ISPs Trying To Scare You Into Buying More Internets

How much bandwidth does the average consumer need? Well, according to the totally unbiased folks at America’s major Internet service providers, more than they’re probably using now. According to Time Warner, Grandma needs Roadrunner with PowerBoost in order for you to send her photos. And AT&T thinks you need at least 3 mpbs to use Facebook. What?

Our former colleagues at Gizmodo looked at the offerings of major ISPs, and how they sell different tiers of broadband. If you actually know anything about the Internet, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.


Besides the question of what “Powerboost” actually means, how accurate do you think these descriptions are? My Linux-torrenting, video-streaming household of three gets by just fine on 3 mbps RoadRunner, but clearly we’re deprived.

Basically Every ISP Is Trying to Scare You Into Paying for Internet You Don’t Need [Gizmodo]
AT&T’s Warped View of the Internet [Gizmodo]


Edit Your Comment

  1. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    What do you expect the ISPs are going to tell you?

    FWIW, I can play WoW just fine from my laptop in a hotel someplace tethered to my Blackberry. I have no idea what the actual throughput of that is…but I’d be surprised if it compared favorably with “Road Runner Basic.”

    • Razor512 says:

      when the connection method you described, you will most likely be pulling anywhere from 500kbit/s to 800kbit/s

      most games only use about 100-300kbit/s as no visual content is being streamed, all you are sending back and forth is your location on a grid and your player stats, and hitbox info, the most important thing with games is the ping

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Right…so in the chart above, “Online Gaming” requires the top-tier service?

        Don’t think so. The cheapest available non-dialup/satellite service will do just fine.

  2. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    heh, i use time warner’s actual cables – with earthlink service.
    i prefer it that way because the pricing structure is clearer.
    [i know it’s not everywhere, my parents used to have earthlink in florida and it was a godawful mess]
    but earthlink offers their selections by delivery type and speed [“up-to”] with no confusing names for it
    i probably pay a dollar or two more a month for it than i would for roadrunner, but i can’t tell for certain because time warner isn’t clear about which package has which potential speeds.

    • morlo says:

      Strangely in my area Earthlink is a few dollars cheaper.

    • FrugalFreak says:

      From Brighthouse it is adervertised as Basic=7 Mbps, lite=512 K, Turbo=15 Mbps. The standard with powerboost isn’t sold by BH. But remember it is UP TO those speeds, not actual. I have standard for $44.95 and get up to 10Mbps with avg of 6 Mbps. but upload speed are still WAY too slow.

  3. Eldritch says:

    I think a lot of the problem stems from your regular person not knowing how much internet they use or what any of the terms mean. My 60 year old mother could not tell you what “mbps” means, for example, but she’s the one who picked what internet she and my father would have. ISPs prey on consumer ignorance.

  4. 1kamaz says:

    Unless you’re a heavy downloader, the bandwidth doesn’t really make any difference as far as user experience goes. The vast majority of people will never saturate their connection for any prolonged period of time. It’s realibility/connection quality that matters. Here in LA the basic RR plan has been upgraded to 15 mbps for a while, though.

    • tsume says:

      Try downloading an update for any recent game on 1.5mbps.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        Run the update overnight. That’s what we old-timers used to do in the dialup era. Why, we were lucky to get a 28.8K connection from Compuserve in our neck of the woods…and we liked it! (slams desk with fist) We loved it. We would go get coffee and do laundry while we waited for a low-res 60K jpeg file of a painted floozy to finish downloading, and life was just dandy! All the time for dilly-dallying in the world! And if you wanted to contact me for some idiotic reason like calling me in to the office to unlock the file cabinet where we keep the coffee stirrers, you had to wait until I was finished. And we liked it! We loved it!

        • thisistobehelpful says:

          I miss the turtle commercials.

        • PencilSharp says:

          28.8K?! Ha!
          We only had 1600 baud, and if wanted to upload something to ARPANet, you had to hold the computer over your head so all your data would drain!
          And THAT was an IBM PCjr with 64 Kb of RAM and a hamster wheel to power your peripherals!
          And the circuit boards were made of cast-iron. We had slow computers, but by gum, we were built like freakin’ ATLAS!

          But, yeah, it sucks in TWCLand…

      • KTK1990 says:

        Do something while you wait… Watch tv, play on another pc, surf the web, let it download overnight, go out and let it download…

        I downloaded a 9 gig game in August in 3 hours, and a 15 gig game in like 10 hours (Gave GTA4 to my sis for christmas, Steam had it on sale, 75% off)

        • tsume says:

          “play on another pc, surf the web, “

          Unusable with the download clogging the tubes.

          Download overnight is where it’s at. This makes a difference in the user experience no matter how you slice it

  5. Fred E. says:

    I switched from Time Warner cable internet 10 mbps to RCN 3 mbps and there is ZERO difference except FASTER movie torrent downloads!!!

  6. Bohemian says:

    This kind of creative lying should be seen as deceptive advertising and investigated by state or federal entities.

  7. misterfuss says:

    I currently have Comcast “High Speed Internet” and went to to test my internet speed. I registered 15.65 mbps download and 4.30 mbps upload. I am thinking of reducing my internet speed to 1 mbps and uploads to 384 kbps to save money. (I chatted with a rep trying to re-negotiate a lower bill and their solution was the decreased bandwith since I had already had a six month promotion rate that expired.)

    I am ok with doing this reduction if I won’t see an appreciable delay in downloads. I look at photos on Flickr and view videos on Youtube and other “tube” sites. I don’t download any full length movies though. Any thoughts on whether I would see any appreciable delay in the sites I do visit? Thanks.

    • Coles_Law says:

      I run a bit faster than what you’re considering-1.5 mbps download. You’ll be fine for most photos, unless you’re talking multi-MB .tif files or something. YouTube videos you’ll likely need to let load for a bit-20-30 sec buffer should do unless it’s very long (>10 min).

    • Seanumich says:

      I would look at promotional rates for 6 months with a DSL company. They would have adequete speeds and will give you cheap for 6 months. Then when Comcast calls to get you back as a customer tell them you will do it at the price originally set. If you are willing to switch back and forth it should not be an issue.

  8. kaceetheconsumer says:

    Well it fits into their whole “omg, meanie gamers and bit-torrenters are overusing bandwidth from all the rest of you nice users so oops sorry we have to cap everybody!” thing.

  9. ldavis480 says:

    I love my ISP. Seriously, in my opinion they’re the best ISP I’ve ever had and I’m never leaving them. No, I do not work for them but if permissable I’d like to plug them: I pay about $22 a month for 2.5mb/s down. In the 2 years I’ve been with DSL Extreme I’ve never suffered (at least as far as I know) through an unplanned outage. I can only count one planned outage ever and it happened in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t impact me in any way.

    The best ISP, IMHO is the one you never think of. It’s always there and working and that’s how I’d describe them. I don’t know if they have DSL service outside California, I’m in the bay area and I know they service most of CA.


    • morlo says:

      Reliability is good, but 2.5mbit dsl is obsolete. Wait until they’ve hooked up 100mbit fiber before declaring your love.

  10. PresidentBeeblebrox says:

    Aha! Upselling a crappy product, just like Microsoft did with Vista.

    Before Vista, you could buy Windows and only Windows. Well, kinda – MS did make separate versions of XP for home and office use, but that was because XP Office has networking stuff that XP Home doesn’t have, I think. But Vista… well, same deal as the Roadrunner stuff here. The problem is that Vista Basic is worse than XP in terms of performance, but more expensive, and to get a halfway functional version of Vista without teh pretty Aero graphix you have to shell out for “Home Premium”.

    So, yeah, “Roadrunner Basic” will probably get you a 640 kbps stream. “Roadrunner Turbo with PowerBoost” is probably more along the line of what a standard DSL should be, in the multi-Mbps range, except because it’s an upsell, TW thinks they can get away with charging more.

    What did you expect, anyway, from the folks who thought merging with AOL was a savvy business move?

  11. madanthony says:

    To be fair, none of the ads say that you HAVE to use that speed to do those things – the ATT&T one says that those levels are “ideal for” those things, the Verizon and Time Warner ones say that the higher speeds are “good for” those things.

  12. SpazMonkey says:


    I’m on slow-ass DSL, and can still HYPOTHETICALLY download a 1.4 gb movie in under 45 minutes…

    these companies suck. I can understand looking out for themselves, but this is beyond the point of absurdity.

  13. petermv says:

    Gee and I thought we had bad speeds over here in the UK. I have a 16mbps ADSL2+ connection and it costs me £15 per month including a static IP address. It would be £20 but I have a contract mobile from them as well for a £5 discount per month.

  14. BradenR says:

    We started with the lowest dsl speed we could buy from as we don’t do videos, movies, heavy downloads. They dropped that service and upgraded us at a higher price of course. Funny, our connection is still as slow as the original (bandwidth check, ping) but there’s no reduction in price. Today it was like being on dial up again.

  15. AngryK9 says:

    I don’t really think they’re saying that you need a specific tier of service to be able to perform those various online activities. I believe that what they’re (trying) to say is that, for each online activity listed there, if that activity is what you use your net access for the most, then those tiers are the *recommended tiers* to do those online things.

    For example, if all you really do is send email, do some light web surfing, and check your bank accounts and pay bills online, then the first (lowest) tier would be the best match for you.

    Like any other company that is trying to sell you something, they’re only going to give you partial information so that you will make a choise that will increase their profit margin.

  16. JiminyChristmas says:

    The advertised speeds are a crap shoot anyway. My Comcast service is advertised as 12mbps down and when I have tested it, it has almost always been in the 2.5-4.0mbps range. Frankly, I don’t see how Comcast, et al. don’t have the FTC breathing down their necks for false advertising.

    Yes, I realize that potentially I could enjoy 12mbps download speeds but if in practice the speed is almost always 2.5…how do they get away with selling 12?

    • PresidentBeeblebrox says:

      When I had Comcast, they advertised 25 Mbps and I never got more than 7 – although they later changed it to “up to” 25 Mbps. The weird thing was that the upload speed was always many times faster than the download. Guess they wanted me to be a seeder instead of a leecher.

      Now I have FIOS after a series of epic Comcast fails that nearly led me to smash my modem into a zillion pieces. Verizon told me I could expect “up to” 20 Mbps but I’ve yet to see faster than 10. Whatever, I’m just happy to be done with Comcast, a company whose customer service is nearly Soviet in quality.

  17. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I’m so sick of this. I can’t afford being jacked by every single company I do business with. When is it going to stop?

  18. dasunst3r says:

    The only ISP I’ve seen actually provide as-advertised speeds in field testing is Clear Internet Service ( It’s wireless, which means that DSL and Cable companies need to spend less money making these stupid charts and more money on their infrastructure upgrades.

    • Geekybiker says:

      I wonder how long that will last? Wireless is pretty bandwidth limited in that everyone in a large area shares a very small part of the EM spectrum. Wait until its fully subscribed and we might have another att/iphone fiasco on our hands.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        That’s why Clear has terrible coverage. Great speeds, but terrible coverage. They need far more antennas on far more towers than the cellular providers do. Where one cell provider might get away with putting up an omnidirectional antenna, the WiMax antennae are _very_ directional and _very_ (relatively) short range.

  19. RandomHookup says:

    Thus, why I make my own Internets at home.

  20. FrankReality says:

    Oh how I wish I could get 1Mbps. I have 256K wireless DSL and am at the maximum distance from the access point. My provider has been purchased by Verizon, but we don’t know if they will continue the wireless DSL service.

    I’m more than double the maximum distance from the telco, so wired DSL is not an option. I also want SDSL rather than ADSL too. Last year, the local telco put in new lines along their back bone cable and I’m assuming that was fiber, but it is still over a mile to run it from the nearest phone box to my house. Odds are that with only two residences along that stretch, they’ll not run the rest of the fiber to my house.

    • Aesteval says:

      Wireless DSL? Can you explain more about that? It’s an oxymoron, technically it doesn’t exist unless you have DSL run into your house and into a wireless router. DSL by definition is a wired connection.

  21. chris_d says:

    Visit They think everybody needs fiber to the home and verizon can do no wrong because they’ve done FTTH for a fraction of their customers.

    • axiomatic says:

      I know exactly what FTTH is and I wish I had it in my area. In fact what is worse knowing is that in the manhole in my front yard (yes I know… ugh!) that there is dark unused fiber waiting for someone to activate it.

  22. axiomatic says:

    Notice how a real feature like “low latency connection” is not a marketing option?

  23. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I always love the cable companies’ fine print, where speed is always listed as “up to” x.xxxx Mb/s. Yeah, it might be if the planets align correctly and you’re the only one that happens to be online with their cable modem at 3 AM in the morning. Otherwise, it’s going to be a lot less than that.

    Isn’t this like a dealer selling you a new car based solely on its top track speed?

  24. The hand that feeds, now with more bacon says:

    Even though this message will probably go completely unseen, this and the similar gizmodo article are uncertain as to what PowerBoost on RoadRunner is. The short explanation is that it raises the cap on your download bandwidth on certain protocols for the first 60 seconds or so. With RR Turbo (10mbps here), internet speed tests show that I got about 28mbps with PowerBoost. After downgrading to RR standard (7mbps) I get about 12mbps with PowerBoost. This means that big downloads (FTP or HTTP, not BitTorrent) take slightly less time (might save a minute) and internet speed tests *dramatically* overstate your connection speed (gives users who don’t know anything about PowerBoost a false sense of quality).

    It’s useful when downloading software patches of 100+ megabyes (game updates, windows updates), it is pretty useful. But unless you download a lot of big files through your web browser, it doesn’t add much value.

    • lilyHaze says:

      Yes, this is what I learned earlier today when I was trying to figure out what the hell “PowerBoost” was. Internet is included in my current rental and I haven’t shopped for ages (we have Cox and Verizon FIOS as competition). Cox is advertising for the “PowerBoost.” They now have four different “tiers.” If the potential download speeds are correct (and they aren’t), they’ve definitely raised their prices with more tiers.

  25. MrWilly says:

    Here’s a question: Does anybody remember seeing commercials from Time Warner offering 10 MBps downloads? Or was that just a local thing?

    God, those got me riled.