Good Question: Does Location Determine Internet Speed?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We’ve long passed the days of the dial-up modem waiting for a single picture to load on the screen. Today, we’re watching HD movies online and we want them fast, but does where you live affect the speed of your internet service? Can your neighbors slow you down?

It depends.

First, do you use DSL service from the phone company or cable internet from the cable company?

“Everybody is getting the same speed. Everyone is getting the same experience,” said Mary Beth Schubert, Comcast’s regional vice president of corporate affairs.

Schubert talked with us at Comcast’s Roseville Master Headend, where a team monitors 11,000 miles of fiber-optic and coaxial cable around the clock. They sending and receiving phone, internet and television signals from there.

However, the online superhighway isn’t as simple as the regular highway. And your mileage may vary.

“We are able to provide speeds at 1.5 mbps (megabits per second) to over 100 mbps,” she said, depending on the speed level people sign up for.

Schubert said the speed of the Internet can vary based on how many people are online, and the speed of different sites can vary, but the speed of Comcast’s pipe is constant.

According to Schubert, that’s because cable internet service is totally different from telephone company DSL service.

The cable service is shared by neighborhood. It goes from the Roseville head-end, through a fiber line, into a neighborhood node. Each node serves about 140 homes.

So, if all of our neighbors log on does that slow it down?

“No. That’s a myth,” said Schubert.

That’s true as long as everyone’s using the web normally. But as more and more of us stream high-definition videos, cable companies are starting to keep an eye on the mega-users. Comcast acknowledges on its website that “every user’s experience is potentially affected by neighbors’ Internet usage.”

DSL travels through your regular phone lines, so you’re not sharing it with your neighbors. But you are directly connected to the internet, so you are affected by everyone logging on. on CenturyLink’s website, they write: “Based on our experience, CenturyLink customers may encounter congestion, if at all, during the hours of peak usage – between 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm local time. During peak hours, the majority of residential customers are attempting to use the Internet simultaneously, giving rise to a greater potential for congestion.”

DSL also has the technological limitation of the wire carrying the signal: is it copper wire or fiber? How far is it from the central office? Distance matters in DSL, not in Cable.

The other factor based on town is the type of service you have access to. In some parts of Minnesota, dial-up or satellite are the only options.

Connect Minnesota is an group charged with mapping broadband use and access in the state. According to Connect Minnesota’s data, fewer than half of those in Pipestone, Aitkin, Otter Tail, Kanabec, and Cook counties can get high-speed service of at least 3 mbps.

Just 9 percent in Mahnomen County get those high-speeds.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Ines Beag

    Give me a break! Comcast offers with speed boost at 27 Mbps . I’ve never gotten over 2.2 Mbps . Wait for Direct TV, all fiber optic to phone junction boxes(green boxes you see now and then), then wire to the house. Private network, 12 Mbps guarantied. For 1/3 less. Comcast stop sucking our blood and put some of your profits back into infrastructure.
    Don’t believe me Google comcast Ceo and his buddies, look at money the get.

  • Ruth

    Add this to the fact that they take away cable channels, but the price NEVER goes down. Comcast if the only cable company we can get; why does Comcast have the MONOPOLY in the metro area? Between cable and high speed internet, I pay approximately $125 per month for service that certainly doesn’t deserve anything more than a “C” rating.

    • What else

      Because we cant have 3 differerent companies running cables underground and on poles in areas that dont have burrried cables.

      Would you want to share your infrascructure you have spend millions on with your competitioin? I hate the cost of comcast as much as anyone else but there is not much we can realistically do about it.

      • Brett

        Yes there is. Either have the PUC reguluate Comcast just like they do with CenturyLink OR don’t regulate CenturyLink at all. Why is one regulated while the other is not?

  • New Norm

    I had Comcast for one year … After first few months speed dropped. You couldn’t browse the internet with two computers. They swaped out the antique cable modem with another rebuilt antique cable modem and after no change I got the “for only $10.00 a month more you could get increased speed”. I changed back to DSL and Direct TV. So far no noted speed / internet issues and it been nearly two years.

  • Bill

    Jason, seems like a follow-up question on the discrepancy between the Comcast spokesperson and their web site would be in order!

    DSL can also be fiber to the node; it is in these neighborhoods where CenturyLink can offer the higher speed DSL services like 20 Mb.

    @whatelse, Communities in Utah banded together to create the Utopia Network where multiple providers offer service over the same infrastructure; this “open access” is a growing trend in Europe.

    @Brett, neither Comcast or Centurylink are regulated for Internet services, largely due to a US Supreme Court ruling known as Brand X.

  • DGL

    There is another important parameter – latency – how long does it take an internet message to go from the subscriber’s location to a router and back. CenturyLink DSL service in the Minneapolis St Paul area is usually more than 50 milliseconds, excessively long. It should be not more than 15 or 20 mS. This slowness can make a 12 MBPS connection look like 1 or 2 MBPS.

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  • Justin

    1 person streaming a movie takes more bandwidth than 1,000 sending emails.

    And QWest is the worst.

    • Justin

      Oh yeah, QWest changed their name to Century Link. But the are still the worst.

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