Internet in the North is Broken

The “cloud” has become central to the way we use the internet.

We now put as much information online as we draw down, if not more.

Whether it’s sharing photos on Facebook or storing files on Dropbox, the contemporary internet is fully a two-way street.

But the infrastructure in the North doesn’t support this behaviour.

We are very limited in terms of being able to upload information.

And if we push those limits, the whole thing goes to pot.

Simply put, the internet in the North is broken.

Unfortunately, our incumbent monopoly service provider, NorthwesTel, seems to have no interest in fixing it.

I’ll give you a real world example of what I mean.

The other night my son and I were watching *Puss in Boots* on Netflix.

We’d been out that day and taken a lot of good photos that we wanted to share with our family and friends around the world.

So I pulled out my MacBook and started uploading the photos to Flickr.

Abruptly, the movie stopped playing.

And it would not start again until the photos had finished uploading.

In fact, I had to reset NorthwesTel’s modem before we could get back into the groove with Banderas’ suave feline character.

This sort of thing happens regularly, which is especially frustrating because I pay through the nose for internet service.

Every month I fork over $120 for a service that is purportedly capable of a 50 Mbps download rate and a 2 Mbps upload rate.

But those promised service levels are not necessarily accurate.

In actuality, NorthwesTel allows me to *either* draw data down from the internet at a speed of up to 50 Mbps *or* push data up to the internet at a speed of up to 2 Mbps.

I can’t do both at the same time.

Instead, NorthwesTel’s system is designed so that if you saturate your uplink to the internet, then your downlink is blocked.

So when I started uploading photos to Flickr, our Netflix stream got axed. And because the upload was so large and sustained, I had to reset my modem as well.

I spoke with some representatives from NorthwesTel about this, and they acknowledged that this is the expected behaviour.

And they made it clear that it’s up to the customer to just accept this service flaw and deal with it. There is no fix forthcoming.

This type of service behaviour is not the norm, though.

Large, sustained uploads over Bell Mobility’s data network, for example, have only a moderate effect on download speeds. And they don’t kill my connection.

What’s more, Bell’s mobile data network provides better upload speeds than NorthwesTel’s cable system does.

I was generally able to get an upload rate on the mobile network that was 3 times faster than the top speed of NorthwesTel’s highest level service.

Unfortunately, the data caps on Bell’s mobile network are even more stringent than NorthwesTel’s, so using it full time is not a viable alternative.

Why does NorthwesTel so severely restrict the upload capabilities of its internet services?

There’s really no good reason.

Perhaps the company has a fear of its customers making “commercial use” of their internet connections, like we’re going to set up high-traffic e-commerce sites in our homes that will chew up bandwidth or something.

That’s unlikely. The company’s egregiously small data caps and their associated harsh overuse penalties would certainly regulate away such misuse.

No, the upload speed limit is an arbitrary, unfounded restriction.

Which is unfortunate because it has a broad negative impact on the North’s ability to use the internet to engage with the rest of the world.

We live in an age that requires unfettered internet access. That’s what the “cloud” is all about – being online without constraint.

Internet voice and video phone services are the norm now.

Many services, including Facebook, Google+ and Dropbox allow you to automatically upload every photo you take to their service in preparation for sharing them later.

Cloud file storage and sharing services like Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, Apple iCloud, Box, and Dropbox enable you to store your documents, photos, videos and other files on the internet for distributed retrieval and sharing.

Internet data backup services are reliable, affordable and convenient enough for common use.

It’s too bad, then, that NorthwesTel’s upload restrictions make utilizing these and other cloud services very difficult, if not impossible, for northerners.

So what’s the fix? Simple. NorthwesTel should remove or significantly increase upload restrictions on all internet accounts.

At the very least, the company needs to adjust their services to allow for simultaneous high speed uploads and downloads.

After all, when we pay the exorbitant rates we do for internet access and a small ration of data, there really shouldn’t be any restriction on how we choose to use it.

As long as Northwestel is handicapping us arbitrarily, however, the internet in the North should be considered broken.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, January 18, 2013.

5 thoughts on “Internet in the North is Broken

  1. Ian McGugan says:

    It’s their Juniper routers and the settings on them.

  2. Noah says:

    There seems to be a limit on the number of simultaneous TCP connections a single subscriber can have open, rather than throttling the actual bandwidth. The net result is like you experienced where shit just breaks instead of gracefully degrading and slowing down as your bandwidth becomes saturated. As Ian says, this isn’t a “defect” as NWTel told you, they have intentionally set it up this way.

    My guess is they do this to break the BitTorrent protocol which this type of obnoxious policy is very effective at, as BT uses many simultaneous TCP connections.

    Your point is quite valid though, why are we paying exorbitant rates for Internet that is broken by design.

  3. John says:

    Please read this following RFCs to understand why you are having this issues:

    http://rfc-ref.org/RFC-TEXTS/3449/chapter3.html

  4. Curtis Shaw says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Lots of good resources on the mechanics of TCP/IP. I think what you are describing is when there is a complete saturation of your upstream connection. It’s a 2-way protocol… and if it the upstream path is completely smothered, you will drop packets in the downstream direction.

    I have some upstream applications at home (dropbox, for instance) where you can set a maximum possible upload in kbps per session. So I can upload photos and watch TV at the same time.

    Hope that helps…

    Curtis

  5. […] wrote about this problem with Northwestel’s internet service earlier this year (Internet in the North is Broken), but it deserves addressing again since it so significantly impacts the quality of service we get […]

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