Does Indy have raceway speeds on the internet?
October 3, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Are there any reliable, local high-speed options in the Indianapolis area without data caps?

We're planning to move (wife and 4 kids) from northern California in search of a lower cost of living and slower-paced lifestyle. I can work remotely, so we've been looking all over the US and Indiana is our top pick so far. It has low housing prices, good schools, reasonably nice weather and little crime. But I'm concerned about the 3 main ISPs in the area - Comcast, Insight (recently acquired by Time Warner) and Bright House Networks. AT&T seems to have some coverage too but I've had a hard time telling where (they're not on the map).

We use Netflix daily, I have several GB on various cloud services and a couple TB backed up with CrashPlan. If I need to do a big restore or sync a new computer, I'm going to blow through these data caps like the wind.

I'm a little nervous about all the negative reviews I'm reading for these companies. I can't tell if they're just squeaky wheels or warranted. We are extremely fortunate to have ultra-reliable 30Mbps/30Mbps fiber service from a friendly local company with a free annual barbecue.

Are there other options for reliable high-speed access in Indy? I've heard about getting a business plan to avoid data caps. It's more expensive, but may be our best option.

Outside of Indiana I've looked for other fiber to the home services, including Google Fiber, but there always seems to be something else like poor school ratings or higher crime than we'd prefer.

To sum up:

1. Are Comcast, Insight/TimeWarner and Bright House as big, bad and unreliable as they're portrayed? Are there smaller local options?

2. Are there other low-cost family friendly cities with speedy broadband we should consider?
posted by jaden to Technology (11 answers total)
I've had Bright House for several years in Indianapolis and I've only noticed one several hour period of downtime and that fixed itself. The tech who installed was friendly, prompt and got out of the way once his job was done. There haven't been any billing problems. I've never experienced issues with data caps. I'm not sure they actually have caps (source, source) but that might be outdated or incorrect.

I think Bright House and Comcast divide the city in half, so depending on where you live you have access to one or the other but not both.

AT&T offers DSL everywhere in the city but of course it is slow and expensive compared to cable.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:42 AM on October 3, 2012

FWIW, my wife's office (located in the Broad Ripple area of Indy) is on Brighthouse, and service to the area was down almost all day yesterday. Generally, though, both Brighthouse and Comcast are pretty reliable. Comcast does have a cap, though. There's just no way around that, I'm afraid, unless you opt for a business plan. But, with Comcast, I've never run anywhere close to hitting the cap.

AFAIK, there is no fiber broadband in Indy. You'll pay an arm and two legs for anything close to 30/30 from Comcast.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:07 AM on October 3, 2012

I too have Bright House, stream Netflix/Hulu and my boyfriend does a lot of techie stuff that I have no idea what to refer to them online that causes him to eat up bandwidth (if that's the right term) like nobody's business. I have never experienced data caps, I'm charged $82.97 every month like clockwork. If I ever have questions I've called Brighthouse and received great customer service. I recommend them.. but as ChrisHartley mentioned depending on where you live in the city you may have access to Brighthouse or Comcast. I have no experience with Comcast, but I do advise you to stay the hell away from AT&T's spotty service! Awful, never again! *shudder*
posted by xicana63 at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2012

Maybe obvious, but if speedy internet in a smaller city is important to you, what about Google Fiber in Kansas City?
posted by dd42 at 10:18 AM on October 3, 2012

Any particular reason you're choosing Indianapolis over other mid-sized Midwestern cities, like family? Unless you're looking for the complete opposite of Northern California, in which case it might make sense, as Indianapolis is board flat, far from any major body of water, and in one of the most conservative states in the Midwest. Most of the Midwest is going to be similarly affordable. It doesn't look like it has many tech companies, either, in case you want to switch jobs. It has a slightly warmer climate than cities to the north, but the seasons won't be fundamentally different-- the Midwest is flat enough that the weather is fundamentally similar all over with gradual changes in temperature by latitude, rather than microclimates like out west.

When you talk about "bad schools", do you mean metro-area-wide? Many city school districts in the Midwest are in bad shape, but close-in suburbs almost always good schools. You might also want to consider what state university system your kids will eventually be eligible for in-state tuition for. All of the northern Midwest has pretty solid land-grant schools, but they have their strengths & weaknesses.

Most crime in the Midwest is concentrated in decaying urban neighborhoods, where you're unlikely to encounter it, and housing is affordable enough that you won't have to compromise on neighborhood with a tech salary.

Weather-wise, I personally find Midwestern summers more annoying than the winters on account of the high humidity. 85 degrees in the Bay Area is different from 85 degrees in the Midwest. A lot of people's complaints about snow involve digging out cars & shoveling driveways, which won't be as much of a concern if you're working from home. You can make your kids do the shoveling to earn their allowances, in any case.

I went to college in Pittsburgh and like it a lot. It's walkable and urban in the city proper and nestled spectacularly into valleys and on hillsides, and there's a decent stock of tech jobs with all the universities there, which likewise bring fine cultural amenities. There are pretty nice mountains for hiking & rivers for rafting/kayaking nearby. You can buy a nice home for your family for a couple hundred thousand dollars, or a robber baron's mansion for the price of a Silicon Valley ranch house. There are fine family neighborhoods (Squirrel Hill & Shadyside especially) in the city that are safe & have good city schools, and plenty of suburbs likewise with good schools.

Madison, Wisconsin also has a decent stock of tech jobs on account of the University of Wisconsin, and is politically much more similar to the Bay Area-- people call it the Berkeley of the Midwest. The countryside around it wasn't scraped flat by glaciers, so there are more interesting outdoor options. I've heard city schools there aren't the best, but I'm sure there are competent suburban school districts. Other Midwestern college towns like Bloomington & Lafayette & Ann Arbor also pack a cultural punch beyond what their size would suggest.

I grew up in Milwaukee, and it was nice, but there isn't that much by way of tech jobs. You're by Lake Michigan, though, in case you want a boat or beaches on a body of water where you can't see the other side. The northern suburbs of Chicago are likewise pleasant and have good schools, are likewise on the lake, and have functional mass transit into one of the largest cities in the country, with all the attendant amenities & downsides. I've heard nice things about Columbus but don't know anything about it; it'd probably have the same weather as Indianapolis. Minneapolis is quite a nice big city, but you might not like the winters if you're used to California.
posted by akgerber at 11:41 AM on October 3, 2012

Sounds like Bright House is the best of the three - thanks for the feedback.

@dd42 We looked a lot at Kansas City but had a hard time finding reasonably-priced homes and good schools in the limited region they're currently serving.

@akgerber To provide some context on why we're leaning towards Indiana, we're north of Sacramento as opposed to the Bay Area so it's pretty flat and we're a good 2-3 hours from a major body of water (the ocean of Lake Tahoe). The long, hot summers are one of the contributing factors for moving. My wife hates the heat and wants the kids to be able to play in the snow. I want a mild winter, so places like Minnesota and Illinois are not on the top of the list.

It has been hard to narrow down our options and I never know if the data I'm using is accurate and up-to-date, but we're checking the GreatSchools scores in suburbs where we've found low-priced housing. In many places we can find cheap housing but the schools are rated low, or if we find better schools the housing prices are higher than we'd like to pay. While I make a good salary now, I'd like to keep our options open in terms of flexibility. The houses in Indiana are so low we could buy one outright and live mortgage free. That wouldn't be an option in some of the other areas we've considered.

I'm going to look at Pittsburgh because I love the idea of living in a walkable city, even with the harsher winters. I also had no idea Madison, Wisconsin had many tech jobs - I'll look around there as well. Thanks for the insights.
posted by jaden at 3:40 PM on October 3, 2012

My wife hates the heat and wants the kids to be able to play in the snow. I want a mild winter, so places like Minnesota and Illinois are not on the top of the list.

FYI...Indiana suffered record heat this summer...several days well over 100. But, as they say, it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Summer is generally humid as hell here, especially as you approach August. Think: Walking through a steamiing-hot swimming pool.

We definitely have tended toward mild-ish winters in recent years. There tends to be one, maybe two, substantial snows, and then moderate weather rolls in and melts a lot of it. And, then, a big freeze comes in and turns the melt into sheet ice. Commuter fun ensues. That said, Indiana can also be on the receiving end of severe winter storms and Arctic-like cold. Winter is always a crap-shoot as to what we get. As a rule-of-thumb, it's always worse the further north you go in the state and closer to Lake Michigan. Also, snow removal in Indiana can be largely theoretical, depending on where you live.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:36 AM on October 4, 2012

Check out Louisville, KY. In my limited experience it is sort of a cute, small, classy version of Indianapolis. Looks like cable internet is provided by Insight. The geography is a bit more interesting, they have a fantastic park system but I don't know anything about their public schools system. I imagine real estate is a bit more expensive than Indianapolis.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:59 AM on October 4, 2012

100 degrees in Midwestern humidity sounds awful.

Pittsburgh's winters are pretty mild by Midwestern standards (Pittsburgh, itself, being a little beyond the Midwest, in Appalachia or Southwestern PA or something else depending on who you're talking to); the temperature averages seem about the same as Indianapolis. There was only substantial snow one of the four years I lived there, though the city did a pretty poor job of cleaning it up when it did come. The more northerly cities take snow removal a bit more seriously, and have fleets of plows out before there's even snow on the ground.

Walkabliity makes winter a lot less trouble, in any case. If you're working from home or can take transit to work, and have a grocery store & park within walking distance, snow won't really disrupt your life as long as you have a good coat and boots. Especially in the city proper, Pittsburgh is a lot more of a walking/transit city than anywhere in the Midwest other than Chicago. Here's a report on how many people walk/bike/take transit. For the same reason, it's not the easiest place to drive, but that's a good tradeoff to make in my book, and it's not Manhattan by any means.

I'd guess the tech employment situation in Pittsburgh is an order of magnitude better than Indianapolis. Here's a list of some of the tech companies in the city there; there's also a Google office that opened up a couple of years back. CMU & Pitt are drivers of a hardy tech economy, and courses and lectures there can keep your skills up to date.

I just looked at housing prices in Indianapolis, and it seems like suburban houses there are practically free. Dunno how cheap you need housing to be to buy in cash, but you can get a place almost as cheap in nice parts of Pittsburgh (and the area), and with prices that low property tax & maintenance become a much larger part of the equation (and I don't know too much about those in either place, to be honest). Likewise, if you live in a place like Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, with good bus lines to jobs downtown & a fully equipped business district & schools & awesome parks within easy walking distance, a family of six can live well with one car (or minivan, more likely) as opposed to requiring two (or three or four as the kids get older and want to drive to school and need to drive to jobs), which would open up quite a bit of money for housing.

I'm a bit of a partisan for Pittsburgh, though. It can get rainy and cloudy in the fall and winter, which some people don't like, but I don't mind. Likewise if your life revolves around driving to work and the mall and maintaining a huge yard, it's worse for that than places built around that lifestyle. After college, I first moved to San Diego, which was built around that sort of life. Many of my friends who school who made the same move loved it, but I thought it was a pretty big downgrade from Pittsburgh, despite the ocean being nice.
posted by akgerber at 9:03 AM on October 4, 2012

Another note: research universities seem like the biggest drivers of tech jobs, and in the Midwest they're usually in college towns. So I'd look at the college towns, rather than the big post-industrial cities. Pittsburgh is a bit of an outlier, as a post-industrial city that's become practically become a college town. It also combines a declining population (which makes for cheap housing, some of it quite spectacular) with a rock-solid institutional base, which is why even with a nearly-complete evacuation of the industrial base around 1980, it's still chugging along pretty well.

Also, I forgot about this: Pittsburgh currently will give your kids lots of free money for going to college if they graduate from city schools. It seems well-enough funded that it might stick around; there are a lot of foundations with a lot of money from the industrial boomtimes in Pittsburgh.
posted by akgerber at 9:35 AM on October 4, 2012

FYI...Indiana suffered record heat this summer...several days well over 100. But, as they say, it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Summer is generally humid as hell here, especially as you approach August. Think: Walking through a steamiing-hot swimming pool.

I'm not too concerned about the heat in short bursts. What really irks her is when it's still in the high 90s in October (like it was yesterday) and when it starts hitting the 100s in early Spring. But we're both wondering how we'll do with the humidity. We grew up in humid areas, but as kids you just figure that's life. As an adult I hope I won't be thinking, "Why the crap did I move to a sauna?"

I just looked at housing prices in Indianapolis, and it seems like suburban houses there are practically free.

Exactly. I've looked at the other areas you mentioned, but the low cost housing plus good schools keep drawing us back to Indy.
posted by jaden at 11:01 AM on October 5, 2012

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