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CenturyLink has been aggressively rolling out gigabit internet service in Seattle neighborhoods over the past year. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the service in my little corner of Queen Anne, and finally the day has arrived. I replaced my Comcast internet service, which was a 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload, and now am receiving an insane 1 Gbps for both upload and download speeds via CenturyLink’s fiber network. Here is what the experience was like.

Ordering Service

Determining where CenturyLink fiber is available has been a moving target as they install fiber on utility poles across the city. Initially I called their customer service department to check on availability of service to my address and was told “it is not yet available at your house.”

I then visited their 1-gig website, and used the “check for services in my area” button, which actually said that service was available, contrary to what their customer service department told me. Feeling undeterred, I ordered service online to see what would happen, and the website gave me an install date for 11 days later.

I spoke to my installation technician about this and he confirmed that their systems aren’t always keeping up with the exact availability. Sometimes fiber hasn’t been installed, and other times it hasn’t been lit up yet. If it is not active in your location, keep checking back for updates.

Fiber to the house

About a week before the scheduled installation, a CenturyLink technician visited my house to string fiber from the utility pole to my house. In addition to bringing the new fiber optic line to the house, the technician removed the old copper phone lines.

CenturyLink fiber installation
CenturyLink technician installs fiber optic line from utility pole

On the install date, a CenturyLink technician came to the house to finish the installation. This involved installing the Optical Network Terminator (ONT) and the “modem.” It took a little over an hour to get the boxes installed, wires strung and service activated.

If you’re getting fiber installed at your house, have a plan for the technician on where to locate these devices. The ONT should be close to where the cable enters your house. It also needs access to power. If you plan to use the CenturyLink wireless access point, you’ll want to figure out a location where you can get decent coverage throughout the house. The installer will have to string network cable to join that location to your ONT.

CenturyLink Optical Network Terminator
CenturyLink Optical Network Terminator

Insanely fast

1 gig internet is crazy fast, if you’ve got the network equipment to support it. For many folks, you may be connecting with a wireless network that can’t get anywhere near that speed. You may also run up against slower sites on the internet that don’t have the infrastructure necessary to respond to your fast connection.

Here is a speed test from my Comcast cable connection.

Comcast Business Deluxe 50 speed test
Comcast Business Deluxe 50 speed test

After switching to CenturyLink 1 Gbps fiber, I’m getting ~16x faster download speeds and 78x faster upload speeds.

CenturyLink 1 Gbps fiber speed test
CenturyLink 1 Gbps fiber speed test

My home is hard-wired with Cat5 wiring in most locations, and I have a 1 Gbps switch that connects everything, but I still ran into speed limitations. My Sonicwall firewall/VPN router actually couldn’t process that much network throughput, so I had to swap it out. My 802.11n wireless network can support ~300 Mbps, and I’ll be looking at switching to the 5 GHz radio to better utilize my new speeds.

If your home primarily uses wireless connections and you choose the 1 Gbps connection, you’ll want to make sure that your wireless devices can take advantage of these speeds. To take advantage of the full 1 Gbps connection, a wireless access point and devices that support 802.11ac are needed, which would actually mean disabling the wireless radio in the CenturyLink modem and installing your own. If you choose the 100 Mbps or 40 Mbps plans, a typical 802.11n wireless network should be sufficient.

Why is it called a modem?

The gateway device that CenturyLink is using is the Technicolor C2000T Modem. Folks who work in IT will scratch their heads at the device being called a modem, since the ONT is actually converting the light signal to an ethernet signal. The “modem” is actually a router and wireless access point that authenticates on the CenturyLink network using PPPoE.

CenturyLink C2000T modem
CenturyLink C2000T modem

The device may serve as a modem when using a DSL connection, but it is clearly not a modem in the case of fiber. You can actually use other routers that support PPPoE and VLAN tagging to connect directly to the ONT. In order to do so, you’ll need to call CenturyLink for your PPPoE credentials. They use a VLAN tag of 201, and I found this post useful in using my router instead of the CenturyLink device. I don’t have Prism TV or phone service, so can’t speak to the need for their router to support those services.

Most folks will be well-served using the CenturyLink modem, especially if you glazed over when I mentioned PPPoE or VLANs above.

How about the price?

Unlike most folks, I’ve been on Comcast Business internet for many years, primarily to support static IPs on my network for server hosting and VPN connections. For my Comcast Business service, I get 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload and pay the following:

  • $109.95/month for Deluxe 50 Business Internet
  • $12.95/month for equipment rental
  • $24.95 for 5 static IP addresses

I upgraded to CenturyLink’s 1 Gbps fiber connection and am paying the following:

  • $114.95/month for 1 Gbps with a two-year price guarantee
  • One-time equipment charge of $99.99
  • One-time install charge of $59.99

According to my order, I’m getting a “discount” of $39.00 on the plan for the two-year period. It remains to be seen what they do with the rates after the promotional period expires, but clearly the pricing is attractive relative to what I was paying before.

CenturyLink offers a variety of bundles with internet, Prism TV and phone services that may get more bang for your buck if you want those services. They are also offering 100 Mbps service for $74.95/month and 40 Mbps service for $34.95/month.

Comcast disconnection fun

Once I got everything up and running, it was time to place a call to Comcast to disconnect the old service. Of course they can’t simply disconnect you without a trip through their retention department to try and convince you to stay.

When asked why I was cancelling, I said I’m getting speeds that are 20x faster for downloads and 100x faster for uploads for slightly less money, so it was a no-brainer. I have no idea where they get these scripts, but the Comcast rep emphasized that “reliability with fiber is questionable” and that I should “review what PC Magazine and the FCC have to say about it.” Umm, OK.

Because I was a Comcast Business customer, not residential, they said that I needed to give 60-day notice to cancel, charging for two months of service that I wouldn’t be using. They claimed that I agreed to this in my service contract. Being an electronic pack rat, I had a copy of my original contract from 2007 that did not say anything about such a fee. In fact, it pointed to a dead website for the terms and conditions of the contract. When they couldn’t prove that I had agreed to the 60-day cancellation fee, they waived it.

Should you get it?

If you are interested in blazing fast internet speeds, clearly fiber is superior to cable. Given that fiber connections are symmetric, you’ll also experience dramatic speed increases for uploading files like photos and videos, since most cable providers have asymmetric speeds with fast downloads and slow uploads.

If you choose the fastest 1 Gbps speed, make sure that you have the wireless or wired network in place to actually use these speeds, otherwise you’ll be paying for lots of speed that your devices cannot access and should consider the 100 Mbps package.

I’ll be curious to see how the reliability compares to Comcast, which does seem to have a few outages per year. I’m also hoping that the competition between internet providers remains strong so that my rates don’t go way up after the initial 2-year contract.

Editor’s Note: CenturyLink and Comcast are GeekWire sponsors.

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