Why don't ISPs compete on upstream bandwidth?
June 21, 2006 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Why don't DSL and cable providers compete on the amount of UPLOADING bandwidth they offer?

It seems to me that broadband ISPs are trying to one-up each other with respect to download speeds, but with the increase in applications like photo-storage websites, ordinary users gain more than ever from being able to upload faster. Why don't DSL and cable providers try to increase their upload speeds (and heavily advertise this increase), which are, if I'm not mistaken, still typically much lower than download speeds? Is there an economic reason? Legal problems?
posted by shivohum to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
DSL is limited in its upload speed. If it tried to compete, it would lose pretty quickly. Cable already beats DSL, so there's not much incentive to get better. Plus, download speed is still cemented in consumers' minds as a good barometer.

Fiber is starting to roll out, and could change that picture a little. But I wouldn't count on it.
posted by deadfather at 10:29 AM on June 21, 2006

The typical residential ISP customer doesn't have much use for upstream bandwidth. The market for reasonable upload speed from residential sites is still small enough that ISPs have no incentive to compete on that basis.
posted by majick at 10:36 AM on June 21, 2006

Uploading is still a tiny, tiny fraction of overall Internet use, especially among 'normal' people who don't use all this new stuff. Hell, I'm not sure I've ever been uploading something on DSL and wishing it was faster. It's fast enough for something done so rarely.

Plus, I've met plenty of people who don't actually know the difference between download and upload (and it's hard to explain if they don't know the basics of how the Internet works already), so they'd just get confused. Then again, I guess they get confused by everything.
posted by reklaw at 10:39 AM on June 21, 2006

Personally, I think marketing depts love single "more is better" numbers that they can use as a very immediate metric.

Download bandwidth, megapixels, processor speed, and if all else fails, model numbers (a V200 has to be better than a V200, right?) More == better.

Marketing on upload bandwidth would just confuse people.
posted by Leon at 10:44 AM on June 21, 2006

V220 > V200. Oops.
posted by Leon at 10:44 AM on June 21, 2006

Because with ADSL at least, increasing upload speed requires sacrificing download speed. Also, most of the ADSL standards have only allow low upstream speeds, so ISPs would need to give people new modems.

Wikipedia has an OK article. See the coloured graph and the table near the bottom.
posted by cillit bang at 10:49 AM on June 21, 2006

aren't there Federal restrictions on upload speed?
posted by elle.jeezy at 10:52 AM on June 21, 2006

Personally, I need the upload speed for graphics files. I'd consider switching from DSL to cable, but my cable company caps the upload speed to less than I have now with 1.5 megabit DSL.
posted by omnidrew at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2006

Because they are trying to maintain product differentiation with their commercial offerings, which tend to have better balanced upload and download speeds.

Theory aside, in my experience, DSL providers have always offered better "guaranteed" upload rates than cable internet providers.
posted by Good Brain at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2006

The typical residential ISP customer doesn't understand bandwith speed, or anything about the technical side of the Internet, at all. They just want to be on the internet so they can send e-mail and get directions.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:58 AM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

They don't want you to run a server.

High upload speeds mean that you're more willing to consider setting up a server, putting strain on their service.
posted by filmgeek at 11:32 AM on June 21, 2006

I was wondering this same question, after deciding to upload 10,000 family photos to my server for archival purposes. It took about 5 days to complete, and that was after I told it not to archive my digital video. I feel as thought might be the next battle of ISPs to win new customers as online backup storage proliferates (Such as Amazon S3 service)

As far as why they limit the upload speeds - my general understanding of it was because it limits P2P filesharing so that it does not bog down the entire network. Massive uploading bandwidth has historically been the trademark of a server. But, as you are finding out, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for wanting to upload something quickly. For my personal archival needs, I have uploaded my photos to the server (compressed an encrypted) - which took 5 days, then perform incremental backups so the time it takes is much less. Then I still had to archive video on a portable USB drive even though I have plenty of space available online.

But there is hope in sight. Verizon is currently rolling out FiOS which is Fiber-to-the-Home. They offer several different plans, the least of which is a 5mbit download, and 2mbit upload. From what I've heard these are the actual speeds as well, not just the "maximum" speeds. They just installed this fiber in my neighborhood, so as soon as they light it up I plan on signing up and ditching my cable (which is 784kbps upload I believe).
posted by aurigus at 11:33 AM on June 21, 2006

As far as why they limit the upload speeds - my general understanding of it was because it limits P2P filesharing so that it does not bog down the entire network.

Not really. That's just an unexpected benefit.
posted by smackfu at 12:10 PM on June 21, 2006

My cable provider (cox) has continually increased both the download and upload speeds to my house. I currently get 5mbps down and 2mbps up. I believe there is competition, but as others have said, upload is not as important to most people. I do see advertisements touting the upload bandwidth, however, so I'm not sure that the premise of the question is correct.
posted by knave at 12:26 PM on June 21, 2006

I was a somebody's house a couple years ago. His garage is a data center with multiple web, mail and game servers. He ran it on a SDSL connection with upload and download both at 6Mb. He would not tell me how much it cost though.

Does anyone know how SDSL, ADSL, iDSL, etc. differ?
posted by Leenie at 1:10 PM on June 21, 2006

Leenie, here's a faq on the subject.
posted by pretzel at 1:57 PM on June 21, 2006

They dont want you running servers. That's why many ISPs block commonly used ports, like port 80 (inbound) and stuff.

They want to upsell you to a business plan, or sell you hosting packages. It sucks, and it's annoying as hell. I have 768kbps up with my Comcast cable modem, and I very regularly upload rather large files to servers that I run with my web hosting business. (I own a web hosting provider, and I need to move stuff to & from the colo boxes.)

Kind of the same reason that many ISPs either a)charge a ridiculous fee or b)refuse outright when you ask for a static IP.
posted by drstein at 3:49 PM on June 21, 2006

Once consumers start caring about upload speeds, there'll be vigorous and well-advertised competition.

The restrictions aren't really needed to keep people from running servers over cheap consumer subscriptions. This could be just as easily done with tiered pricing on static IP, gigabytes-per-month restrictions that would never be met by anyone who occasional fancied a 2 or 3 Mbps upload speed to move around his home movie files.
posted by MattD at 8:09 PM on June 21, 2006

The BIG reason they do this is that they sell the upstream bandwidth (that they aren't giving to their residential customers) to people hosting servers in colocation centers. Those guys don't need any download bandwidth, only upload.

They're not selling it to you because they're already selling it to someone else. That FiOS hardware is actually capable of hundreds of megabits per second, fully symetrical. But that's not what you're getting.
posted by blasdelf at 10:40 PM on June 21, 2006

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