I upgraded my broadband connection yesterday from a puny 3-6Mbps/384-768K DSL connection to 20Mbps symmetrical Metro Ethernet service from an outfit called WebPass. My current ISP, Raw Bandwidth, has excellent service with no restrictions on hosting servers or traffic shaping shenanigans unlike the likes of Comcast, but they are still hobbled by the AT&T last-mile connection.

WebPass finesses around the incumbent monopoly by using newer buildings’ data-grade wiring plant to bring 100MBps Ethernet connections right into your home (all they had to do was change a wall plate and patch some cables in the closet) and use microwave links to backhaul traffic to their data center. They claim to use a mesh network for backhaul, but I think this just means a standard network of microwave links where some sites have to hop multiple microwave links to get to the transit connection, rather than a purely centralized hub and spoke model. In my case their offices are a mere two blocks away. This would allow me the pleasure of ditching the scumbags at AT&T altogether (were it not for the fact my building requires an entirely unnecessary landline for its security system).

AT&T is probably the worst telco in the US now, and is notorious for starving its infrastructure of investment to maximize short-term profits, unlike Verizon, who is investing heavily in its FiOS optical network. Unfortunately San Francisco is in AT&T territory and will not get true optical networks anytime soon. Municipalities can usually reassign the cable franchise every so many years, but there is no such provision for involuntary transfer of telcos that I know of.

The new service is $45 a month with no installation fee, vs. $70 a month for Raw Bandwidth, but it does not include a static IP address (they do offer it as part of their prohibitively expensive metered business service). Configuring my home router (a Cisco 877) to use both connections was incredibly painful, but I will run the two ISPs side by side for the next few months. If WebPass proves as reliable as Raw bandiwdth, I may just have to find a work-around for the static IP issue, or just rely on DHCP lease pinning.

If you live in San Francisco, or are moving there, definitely have a look at the buildings they have covered. The service is a glimpse of what people not in broadband backwater USA get.