Stan's Chrome-Plated Tech Tips

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Request Timed Out? - A guide to Internet Services in Los Angeles

We get these calls all the time.  My Internet is slow, what can I do?  Well, the honest answer is, it's not that simple.  Services vary all over this great City of Angels, and honestly, your neighbors down the street with the exact same service may be blazing down the information superhighway (do we still use that term?) while you're stuck behind a fleet of nearsighted octogenarians trying to see who can drive slowest.  So while I can't tell you which service is the hand-down best, I can give you your options, and hopefully send you off in the right direction.  Most likely your choices are limited to the following: DSL, Cable, Fiber Optics, or Wireless and Satellite.

DSL is the most common service widely available in Los Angeles.  Provided by both AT&T and Verizon, the service uses your existing copper phone lines and provides broadband speeds of typically up to 6mbps (megabits per second) max.  Pretty decent speeds for general purpose Internet usage.  Your basic Internet usage - web browsing, video chat, email and some light downloading should be fine with this type of connection.  Now the speeds are not guaranteed and the further you are from the telephone company's nearest hub, the slower your service is going to be.  It's still the least expensive, most widely deployed Broadband option around LA, but your speeds will vary and the copper wire carrying your service can easily be physically damaged.  Getting AT&T or Verizon to own up to the problem being on their end is an exercise in patience, persistence, and often futility.

Which leads me to . . . Cable.  Cable has a much greater bandwidth capacity.  The signal does not degrade on distance, and once the service is up, it generally stays up.  If you're looking to stream a lot of High Definition Video on NetFlix, this'll be the minimum you'll need.  The two major players in town are Time Warner and Charter, neither of which is going to wow you with their customer service, but if you've been on DSL for a while, your new-found  dowload speeds will leave you just plain giddy.  The service is pricier, but if you feel the need for speed, this'll give it to ya'!  Now when things go bad with the service, they can go way bad.  If you're in a dense area with a lot of subscribers, the speeds can go down as more users are online.  An area like ours, West Hollywood, with lots of big apartment buildings, seems to handle it just fine, but it's still something you should be aware of.  If the connection just isn't good, it's unlikely the cable company is going to bend over backwards to rewire your house - it just isn't cost effective for them and they'd rather focus on their other million customers than one complaining one.  Sorry, you're outta luck.

Fiber optics are still in limited deployment, but they offer speeds comparable to cable and even better in certain cases.  The price is pretty comparable as well.  ATT U-Verse (the real U-Verse, not just their crappy DSL branded as U-Verse) can give you some fairly nice downloads in the 12 to 18mbps range and may be available in some areas where Cable isn't an option.  It also isn't a true fiber optical solution and still requires copper wire to deliver its signal, and is subject to the same drawbacks as DSL.  Still relatively limited deployments in Greater Los Angeles but not an option if you can get it.  Verizon FiOS is pretty much the Gold Standard of Internet if you're one of the lucky Westsiders who can get the service.  With services offerings currently in the 50mbps range for downloads and reported capability up to 300mbps, cable can't touch them.  I'm just hoping we can get them in West Hollywood some day.

So what does that leave?  Well if you can't get telephone or cable service where you are, then you don't have too many options left, and the ones you do have aren't that great.  If your livelihood requires an Internet connection of any kind, then these guys may do the trick.  First take a look at 3G/4G services from the cellular companies like ATT, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.  They're a little pricey and they put download limits on their services with fees for every byte you go over.  There's also ClearWire service that provides Sprint with their 4G network and has unlimited service.  We've got pretty good coverage around the area, so these are likely your best options if you can't get connected any other way, need connectivity on the go, or just want a reliable backup connection.  DirecTV, Dish, and Wildblue offer Satellite Internet service.  The speed is slow, laggy, and expensive, but hey, they know you've got no other options and you'll take what you can get.  Great business plan, right?  Mostly these aren't a real necessity around LA LA land, but if you need connectivity even if the cell towers get knocked out, Satellite's the only thing that will still be up when the big one hits.  Of course you'll probably have concerns besides Internet service in that case.

So in a nutshell, these are your options.  The reality is Cable-based service is really going to give most consumers the best bang for their dollar in the LA area, but if you're lucky enough to get Verizon Fios, that there's your huckleberry.  No matter what broadband service you've got, fear not, you'll still be able to watch dopey Internet videos just like this classic here:

Oh oh oh oh ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

As Always,


I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.

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