”  (And that asterisk is just hanging out there, there is no corresponding asterisk in the ad.)

What does that phrase mean?  It means that Qwest’s pants are on fire. It means that the fiber portion of the network ends before it reaches you.  This is very important!

A network is a weak-link medium, meaning it can only operate as fast and error-free as its weakest link — in this case, the copper part.  Furthermore, the copper in question was designed to carry analog signals — data was added about 10 years ago making the copper a shared medium carrying both types of signals.  So when someone makes an investment to deliver a real “Fiber Optic Internet Service,” then that awesome distinction should not be exploited by “wanna be” companies unwilling to make the same long-term investment.

In the United States, only a small portion is served by actual “Fiber Optic Internet Service.”

Qwest is not alone. Comcast, Cox, Time Warner (Roadrunner) and many others also proudly highlight the fiber in their Internet service, all without mentioning anywhere nearly as openly that the last segment is still plain-old copper, some of which has been decaying in the ground for decades.

Under these ISP’s definition of “Fiber Optic Internet Service,” a wireless ISP could advertise itself as “Fiber Optic,” too, as long as some part of its backhaul contained fiber.  We don’t put up with that kind of slimy marketing in our other important products.  We don’t allow, for example, a gas-station owner to put an asterisk on his pumps and in 9-point font claim “*product only partially gasoline, caveat emptor, suckers!”

This marketing is not educating the consumer, it is deceiving the consumer.  It is only intended to fool customers who are comparison shopping and keep them from switching to a truly superior product by another ISP who has made the sizable investment currently necessary to offer it.