In the big scheme of things, Pacific Bell’s TV commercial (Quicktime 4 needed to view this) for its DSL Internet service isn’t a poster child for deceptive advertising. Nonetheless, it stretches the truth a long way.
The TV spot lampoons problems with the cable-industry’s high-speed Internet service. Because households in a neighborhood are sharing bandwidth, the ad says, there are slowdowns and other problems with service due to bandwidth-hogging and other activities. Contrast this with DSL, the spot goes on. Here’s a screen shot of what appears on screen near the end of the commercial:
There are several problems with this claim. Such as, it isn’t true.
Now, it is accurate to say that DSL isn’t a shared service between your house and what’s known as the DSLAM, or Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer. That’s the equipment at the phone company Central Office (CO) that in turn sends your traffic into a bigger data pipe connecting, eventually, to the Internet backbone network and then to the servers from which you want to get information. The cable-modem systems’ architecture isn’t much different once data reaches the equivalent of the DSLAM, known in the cable world as the “head-end.”
In other words, DSL access and cable access are both shared once you get past the head-end or the DSLAM. So there’s bottleneck potential in that part of the system in both services, and the abilities of the service provider — and the number of households using the service and in what way they’re using it — determine whether the bottleneck will occur in that part of the system.
Once you get out to the larger Internet, of course, everything is shared. You can get bogged down waiting for a remote server to respond no matter how fast a local connection you have.
This is not a brief for the cable crowd, which has demonstrated a remarkable inability to manage its bandwidth in a way that prevents slowdowns, whether they’re caused by congestions in neighborhoods or past the head-end. The cable industry can provision its local data services in ways that would give home users lots of bandwidth — as much as the DSL people provide except in all but the most unusual circumstances — if they choose to do this.
A potential customer of PacBell has to ask whether PacBell is a prize when it comes to managing a network. The company’s in-house Internet service provider is becoming notorious for its e-mail outages. And a quick look at newsgroups and other Internet postings suggests the company has had its share of network slowdowns, too.
PacBell’s commercial falls into the category of accurate in one sense but hugely misleading. It’s like the way movie studios quote a positive snippet from an otherwise negative review — turning “an incredible piece of junk” into “incredible” for the quote it uses in advertisements.
PacBell isn’t alone in making misleading claims about bandwidth. I’ve heard cable-modem ads claiming vast speed increases that are almost never attained by a normal user.
Then again, it’s just advertising, right? Why should anyone believe it?
Speech versus Access?
Conxion, a Web-hosting service, has told UserLand Software to find a new hosting company — in effect, it’s firing a customer. UserLand’s Dave Winer thinks Conxion is doing it to punish him for his public statements, in which he complained about a series of outages that have plagued his site. If Conxion is getting rid of a customer because of the customer’s statements, that’s not smart business for Conxion in the long run, even though it’s legal.
For its part, Conxion says Userland’s business just isn’t cost-effective anymore. It denies that it’s trying to silence a critic.
You’ll find a running commentary of this on Dave’s Scripting News commentary and news site. Understand that you’re reading Dave’s take on the matter, though he has posted Conxion’s communications to him as well. If you’re interested, I recommend starting with the April 13 postings — and be sure to read the links to the other documents, in particular a letter he received from Conxion on April 4.
UPDATE: Conxion’s response.
And Dave’s response to that.
(Note: UserLand Software makes the software we use to run this eJournal, and Dave is a friend. Also, I’m working on a column discussing the power of ISPs relative to their customers.)