Want broadband? Of course you do. In the United States, you have to commit somewhere between $20 and $45 a month for consumer-grade DSL or cable access. That's not an all-inclusive fee, of course, but the price delta you pay on top of your existing cable or phone service. The real price can be as low as 50 bucks a month or as high as infinity and beyond, depending on what services you're ordering from your phone or cable people.
Let's emphasize that this is consumer-grade service, with speeds from 768Kbps to as high as 2Mbps if you're really lucky. Sure, if you shop around and happen to live in the right place, you can get service that's a bit faster, but in general, it's a pretty narrow pipe to squeeze your data through. It knocks dial-up into the bit bucket, but that's hardly cause for a street party.
The one thing here that's becoming even warmer than the weather and the beer is the broadband market.
So what, I hear you ask, has brought about this diatribe about the state of broadband in the States? Well, along with 90 percent of the eastern U.S. seaboard, I've migrated in search of cooler weather. Without looking at a weather forecast, I figured England would be a good place for this, yet I was wrong, as it's recently broken century-old record highs.
But the one thing here that's becoming even warmer than the weather and the beer is the broadband market. The U.K.'s biggest satellite television provider, Sky, has just begun offering broadband service as a free perk to its subscribers. Sky's not the only one: Phone company Talk Talk's Talk3 service bundles a phone line rental, unlimited calls to U.K. landlines, and broadband service for a penny short of 20 pounds, or about 35 bucks. That price is the same whether you use broadband or not, so it, too, is essentially a free service. If you need to buy a DSL modem, the startup cost of Talk3 service is another 30 quid; if not, even the startup is free.
And we're not talking about broadish-band here; no 768Kbps service here. We're talking the full 2Mbps. It's free, but you can't have it
Naturally, there's a drawback to all this free speed. The first downside is the cruelest: it's not available to everyone. In the majority of markets, inexpensive deals hover around 28 U.S. dollars per month and are limited to 1Mbps. At present, Sky's U.K. service is hovering around 28 percent of the country, which, given that the area is only slightly larger than Pennsylvania, doesn't constitute fantastic penetration.
Queuing is a national sport, and the British are world champions at it. A couple of months for broadband? No problem!
The next problem is that--even if Sky is available in your area--its free broadband is in such great demand that there are wait lists. Some companies are taking orders on the understanding that the service won't be available to new subscribers until the end of September. A two-month wait sounds unconscionable, but it's not a lot different than what happened when the first cable broadband offerings rolled out in the United States--or more recently, when FiOS
was touted but not rolled out to Verizon customers. Besides, Britain had food and clothing rationing from the World War II that lasted clear into the 1950s. Queuing is a national sport, and the British are world champions at it. A couple of months for broadband? No problem!
...not that there's a problem there...
Next to these deals, the paltry offerings in my part of the east coast of the United States seem ungenerous.
Even the lack of penetration for these new British broadband services isn't too big a problem. The service that seems to have the best marketing on buses and in print here, Tiscali Broadband, gives you 1Mbps Internet for 15 quid. A nice small amount on the surface, but not exactly free--except that it's free of bundled phone services. But Tiscali is not the only option. For the same price, Toucan will throw in a phone line. How generous is that? Toucan will also add unlimited landline calls during evening hours for a total of 18.75 pounds, or just shy of $35, a month. Back in the States, I pay more than that just for the phone.
Next to these deals, the paltry offerings in my part of the east coast of the United States seem ungenerous. Even if I pare down my phone service to a dial-tone and build on a consumer-grade broadband service plus limited-hours Internet telephony, I'm still staring down a bill of around $45 a month plus taxes, without 911 emergency service.
All told, it's hardly surprising that people such as Madonna and Johnny Depp own homes in England. I'm betting broadband didn't figure in their decision to buy, but it would be a pretty substantial factor for me, if someone ever offered me millions to appear on film in beard extensions, gold teeth, and eyeliner. Cor, baby, that's really free
Of course, the best things in life are free, and that's how I'm about to post this column. While hauling my rig past a likely looking pub in Bath (the Bell on Walcot Street; try their draft Gem), I noticed that they offered not only a free Wi-Fi hot spot but also the use of their big, chunky 240V power outlets to recharge your electronics. No doubt they'll make it all back in beer and pub lunches, but I must say, it felt like a heck of a good deal.
Or perhaps I was the subject of subliminal advertising: Somewhere, a radio was playing an old John Otway
tune, "Cor, Baby, That's Really Free." And as far as I can tell, that's exactly what the shared 11Mbps and an hour's recharge cost.
No wonder so many American tourists come here every year.
Happy with your broadband provider? Feel like emigrating to take advantage of broader pipes and better offers? Give Matt Lake a firm handshake (or a Glasgow kiss) in the Feedback section below.