One of the best things about taking Amtrak, America's Rail System That Is Woefully Inadequate Compared To Europe, is that it the trains have free wifi. The downside is that the free wifi is hilariously terrible to the point that it's nearly unusable. But that might change soon!
The wifi capacity on the much-traveled Northeast Corridor is set to get a big boost in the coming months, the Washington Post reports. As early as this winter, Amtrak's wifi could jump from 10 Mbps in every train to a whopping 25 Mbps.
Just don't expect to be blown away by Internet speeds as fast as the train itself. The Post says that many American homes have Internet faster than 25 Mbps, and Amtrak isn't just asking one family to share it but a train full of hundreds of people. It will go, in their words, from "virtually worthless" to "barely usable." From the story:
A 25 Mbps downlink is a significant upgrade, particularly in light of Amtrak's current financial picture. But despite all that: It's 2014. Streaming music and video are a basic staple of the modern Internet. The Federal Communications Commission is exploring whether to make 25 Mbps the baseline definition for broadband — the bare minimum to qualify as a high-speed connection.
In other words, forget being able to stream Netflix on your next trip down to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It's going to be a little better, but it won't be great.
And that's if they're able do it at all. The Atlantic says this is just a request for proposal at the moment. Amtrak wants companies that could enhance their Internet speeds to pitch bids by the end of July.
I live in D.C. and Gawker is based in New York, so I find myself using the Amtrak Northeast Regional line quite a bit. It's definitely preferable to air travel (but then again, so is waterboarding.)
While the free wifi is nice, it's so slow that it makes it virtually impossible for me to send large email attachments, write snarky and informative posts for Jalopnik, or BitTorrent the latest F1 race because I'm too cheap to pay for cable.
Still, as the Post story points out, Amtrak is under such a massive mountain of debt that it's a wonder it doesn't make passengers pay for shitty wifi like airline companies do. If it stays free, I think I can live with "barely usable" over "virtually worthless."