Differences between Comcast cable modem and Bellsouth DSL?
February 7, 2006 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Comcast cable modem or Bellsouth DSL?

Currently, we have a cable modem, provided by Comcast, for our internet access. We're looking at a Bellsouth package, which includes a cellphone, landline, DSL link and satelite for less than the various seperate services we use.

But I'm curious about the whole DSL vs Cable modem thing, specifically Comcast vs Bellsouth (Georgia residents, speak up) Would you say Bellsouth DSL is "better" or at least just as good (fast, reliable, always on, easy to run 3 Macs using it)? Is there anything I should be aware of when switching to DSL?

Note: Already found the thread about DSL vs Cable modems. I'm looking for specifics about Comcast vs Bellsouth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)

If you intend on using their mail, their mailservers are incredibly unreliable. So are their DNS servers. In general, their "what ISP's should be barely competent at" quotient is low.


It will likely be faster than even the fastest and priciest speed grade of DSL, unless Comcast has oversold and underbuilt capability in your neighborhood, which usually happens in crowded metro areas.

Ideologically: Bellsouth should be punished for their plan to degrade service to service that won't pay them their Danegeld. They want to ruin the internet out of greed. So if you care about the internet, don't be a Bellsouth customer.
posted by evariste at 7:06 PM on February 7, 2006

degrade service to services
posted by evariste at 7:17 PM on February 7, 2006

Atlanta DSL woes: After using Earthlink DSL for a number of years, I just switched to Comcast 'cause my DSL was so unreliable. So far (3 months in) I've only lost my Comcast internet connection once. My DSL used to drop out at least once a day, sometimes for over an hour at a time. I know Earthlink isn't Bellsouth, but still.... I'm not exactly sure how DSL works, but I suspect around here, it is all BellSouth at some point down the line.

If you prefer a DSL package deal over cable, you might check out Speakeasy.
posted by spilon at 7:19 PM on February 7, 2006

Just to play devil's advocate: my Comcast connection has gone down many, many times. Last night I couldn't even get 1Kbps down (I could ping and SSH, and very small web pages would load, but anything else would time out). The three or four times in the first month of service that Comcast died and required a tech to come out were miserable, particularly as I had only a VOIP phone and an apartment building buzzer that could only dial a phone, and consequently had to wait for four hours on the sidewalk each time for the tech show up. On several occasions they didn't, at all, ever, and I had to reschedule and waste another four hours.

We used BellSouth DSL at my last job and it was very nice, and the customer service was very good — but this was small business DSL, for which we paid 2-3 times the residential rates.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:26 PM on February 7, 2006

My parents live in Savannah and have Comcast. In the last four years we've had it, there were only a few times (I can count them on one hand) when the connection was dropped, and it was fixed immediately. The only big problem I had was when the router died - they came out the next business day and replaced it for free for us. Nice people, easy to talk to, and their engineers in that area are the most pleasant people you'll ever meet in customer service.

Anyone I've known to have Bell South (moreso in the Atlanta area than Savannah) has complained about the blips in the system and their picky routers they give you (a few friends couldn't get their wireless routers to work with them, for example; Bell South makes you use theirs). But in Savannah it may be different - can't count on it, though.
posted by itchie at 7:30 PM on February 7, 2006

Another "pleasure" of dealing with Bellsouth: they do scheduled maintenance that brings down your line for hours on end about once a month. However, despite this maintenance being scheduled, they take no steps to inform you of it ahead of time, nor do they have a public website where you can check to see if the downtime is scheduled or not. You will call tech support, which will be in India, and they will make you go through the motions of a thousand different irritating rituals, and when you've established to their satisfaction that you have appeased the DSL gods with your rituals, they will check with a senior engineer and discover that there is scheduled maintenance, and that you can connect again in about two hours. Fun.
posted by evariste at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2006

Three general observations to contribute:

1. I've been using Mindspring/Earthlink DSL for about 8 years, since the mom-and-pop ISP I was using went dark overnight. Since then I have had nearly flawless performance from them. Really, it's been a dream.

2. In 10 years of dorking around with internet access, one rule I've found reliable is: DSL beats cable, unless your time is worthless. Of course, most people have cable for TV so they think they'll just get cable for internet too. Big mistake, IMHO. Go with DSL.

3. Earthlink vs. Bellsouth? Bellsouth used to be the kiss of death, back when they first launched their DSL offering, but since then have reached parity with Earthlink, apparently. Me, I'm perfectly happy with Earthlink DSL.
posted by intermod at 7:52 PM on February 7, 2006

I live in the Atlanta area, and I've been pleased with my Comcast cable modem service. Instant setup (I purchased a cable modem -- with an almost full rebate -- from Circuit City), and very good speeds. I've lost my connection twice: once during a major storm and once for reasons that I could not determine, and Comcast even credited me for a partial month's service when I barked about it. I can't address DSL except that friends of mine don't like theirs. (Oh, and I'm completely cellular -- which is a strange comment if you think about it too biologically -- so I wasn't tempted to go DSL anyway.) As for neighborhood saturation, the neighborhood I live in probably has a very, very high proportion of broadband users, and I've never experienced slowdowns.
posted by socratic at 7:52 PM on February 7, 2006

intermod, I think this is a YMMV situation. I've never had a good experience with DSL. I've had earthlink AND bellsouth. Road runner has completely whooped it's ass all up and down the street in the past year that I've had it.

Bellsouth is just atrocious. Off the top of my head:

You HAVE to use their SMTP server. Which is a pain in the ass if you bring your work laptop home to work.

Something is just screwy with their DNS. I'm a web developer so I'm always switching sites around and I swear, Bellsouth can take up to 100s of times longer to refresh when something changes. It's weird. The guy who runs the network room I keep some servers in has all kinds of weird horror stories about people using BS having trouble reaching stuff.

At my particular house (and I'm sure this was related to line issues which in 3 years they never managed to resolve) during a HEAVY rain, I would not have internet access.

go cable. don't look back.
posted by glenwood at 8:29 PM on February 7, 2006

There have been several articles to the effect that Comcast is just as onboard with the tiered Internet pricing idea as SBC/AT&T/BellSouth, they're just not trumpeting it from the hilltops the way the telcos are. The telcos have always had a fuck-you attitude towards home users so Comcast is only too happy to let them test the waters of public opinion.

That having been said, over my past six apartments across five years in 5 cities I have always found that cable goes down less often than DSL. I've had three of each in Seattle, Bellevue, and three seperate locales in East-Central Mass. DSL dies more during bad weather, and the telcos usually are more inclined to treat home users like shit because they handle far more large business customers than the cable companies.

It's nearly impossible to find a price/performance ratio for DSL that is remotely competitive with cable. I get 8Mbps down, 768Kbps with digital cable for $50/mo from Comcast. A 6Mbps/768Kbps plane from Speakeasy runs $100/month around here. I love Speakeasy and what they stand for but that's just not cutting it.

Grit your teeth and go Comcast. They still want to screw you over and destroy the Internet, but at least they don't openly gloat about it.
posted by Ryvar at 9:07 PM on February 7, 2006

One of several things I've never fully understood about Internet culture is the remarkable number of people who consider full broadband connectivity uptime critical for their job, hobby, or peace of mind, yet are content to make do with a single source pipe. It's a risky dependency, both cable and DSL fall prey to construction-related line cuts much too often, plus there are always random connection losses or temporarily DNS failures on the local network.

Here, I have a Comcast cable modem that is hooked to a (open access) wireless and a third-party DSL that cables into the main network. Reliability for each? I'll give it to the DSL line overall, the Comcast cable seems to go down more often. We have never had both pipes down at the same time we needed to hit the net. And, as with many other people, connectivity here is critical -- so critical that back when, I priced out fractional T1 lines with service level agreements until I came to the realization that two slightly less-stable sources are better than one slightly more-stable source. And one helluva lot cheaper.

I won't argue against single-source for starving students, the under[un]employed, and the net dilettante, but most "average" net-users can afford the dirt cheap insurance of going with a second source. Typically one can get both DSL and cable connectivity for under $100/month without extras. Assuming each has 95% uptime (which is a pretty fricking lousy percentage), barring Katrina-like disasters which simultaneously affect all connections, one would enjoy 99.75% uptime with both.

Anyway, normally as sole-source choice I'd cast my vote for DSL. That is, providing your phone lines are pretty clean and the price differential isn't too serious for same approximate speed. But, if possible I'd recommend asking your neighbors about their experiences. Better reliability is usually worth a little extra money or a little slower speed, and connectivity faults can be a strictly local issue no one else on MetaFilter could council you on.

That said, from what I've heard, BellSouth is a company which enjoys no better reputation than SBC, the phone company which owns the physical lines into all the residences around here. Be aware that ownership of those lines can be an important consideration, even were you to choose a third-party DSL provider which is not BellSouth. My horror story: two years ago SBC managed to hose my DSL for twelve days when they were "fixing" local telephone lines, denying their fault the entire time, ignoring an escalation of contacts up to and including a FedEx'ed letter to the SBC chairman in my capacity as an SBC shareholder, and standing on their claim that all contacts for repair must go through the DSL third party company. Finally on the twelfth day after a vendor meet on site, it was "oh yeah, we did that, we'll fix it tomorrow since it's almost 5PM today." Bastards. In my opinion, SBC deserves no one's DSL money. If BellSouth are even half as arrogant and incompetent as SBC, the Comcast cable modem solution is the only choice that makes sense.
posted by mdevore at 9:11 PM on February 7, 2006

Response by poster: Just to clarify, we currently have a Comcast cable modem and are thinking of switching to Bellsouth DSL.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:41 PM on February 7, 2006

not to be rude, but this is an almost pointless question. as you can see, the answers to your question are all over the spectrum. with cable vs dsl inquiries, your mileage always varies.

furthermore i'll give you an anecdote of mine--my parents have been at&t/comcast customers for about a decade now, and their internet connection generally stays up 24/7, with occasional outages during heavy storms.

i moved out of their house to an apartment about seven miles away; still within the same zipcode and everything (northeast atlanta). i have comcast in my apartment as well, but my connection is either down or has shitty throughput (1kbps) on average 3 out of 7 days of the week. my connection drops when water falls from the sky. my connection drops when clouds pass in front of the sun. my connection drops when the sun, moon and stars shift out of alignment. i've called comcast to complain so many times that they no longer credit me for days where i don't have service.

i say your question is pointless because as you can see from my experience, one person saying "comcast is great!" doesn't really mean anything if another person only seven miles away isn't able to check his email on a consistent basis.

my cable tv service works great though; it stays up through the worst of storms :P
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 7:21 AM on February 8, 2006

Brandon Blatcher, if you don't mind me asking, what part of Savannah do you live in (according to your profile)?
posted by itchie at 7:27 AM on February 8, 2006

Response by poster:
itchie, I live downtown.

i say your question is pointless

Not if I'm looking for personal stories/experiences. The various info about Bellsouth matched or added to most local stories I've heard and confirms that little has changed since we left Bellsouth years ago.

Better the devil we know and all that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: There's a bit of regulation arcana to consider in the cable vs. DSL choice as well, that others haven't covered, so let me tackle that. Then, I'll offer a couple of other general comments for your consideration.

One of the key differences for the future of cable vs. DSL is that the courts and the FCC have, in their infinite wisdom, decided two different courses of business development for the different kinds of wires connecting your home to the rest of the world. From the 1986 AT&T breakup, the concept of debundling services of the once monolithic voice telephone system has become enshrined in law and practice. Thus, the wire pairs delivering DSL services to your home can be leased by any CLEC that wants to provide services to you. So, if you try BellSouth and don't find joy in their services or network operation policies, you can be assured that some other DSL provider will be technically able to provide a connection over those same wires to a network operation you may like better. In Georgia, your choices of DSL service providers readily include Earthlink, Speedfactory, and probably at least 2 or 3 others in most metro areas where other CLEC's have colocation or interoperation agreements with BellSouth, as BellSouth is required to offer. So, you, as a DSL consumer, will be assured choices, and some competitive environment for some time into the future.

On the cable side, the competitive situation is different, and far more limited, if you have any choice at all. Earthlink and a few other independent ISP's are trying to wedge openings into the broadband infrastructure, but generally, that's not looking likely. So, if you don't find joy with your cable operator's offering, you're not likely to find much relief in the competitive markets.

Why should that be of interest to you, as a consumer? If your needs are relatively simple, and remain so, maybe it wouldn't. But I think that in the next several years, you are probably going to be making a lot of choices about new services and technologies to serve needs you don't even have now. For instance, maybe you've been thinking about your phone costs, and hearing about Voice over Internet Protocol being a good way to cut those. Maybe you've been hearing about IPTV as a way of delivering entertainment on demand to your home. And maybe, in the next 3 or 4 years, new services will come along that you, personally, will find important, even if others don't on a mass scale. The network connections available to you will determine whether or not you can get these services, and at what cost. So you want to think a bit, in your own self interest, about where your dollars go, and how those dollars will support your future choices of network connectivity.

Now, for my other "general" comments.

If you live within 3 or 4 thousand feet of a telephone central office, DSL and cable services will be technically comparable in terms of speeds and reliability. Beyond that range, DSL still suffers compared to modern cable networks, and that may not change at your location unless there is some new infrastructure coming your way. Frankly, BellSouth is lagging Verizon in both the quality of the solution they plan to implement for fiber to the home, and the rate at which they'll deploy it. It may be years before you even have availability of this as a BellSouth customer, but that depends on your neighborhood. Lotsa luck. In the meantime, if you live near enough to a central office, I'd go DSL for cost and flexibility reasons. If you like the BellSouth bundle you are being offered, and their network operations policies aren't a problem for you, why not give them a try? If it doesn't work out satisfactorily, you can move to Speedfactory or another DSL provider pretty painlessly.

If you live beyond the practical DSL distance from a CO or DSLAM, cable may be your only practical choice. Frankly, the broadband infrastructure is better suited for current and future demands for services, but long term, without the competitive pricing pressures of DSL operators, your costs are going to be higher, IMHO. But the rollout of HDTV and digital TV services is providing the cable operators with a lot of convergence reasons for upgrading their systems quickly, and they are already on a better technical and business base for accomplishing the expansions of their systems for high speed services. So, if you can live with the restrictions of choice, and the higher costs that result, you might be OK with cable for the foreseeable future.

In my own case, I've had Comcast cable for the last year here in Jacksonville, FL, and I've been pretty happy with it, but I have had some outages, one modem replacement, and lately, more frequent periods of 10 minutes to an hour where DNS lookups are slow, or routing problems are obvious. I live about 3,000 feet from a BellSouth CO, and DSL was an option when I chose Comcast, but the house I'm living in has less than stellar phone wiring, and there were few DSL CLEC choices here when I chose Comcast. In the last year, my situation has changed a bit as the Brand X cable case I cited above has come down, I've fixed some of my phone wiring problems, I still don't have any VoIP offering from Comcast, and, like you, I'm thinking of changing over to DSL now as a means of lowering my overall costs, as I now also have some DSL CLEC choices.

I think you have to view this as a fluid situation in the markets, and one which you, as a consumer, probably need to revisit annually, as you would insurance contracts. There are going to be deals, and not taking advantage of them, assuming you don't have location issues that strongly bias the decision one way or another, is not in your personal best interest, or that of the market as a whole. In my case, I'd save about $180 in the next year by moving to DSL, and that's about the right value to get my business, all other things being approximately equal. YMMV.
posted by paulsc at 8:16 AM on February 8, 2006

I've had Comcast for the past 3 years and have nothing but good things to say about it. It's never gone down and it's fast.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:18 AM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: It really depends on your local neighborhood facilities. There is no reason to say that Comcasr is more reliable than BellSouth or vice-versa. You can compare Comcast annd Bell South features, but if you want to know what will work better in your house ask your neighbors; they'll have a much better idea than folks in the rest of the country.

See what the Bellsouth cancellation policy is - if you can try it and quit after 2 weeks without paying any extra fees, I'd try that and not cancel Comcast until you are sure you want to switch.
posted by spira at 2:08 PM on February 8, 2006

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