The Ugly Truth About Broadband: Upload Speeds

For the longest time I, like many, have been beating the drum of faster-faster-and-faster-still broadband. When I had 2 Mbps, I wanted 4 Mbps. Once I got 4 Mbps, I wanted 8 Mbps. South Koreans and their speedy connections made me jealous. I was envious of all the customers in France. I was mad about 50 Mbps connections in Japan and Scandinavia. Why can’t we have those speeds in the U.S., I often complained.

downloadsucksThankfully, my wish was granted when Covad offered an ADSL2+ connection with a download speed of up to 15 Mbps. And ever since that connection came into my apartment, life has been good. The speeds have been fairly consistent, generally hovering around the 9 Mbps mark, while at times falling to around 7 Mbps or rising to as much as 12 Mbps. That made pulling down email, web pages, RSS feeds, tweets, videos, iTunes, Flickr, and Facebook incredibly easy.


The problem arose this past week when I decided to do two things: one, sync my music collection between two computers using DropBox, and two, back up my Macbook Air using using Mozy’s Pro online backup service. It’s been about four days since I set everything up, and the results are dismal. Only 1 percent of my hard drive is backed up and less than 15 percent of my music has been uploaded.

Why? Because I’m getting upload speeds that are abysmal. While a speed test shows an upstream bandwidth of around 860 Kbps — Covad promises up to 1 Mbps in upstream bandwidth — the actual data transfers are much slower, around 90 Kbps. And when I tried to do the backups in the office, the performance over AT&T’s (s t) Business DSL line was simply terrible. I looked around and it turns out most DSL service providers have terrible upload speeds — 768 Kbps or lower.

The cable guys are a little better, though not by much. On principle, I don’t use Comcast (s cmcsa), especially since they instituted metered broadband. Of course I could move back to New York and sign up for either Verizon FiOS (s vz) or Cablevision (s cvc), but that isn’t exactly a realistic option.

The point is that inadequate bandwidth means the actual upstream speeds fall short of what the speed test claims — and that has left me unable to do practically anything. Forget sharing big files, and I can’t even make a decent Skype call. My T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve (s rimm) can’t use the UMA connection, and uploading photos to Flickr/Facebook is a pain. As more products come to market that need symmetrical high-speed Internet access, the paucity of bandwidth is going to become a bottleneck. The problem is that we get so enamored by download speeds, we forget that we need solid upstream capacity as well.