Originally created 12/31/06

Upload speeds frustrate online sharers



NEW YORK - Blame the Internet's legacy systems if Jay Glatfelter falls asleep Thursday mornings.

The co-host of an online audio show about ABC's TV show Lost, Mr. Glatfelter must wait about 40 minutes to finish posting his program to the Internet after the Wednesday night broadcast. If he were downloading it like any of his listeners do, the file would take only a few minutes over his speedy cable modem.

"At 3 in the morning, that's really brutal," said Mr. Glatfelter, who lives in Raleigh, N.C. "It's an extra 40 minutes, and you want to go to sleep."

The information superhighway isn't equal in both directions. Cable and phone companies typically sell asymmetrical Internet services to households, reserving the bulk of the lanes for downloading movies and other files and leaving the shoulders at most for people to share, or upload, files with others.

The imbalance makes less sense as the Internet becomes truly interactive. Users are increasingly becoming contributors and not just consumers, sharing photos, video and - in Mr. Glatfelter's case - podcasts. In a nod to the trend of user-generated content, Time magazine recently named "You" - everyone who has contributed - as its Person of the Year.

It's a little-known fact because advertisements for cable and DSL services generally focus on download speeds. Mr. Glatfelter, like other Internet content providers, is stuck unless he shells out hundreds of dollars a month for business-grade services that provide equal speeds upstream and downstream.

In recent months, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. and other movie studios began embracing the BitTorrent file-sharing system to more economically distribute online movies.

Yet the ability to upload still lags.

"The system is a hangover of the old mass-media days," said Paul Saffo, a technology analyst in Palo Alto, Calif. "Some consumers are uploading a tremendous amount of information and that's the thing the establishment just doesn't get."

Cable and phone providers insist they are keeping up with demand, but they say they haven't had a huge clamoring for symmetry.

"Speed has not been an issue for most of our customers, or we'd hear about them," said Mark Harrad, the spokesman for Time Warner Cable.

AT&T Inc. spokesman Michael Coe said customers might be sharing more files, but "the majority of their time is spent downloading. As needs change, we'll look at offerings that meet customers' needs, whether it's symmetric service or it's just higher upload speeds."

Even Verizon Communications Inc.'s superfast FiOS initiative brings download speeds 2.5 to 7.5 times faster than uploads.

The origins of the imbalance are technical. Too much uploading can interfere with download signals on DSL services, while cable TV providers must squeeze uploading within the broadcast spectrum below television's Channel 2.

Even as engineers overcome the limitations, it's unclear how much service providers will allocate to uploads. More bandwidth for sharing means less for television, video on demand and the like.

"In any kind of revenue-generating model, the consumer is willing to pay to receive something," said John Chapman, a distinguished engineer at Cisco Systems Inc. "A lot less consumers are willing to pay for the privilege of contributing" video and other media.