I got a first-hand look at what Charter's 60 Mbps broadband service delivers. Company execs showed how the fat pipe can handle multiple video streams without a hiccup. Netflix videos also started without a pause for buffering. But it's the Internet, so there were speed bumps.
Charter demoed the service at its headquarters in a St. Louis suburb, saying the new Ultra60 product is already available to about 95,000 homes in nearby communities. But not yet in my neighborhood, which is about 10 miles away. And no word when the service will expand to other cities.
The service costs $140 a month, about the same that Comcast is now charging for its 50 Mbps service. Charter will knock $10 off for bundling the service with any other from the company, such as its phone or cable TV offerings.
Is it worth it? I'd be intrigued more because of the 5 Mbps upload speed -- my wife is a graphic artist who's often sending big files across the Internet. And the 60 Mbps downloads are impressive. But how often do I want to watch several video feeds at one time? Maybe a sports nut would.
Also, when I tried to stream HD-quality video from Hulu.com, it would stutter on the Charter machine. Engineers blamed it on low-end computers they were using for the demo. In another test, download speeds weren't impressive when fetching the Windows 7 beta from Microsoft. Engineers said Microsoft was likely capping the download rate.
In other words, a lot of factors go into Web performance. Raw download speeds are just one. Even when everything works well, the faster connection might cut 20 seconds off the time needed to start a movie trailer. Not worth an extra $1,200 a year to me.
In the end, it seems more about bragging rights. For customers who want to have the fastest on their block. And for Charter, which can now say it has the fastest on the continent.