Sounds like you are unfamiliar with Netcraft, Wil.
Netcraft tells you who is being hosted at any given hosting company. Do a "What's that site running", and you find the server ident string as well as the owner of their IP block. Click on the IP block owner's name, and it tells you other sites in the same block. If they have the same server ident string, chances are fairly good that they use the same hosting company.
They tell you how long each site has been up, continuously, but that information isn't necessarily helpful. If the numbers are too high, it means they haven't been applying patches, and they are ripe for an assault by script kiddies.
You can also see how long the site has been at the same IP number. If a site has been in the same place for three years, either he owns his own server, is satisfied with the hosting company he uses, or he's a dunderhead. Looking at the site will tell you whether he is a dunderhead or not.
There's usually enough information on any site to help you contact the owner, fairly expeditiously, although a WHOIS will give you a little more. Owners will tend to tell you whether they like their hosting company or not, and will tell you why they like the hosting company.
I'm not sure that static-laden dial-up has much to do with it. A friend is standing over my shoulder. A couple of minutes ago, we established SSH connections to our respective websites. We copied a file from one server to the other, then did wgets from each server to the other, all within 10 seconds.
It was 184.35 KB/s one direction, and 262.09 KB/s the other. Should we conclude that one site is uphill of the other, so that it takes 50% longer to make the trip one direction than another?
From "van" here at dreamhost:
yahoo.com - 193.41 KB/s
microsoft.com - 113.42 KB/s
msn.com - 123.01 KB/s
msnbc.com - 110.81 KB/s
Google, though, was 2.41 MB/s, over ten times as fast as everyone else.
I think that we can draw the conclusion from these numbers that Dreamhost's speed is quite satisfactory. It's in the same class as Yahoo, and the hosting company my friend does business with.
I've had comments from users that they appreciate my site's speedy response, although a lot of that has to do with the fact that I am a brilliant (although excessively modest) webmaster.
You can also conclude that Microsoft must be running their sites on Microsoft software, and that Google is running their computers on Jolt cola instead of electricity.
Like I said in the beginning, fast and responsive hardware here. I have never complained about that. (Unless, of course, the site was completely hosed. It gets really slow when THAT happens. But the internet does suffer from backhoe operators getting careless and train tunnels catching fire.)