Yeah we have the same thing. When I went from wireline to U-verse they sent me the 2 Wire modem (wireline modem was one of those small paperback book size modems). Maybe it was to go from standard ADSL to the faster/higher bandwidth VDSL. And has the Wi-Fi transceiver built-in; I keep my eye on that light to tell if someone is trying to sneak in. There's three types/speed ranges of Wi-Fi, I believe my 2 Wire has the middle one. Gotta keep that in mind for the other end too (laptop, blu-ray, etc.). I'm still thinking a wired ethernet connection would be ideal for video, highest speed and no wireless interference (although most of the Wi-Fi speeds are sufficient unless trying to share too much).
Anyhow if you're wired in I don't see why you would have that much variation unless it's due to the Wi-Fi connection; maybe your fixed DSL speed is way high and the wireless is causing it to fluctuate (or your laptop is giving you bogus readings). Try this one on your PC:
There's also a page on improving speed. Last year one of their guys offered to rewire my attic run for free as part of customer performance improvement program, he said it might perform better with twisted pair vs. my old simple wireline cabling. I think really more to prevent interference. He wanted to do it right then but it was below freezing and I felt like I needed to be up there with him to show specifics about my attic, plus I was busy at the time. Probably too late now but it's running fine anyway (turns out he ran his test when the modem was off giving him bad results, I guess they think we leave them on 24/7).
Yeah recurring revenue is the name of the game these days (monthly fees). Even the products we buy are designed to keep us coming back for more.
Sounds like you lost Sears for K-Marts, opposite of here. Don't know if Sears stuff can be online shipped to store to K-Mart, I've had no luck trying the reverse. If you shop enough at both there's that free to cheap shipping program on Shop Your Way Rewards. I did it for the 90 day free part and it was nice. When it ended they offered me the year subscription for only $19 but I was kinda shopped out by then.