Are There Really Alternatives to Comcast High Speed Internet?

I have never been a fan of Comcast high speed Internet. There are constantly intermittent outages and slow speeds. Sometimes it even seems as if legal downloads and streaming of media is being throttled. Of course, Comcast is better than the 28.8 kbps dialup Internet that I used 15 years ago, but considering that it is now 2011, I can only hope that today’s options are better than that. In the Seattle area, like many others, there are actually very few options other than Comcast, and alternatives are only limited to specific areas. In fact, Comcast has such a huge monopoly on consumers’ access to the Internet in the Seattle area that there are no other choices — either you have Comcast, or your neighborhood is provided with cable Internet by Broadstripe. There are a few DSL options, but DSL can be more troublesome than Comcast — especially during bad weather. If you’re truly fed up with Comcast broadband Internet, are there really any viable alternatives? Here are a few that you might want to consider:

Clearwire
Clearwire emerged several years ago as one of the first residential hotspot alternatives to traditional Internet. Found in mall kiosks everywhere, the company used hard pressure sales tactics to get broke college kids who were addicted to the Internet to sign up for the service. Feedback was immediately negative; it didn’t work in ground level apartments, in hallways, or anywhere near a building with any kind of foliage growing nearby. A Clearwire hotspot costs between $50 and $100 with a $50/month data package — nearly three times what you will pay for Comcast. Your success with a Clearwire hotspot will vary drastically between other users. If you can position the hotspot just right on a third floor windowsill that has nothing blocking its view of a clear sky, you will probably be able to surf the Web and read email — but don’t even think about watching YouTube videos or Skyping with friends and family. The video quality will be poor, if it renders at all, and the audio will drop. With Clearwire, you’ll have annoying problems all of the time. At least with Comcast, your problems are likely much more limited.

Are There Really Alternatives to Comcast High Speed Internet?Hotspots and USB Modems
If there’s anywhere that Internet is more unreliable than it is at home with Comcast, it’s during an event or conference where attendees and press must rely on the event for Wi-Fi. During my career with LockerGnome I’ve learned that attending these types of events armed with your own Wi-Fi in the form of a hotspot or USB Modem is critical to staying connected and keeping readers updated with information from the conference. For those who spend most of their day in an office, a hotspot or USB Modem could be a viable alternative to a single person who just needs to quickly manage a few things online in the evenings. All major wireless carriers feature hotspots and USB modems, but the data plans wildly vary.

T-Mobile, for instance, offers a few phones and devices with hotspot functionality, with a range of data packages that allow users up to 10 GB for $69.99 with no overage charges (though users will experience slower speeds if they use more data). This means that users can browse about 200 webpages, send a few hundred emails, and watch about two minutes of YouTube every day without going over. Verizon offers USB Modems that cost between $20 and $80 as well as Mobile hotspots that cost between $20 and $100. As far as data packages go, Verizon offers a 10 GB option for $80. And, yes, 10 GB was the maximum amount of data offered, per month, for hotspot users. This is admittedly not much data, especially for users who watch a lot of video or stream music. Hotspots and USB modems also rely on a clear signal to the wireless carrier, so if you live in or are traveling through an area that doesn’t get reception on a cell, you won’t get it via your hotspot, either.

Coffee Shops
If you’re considering getting rid of your Internet at home, you don’t necessarily need to replace it, per se. If you live in an urban or even suburban area, just head down the street to your nearest Starbucks, which offers free Wi-Fi to its customers. In some major metropolitan areas, these Starbucks are open late at night, or even 24 hours, making it an ideal place to head in the evening when you need to get a little extra work done. It’s not a great place to sit back, relax and watch the latest episode of Dexter, but for the price of a tall coffee (which is under $2), it’s not a bad option — especially if you have a smart phone on which you can quickly check your emails and casually browse the Web and Facebook at home. Just don’t go to the coffee shop every day and order the most expensive drink on the menu, or else you’ll have other things to start worrying about, too (like your sanity and your waist size).

Tablets and iOS Devices
If you haven’t yet considered purchasing an iOS device or any other kind of tablet, but are considering canceling your Comcast service, now is never a better time to consider a tablet — or even just the switch to an iPhone. With a 12 GB data bundle for a Verizon iPhone, priced at $100, you not only get a little extra data but can use the phone as a mobile hotspot. There is also a 10 GB data package without the hotspot priced for Verizon’s tablet, like the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy. AT&T limits its iOS devices to 4 GB a month for $45/month, and will charge you $10 for another 1 GB if you go over. While this data is more limited than other options, it may be ideal for those who can glean Wi-Fi from other sources throughout the day (such as the aforementioned coffee shop) and only need to use their own data package occasionally.

Still not sure if you can cut the Internet cable? You will admittedly pay much more for much less data if you switch to relying on a wireless carrier for your everyday cable needs. If you have already cut the cable TV and use a service like Roku or Boxee, you will also lose those services. You may want to instead consider purchasing one of the alternatives mentioned above as a backup device for when your Comcast has problems yet again. You know that when you call customer service it won’t tell you there’s a local outage, but it’s never just you, and the problem will resolve itself sooner than later. And if it really doesn’t bother you that much, consider a true alternative to the Internet. Like actually leaving your house and seeing your friends and family.

Are you frustrated or fed up with your cable Internet? Have you found a good alternative instead? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.