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Good Question: Does Location Determine Internet Speed?

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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.

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