Comcast has confirmed that it's going to buy Time Warner Cable to form a huge, tangled monster of awfulness. Hooray! You want out? Lucky for you there are some alternatives to doing business with your monopolistic cable-internet master if you try hard enough. Here are your options, and good luck making your escape.
You've had it up to here with being treated more like a revenue stream than a customer by your cable internet provider and are ready to jump ship. Fantastic, but if not to a competing telco, then to where? Here are four broadband alternatives that don't require a visit from the cable guy.
Fiber optic communication technology has been around since the 1970s and is already used extensively along the Internet's backbone architecture because it can carry up to a magnitude more data than electrified copper wires. But however fast fiber is, it has always suffered from "last mile" lag: the wide broadband fiber pipe doesn't extend all the way to the home, but rather is connected by a smaller bandwidth copper line for the last mile or so from the network hub, constricting the effective bandwidth to to whatever the copper can carry.
While still common, in many markets large carriers are removing that last mile by offering fiber optic service that extends all the way to the residence. Google Fiber, for instance, is the searcfh giants own fully-fiber network and ISP in Kansas City. Residents lucky enough to live in the select neighborhoods with the service can access to 1,000 Mb/sec download and upload speeds, hundreds of times faster than what Xfinity or Time Warner offers, for $70 a month (or free if you pay the $300 installation fee). The major drawback of this service is of course the fact that it's only available in Kansas City, Mo.
If the Midwest doesn't suit your tastes, Verizon FiOS offers bundled Internet/phone/tv service throughout the country. Much like conventional DSL, Verizon runs a primary fiber line out to a neighborhood central office where an array of passive splitters break the bandwidth down into 32 segments (one per subscriber) that run out to the home. An exterior converter box, or Optical Network Terminal, then transcribes incoming light pulses into Ethernet signals and vice verse for outbound traffic.
Many quiet mountain towns and remote homesteads throughout the country lack access to cable internet because they're so distant that running coax cable that far simply isn't economically feasible. For these far-flung folk, finding broadband internet is as easy as finding a cell signal.
WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a wireless standard developed in 2001 and briefly considered as a replacement for mobile data. Today, it is an increasingly affordable wireless broadband internet option with low equipment costs and speeds conventional, wired offerings. It utilizes mobile carrier radio towers to provide connectivity, which eliminates the need for miles of wire and utility poles. And thanks to its effective 2-3 mile range (compared to Wi-Fi's 300 foot effective outdoor radius) it can provide last mile connectivity to otherwise inaccessible hamlets.
WiMax is gaining popularity in urban centers as well. Rather than compete on increasingly crowded 2.3 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands, city-dwellers that subscribe to a WiMax service such as Clearwire, instead connect via a reserved 2.5 GHz band and operate using the 802.16e mobile WiMAX standard. The company debuted its Clear service in Portland back in 2009 and has since added 87 additional markets. Accessing Clear's 3 to 6 Mbit/s download speeds requires an initial $50 outlay for a WiMax modem and another $50/month for an unlimited data service plan.
WiMax isn't the only option for rural broadband customers, mind you. The same satellite technology that provides television service to 37 million Americans can also deliver Internet access, often with the very same dish. The only problem is, the service isn't nearly as fast as DSL or cable and these systems also require two modems (uplink and downlink) as well as a clear view of the Southern sky.
Numerous companies currently offer satellite internet service: StarBand, HughesNet, MyBlueDish, and the Dish Network to name a few. Download speeds can range from just 512 kbps on Starband up to 15,000 kbps on HughesNet with upload speeds between 100 and 2000 kbps, depending on the provider and service package which can cost anywhere from $25 to $200 a month.
T1 lines—or more accurately, "digitally multiplexed telecommunications carrier systems"—were originally developed in the late 1960s by Bell Labs as a means of transmitting large amounts of voice and data on a less congested network between the company's major telephone exchanges, known as Central Offices. However with the breakup of Ma Bell at the hands of anti-trust litigation in 1983, the T-carrier system opened up for general use.
A T1 line can be constructed from either fiber or copper but always has a maximum physical capacity of 1.536 Mbps. This total bandwidth is split into 24 equal 64kbps channels. Customers are able to rent any number of the 24 portion total of the full T1 line (or in the case of the larger T3 lines, any of the total 672). While typically more expensive to operate than other broadband technologies, fractional T1 does provide consistently connectivity, fast speeds, and flexible bandwidth without multi-thousand dollar monthly bills. What's more, because the T1 system was originally designed to be a point to point transmission between COs and now connects directly your home to the ISP, it provides a high degree of transmission security.
[eHow - Wikipedia 1, 2 - Computerworld - Intel - Satellite Internet Review - Wise Geek - Image: Flegere / Shutterstock; Google Fiber; AP Photo/Jason DeCrow; WitthayaP / Shutterstock; Mike Loiselle/Shutterstock ]