Broadband Rollout is Coming… on the Government’s Horse and Buggy

October 14, 2009 at 2:16 pm (broadband, Dial up, DSL, satellite, Technology) (, , , )

If you heard about the government stimulus package that plans to spend over 7 billion to get broadband in rural areas, don’t get too excited. This is the government we’re talking about afterall.

Here’s a few things we need to keep in mind.

  1. The current halt on afforable broadband service to rural areas is due to lack of interest for companies and for customers. Basically, it costs way too much money to get broadband way out to the boonies when not everyone wants to pay for it even if they did!
  2. Anytime the government hands out money, it has to jump so many hurdles and run through so much legislation that by the time they get around to it, we could probably have done it faster on our own with a big garage sale! Ok, ok… slight exaggeration. Anyway.
  3. There are a lot of big companies involved that will all be lobbying for their interests, and a lot of them are more concerned about their pockets than a few rural farmers waving their arms for a broadband bailout.

Here’s some of the things we dial-up users in the sticks have to look forward to:Horse_and_buggy_1910

 

*crickets chirp*

 

So anyway… The FCC has been given until February to  (get this!) define “broadband” so the government can properly dole out the funds. Yes February. As in next year. If you can’t guess, it’s going to take at least several years for this promised broadband to reach your rural little computer.

Why do we need to define broadband? Well because all these “high-speed” companies are giving customers such low-quality service that it’s hardly fast enough to be considered fast in today’s age. Check this out:

*Satellite services can drop your connection speed to that equivalent to dial-up as a penalty for using the service excessively.

*Wireless can become so overcrowded with users that it is actually slower and more unreliable than dial-up.

*Many “low-cost” DSL plans have connection speeds that are no more than 10 times faster than dial-up (keep in mind that advertised speeds are not guaranteed actual speeds).

You might as well just stay with dial-up at that rate! Oh and get this!

*Our fastest connection speeds here in the U.S. is much slower than the normal connection speed in other countries. So much for being an advanced country!

So now the FCC is asking some of these Internet services providers to help them decide how fast broadband should be (or how else to determine what makes broadband what it is–long story), and phone companies like AT&T are trying their hardest to keep the standards low. They want broadband to be defined as being able to achieve basic tasks (like web page loading) and not even including video streaming and gaming capabilites!

Guess what? That, my friends, is dial-up. And we already have that. Yes, this is going to take a while. Looks like I’m going to keep going to the library to get videos… But I’m ok with that. I never had my hopes up from day one anyway. :-)

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The Truth Behind the Broadband Stimulus Argument

September 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm (broadband, Dial up, DSL) (, , , , )

In my last post, I discussed an article that proposed that the government has a duty to provide broadband Internet to rural areas. Here are the reasons leading up to this conclusion—but this time we’re looking at the whole picture. This information is based on my knowledge as a technician for an Internet provider and my extensive research on the subject.

More and more people are using the Internet. Yes, this is very true. In fact, the U.S. is nearly saturated with Internet services and one of the leading countries with broadband access. The growth of Internet usage just within the last five years is staggering, with many people signing up for more Internet access daily.

The Internet is becoming a larger venue for business and education. The majority of businesses have websites, and many of them take and ship orders online. Online college classes are still being taken with people getting degrees later in life. Private education for grade-school ages are offering online courses. The Internet provides a vast, no, gargantuan collection of educational information that was once contained only in books and libraries. Read my post about “necessities” that have been replaced by the Internet and technology. The Internet has, in a very short time-span, transformed our language, social habits, culture, and communication. Its actually kind of overwhelming to think about. And the advancements and changes not slowing down one bit!

People who do not have access to the Internet lack the ability to gain from these advancements. Quite true! It would be foolish to deny this. But how many people truly have NO access to the Internet? There are MANY ways to access the Internet:

  • Home/relative/friend’s house

  • School/Work

  • Library/Coffee shops/other Public areas

  • Cell phones/any area with a wireless hotspot

  • ANY home/building with a land line phone (dial-up)

  • ANY home/building with a clear view of the Southern sky (satellite)

Granted, there are some people who have many more options than others. I am not denying that there are “underserved” U.S. residents. I am saying that it would be foolish to assume that just because many people can’t get common types of broadband in their home doesn’t mean that a) they have no access to the Internet elsewhere, or that b) they don’t have any form of Internet access in their home, or that c) people without Internet access in their homes must have it in their homes in order to become educated and conduct business.

Most people do have some form of Internet access even if it isn’t broadband or isn’t provided directly to their home. Those that have no access any type of Internet services whatsoever are a very small percentage of U.S. residents. The number of businesses in this situation is even smaller.

Many Internet and phone companies have essentially given up on being able to afford providing broadband to certain areas. There are some places, like my house, where they don’t bother to install cable or DSL lines for obvious reasons.

  1. The cost of installing the equipment necessary to provide these services to scattered rural homes would be enormous.
  2. The income from rural customers willing to order the service would never pay the costs of installation.

  3. Even if they did bother to run all these lines, etc., we are too far away from the source of the digital provider for a strong enough signal to reach our house.

These companies are not being petty losers. It’s just really not within reason. There are many more complications that would take more time to explain (and perhaps I will post about  it later). The stimulus money will help, but it’s not going to solve our problems alone. We’re going to need even more money–and probably several years if we really want to provide affordable broadband to all the rural and low-income areas. There’s a long road ahead of this ambitious venture.

In the next few days I’d like to wrap up this discussion. Stay tuned! And feel free to comment! I’d love to hear from you!

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Dial-up vs. DSL

July 10, 2009 at 12:45 pm (Dial up, DSL) (, , , , , , , )

If you are interested in switching to DSL Internet services, you may be curious to know what DSL is all about and how it compares to dial-up. For the purpose of this comparison, we will assume that by DSL, we are talking about ADSL, the typical DSL connection available that uses a phone line to connect. Here are a few of the basics.

For starters, dial-up and DSL both connect using your land line phone line. Simply put, a dial-up modem converts the analog communication your phone line uses into digital information needed for your computer. The same thing happens on your phone company’s end. Their modem converts the from digital to analog so it can travel on the phone lines. DSL, on the other hand, uses the same wires that your analog phone line used and bypasses the digital-analog-digital conversion dial-up must use.

Therefore, DSL transmits information much faster than dial-up, and works at a higher frequency (higher than can be detected by the human ear), and by doing so, it does not effect the analog communication (phone conversations, etc.) on those same lines.

The most obvious difference, other than the speed, is the price. The total monthly cost of dial-up is between 10 and 20 dollars a month with little or no additional fees including set up or equipment fees. DSL has a monthly fee somewhere between 20-100 dollars a month (based on speed desired and location), not including the price of equipment, installation, and other fees such as repair plans, technical support, or contract fees.

Most computers have a dial-up modem already installed on the computer, so there aren’t typically many equipment costs associated with dial-up. Other than a land line and a phone cord, that is the extent of the “equipment” and “installation” costs for dial-up.

Availability and transportability are two categories where dial-up exceeds DSL. Connecting to the internet with most dial-up services is available to any computer that has a land line phone. It is not confined to the home where the DSL modem is installed.

DSL is only available in very limited areas. DSL is rarely available in rural areas because they are too far from the phone company’s central office. The choices of connection speeds on DSL could cut in half based solely on your locations. Often, a few hundred feet means the difference of DSL or no DSL for suburban homes.

DSL and dial-up can be provided both by your phone company or through your phone company. While you can set up nearly any dial-up service with any analog phone service, DSL is usually only available with your phone company or a DSL company that partners with your phone company.

Many phone companies will not let any other DSL company use their phone lines, so this could even further limit or prevent you from getting DSL. If they do, further problems can occur in the process of communication during the activation period and the resolving of technical issues. Even with no complications, DSL usually takes at least several days to set up.

Dial-up has a very simple set up procedure that takes about half an hour or less (unless you are mailed a setup CD, which is often not necessary). Since it is so simple to set up, you can easily move the connection, set up multiple connections, and take your service with you when you travel or move. Rarely does your phone company need to be involved or even notified, other than to make sure your access number is a local call.

DSL is a fast, dedicated connection for those who require it for gaming, downloading, and streaming of videos, etc. Dial-up excels in price, availability, and simplicity for people who need to save money or don’t have many other options.

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Is Dial-up Fast Enough for You?

July 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm (Dial up, DSL, Internet surfing) (, , , , , , , )

Although dial-up Internet services were quite popular a few decades ago, some believe dial-up has become thing of the past. However, there are still many thousands who use dial-up as their primary home Internet connection today. Every day, there are people considering starting a new dial-up account, either to save money or because no other affordable option is available. Here’s an in-depth look at what dial-up should be capable of and some of the factors that effect a dial-up connection speed.

Let’s start with basic web-surfing. How long is it going to take to load a web page on dial-up? Although dial-up and dial-up modems have only improved in quality, websites as a whole have greatly increased their use of multimedia layouts, including video and audio features. This has resulted in dial-up Internet services loading webpages more slowly overall than they did even five years ago.

However, there are also ways that technology has made webpages easier to load using compression technology, etc. There are ISP’s, software programs, and even certain browsers offer tools that can effectually speed your browsing time. Some websites load parts of their page (like backgrounds and images) separately so that you don’t have to wait for the whole page to load before you can begin using it. Other sites, such as gmail.com, allow you to load the site in a simpler layout for faster loading on dial-up. All of these factors affect your loading time. Here are a few examples to give you an estimate for some familiar pages :

  • Google.com has a very simple layout with mostly white space and very few images. On a dial up connection speed, this page should load in about 5-7 seconds.

  • Yahoo.com, even with its busy home page loads in a user-friendly 35-45 seconds on dial-up.

  • CNN.com has many columns, headings, and images. Using a dial up connection, the home page should load in about 3 minutes.

These times are estimated based on a 56K dial up connection, with the consideration that no one ever connects at 56 kbps. Even the best connection will establish at about 50 kbps and often closer to 48, due to technology and legal restrictions. There are other several factors that can effect your connection speed. If you have an older modem or a poor phone connection, you’re actual speed could be closer to 28 kbps or less. You will notice the difference much more on downloads than on loading webpages.

How fast are downloads on dial-up? Small downloads are usually not a problem. A song, for example, is typically about 3 MB in a compressed format, which is what MP3 players and cellphones use. If you download a 3 MB file on a 56K dial up connection, it take about 8-10 minutes, or on a 28K connection, 15 or 20 minutes.

The latest version of Firefox, 3.5, is 7.6 MB, which would download in just over 20 minutes on a 56K connection, or about 45 minutes on a 28K connection. It is possible that your connection speed changes while you’re connected. Intermittent noises on the phone line can slow your connection speed or even cause it to drop. If you already have a slower connection due to poor phone lines (because you live some distance from the phone company’s central office, or you have aged phone lines with static or humming), you may need to make several attempts to download programs that are longer than 2 hours.

Suppose you want to download a large program, like an anti-virus program. The latest version the free AVG 8.5 is 63.1 MB. On a 56K dial-up connection, that would take over 3 hours, or nearly 6 hours on a 28K connection. Since most ISP’s have a maximum 4 hour disconnect, you will probably not be able to download anything larger than 40 MB on a 28 kbps connection. This same file would download in about a half hour on DSL. If you have dial-up and require an occasional large download, go to your local library or coffee shop with free wireless and download the file to a disk or flash drive. Then install it on your home computer when you get home.

Dial-up is not for everyone. Those who require fast connections for real time streaming that is necessary for watching videos and playing online games should look for a broadband connection. For those who just want to surf web pages, play small flash games, check email, and do some online banking, dial up will be sufficient. It might be slower, but unless you plan on being online all the time, the money you’ll save will be worth the wait.

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Bits and Bytes: What’s the Difference?

July 3, 2009 at 2:08 pm (Computers, Dial up, DSL) (, , , , , , , , , )

In order to understand your Internet services connection speed and how your computer stores information, you should start with the most basic measurements of data: bits and bytes. Before you read further, don’t forget that a “b” (small case b) is a bit, and “B” (upper case B) is a byte, e.g., kb is kilobit and kB is kilobyte.

A bit (b) is the smallest measurement of data that can be stored or transferred on computers and Internet services. Bits store information based on a binary system of 1′s and 0′s (“bi” means 2, i.e., 2 numbers, 1 and 0). Bits are arranged and stored in sequences that are translated into words, pictures, etc., when you see them on your computer screen.

When you hear the term “bits”, it is usually used to when measure transfer rate, as in downloading from the Internet or an Internet connection speed. For example, “bps” is bits per second, or, the amount of bits that can be downloaded or transferred in a second. When measuring transfer rate for Internet connections, 1 kilobit (kb) = 1000 bits, 1 megabit (mb) = 1000 kilobits. Therefore, if your dial up connection successfully connected at 34.4 kbps, 34.4 kilobits or 34400 bits can be downloaded per second to your computer. If you have a 6000 kbps (or 6 mbps) DSL connection, you can download 6000 kilobits, or 6,000,000 bits per second.

A bit rate is the rate at which a certain number of bits (or kb or mb) can be streamed or downloaded per second. You will usually hear about “bit rates”in relation to audio and video streaming from the Internet. A higher bit rate means that the quality of the streaming will be higher, but it also requires a faster Internet connection to stream in real time. For example, to watch a video that has a bit rate of 240kbps, You would want to have a connection that is at least slightly faster to watch the video without interruptions.

A byte (B) is 8 bits. As you read earlier, bits store information based on a binary system and are arranged and stored in sequences, or bytes. Strings of bytes make up documents, images, commands for your computer, etc. Most sizes of files, programs, and capacities of drives, etc, are measured in bytes, kilobytes, megabytes (megs), and gigabytes (gigs).

When describing capacity, like file size or storage, bytes are measured by the binary system that bits use to store information. Therefore, “kilo” = 1,024 (or, 2^10). A kilobyte (kB) is 1,024 bytes, and a megabyte (mB) is 1,024 kilobytes. A gigabyte (gB) is 1,024 megabytes, etc.

Here are some examples of those numbers in relation to your computer. A typical Microsoft Word document is about 30 kB in size. An image is typically about 100 kB, depending on the size and format. When you save that document or image to your computer, it takes up 30 kB or 100 kB of your computers storage space. A CD typically has about 700 mB (or 716,800 kB) of storage space. Most hard drives on personal computers are now sold with a capacity of 500 gig (or 524,288,000 kB).

To review, 1 byte is 8 bits. An Internet connection (transfer rate, download/upload speed) is measured in bits, and 1 kilobit is 1,000 bits. Storage capacity (drive/disk space and file sizes), it is measured in bytes, and 1 kilobyte is 1,024 bytes. 

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DSL: A Basic Introduction

June 23, 2009 at 11:34 am (DSL) (, , , , , , )

What is DSL? An acronym for “Digital Subscriber Line”, DSL is a type of broadband connection that typically connects through your home phone line. Broadband is any type of Internet connection that is faster than dial-up, or narrowband. DSL does inhibit the use of your phone line, allowing you to connect to the Internet and receive phone calls at the same time. DSL is an always on connection, so you are constantly connected to the Internet.

How does DSL work? DSL is usually provisioned by a local phone company or a company that partners with a local provider. The connection is typically established between your phone company’s central office, your analog phone line, and a DSL modem. This type of connection maximizes the use of telephone lines by eliminating the conversion from digital to analog, which is required for telephones, or digital to analog to digital, which is required for a dial-up connection.

Do I need a phone line to get DSL? Typically, yes. DSL is usually provided through your existing land line phone. This type of DSL will not work on a digital phone service (i.e., VIOP, cable phones, cell phones, etc.). Dry-loop DSL, or naked DSL is available in some areas and does not require an active phone service. You should check with your DSL provider for more information.

How fast is DSL? Your connection speed is typically directly affected by your proximity to the telephone company’s central office, which is why DSL is often not available to rural homes. The closer you are to the source, the higher speed connection you can recieve. DSL speeds usually ranges anywhere from 500-6000 kbps (kilobits per second). For a comparison, dial-up is usually a 20-40 kbps connection. Even the slowest download speed on DSL is sufficient for normal web-surfing, email, and most audio and video streaming, but if you are planning on using more than one computer, play online video games, or download large files frequently, you will want to get one of the higher speed plans available.

How much does DSL cost? Again, this depends on where you live and what is available in your area. Prices can range from $12-100 a month, including the cost of equipment, depending on what speed you want and what company provides your service. Keep in mind that the price you see advertised in brochures or online may not be available for you or is an introductory rate that will increase after the first few months. Also, if multiple plans are available, low prices are for slower, sometimes unsatisfactory connection speeds. Depending on your purpose for buying DSL, you may need to find a plan that offers higher speeds at a higher cost. Also watch for additional fees, cancellation fees, contracts, and extra equipment costs when determining your final price for your service.

How do I install DSL in my home? DSL comes in different forms for different purposes, so the installation process will differ. For most home DSL plans, you can expect to wait 5-10 business days for your phone line to be provisioned for DSL and you will need to buy or lease a DSL modem. You will also need to set up filters, splitters, a few wires and cables, as well as a router if you want to use a wireless laptop. You can refer to your DSL provider for more details and installation instructions.

The first step to connect with DSL is to find out whether it is available in your area. You can search online or check with your local companies for more information. When you do, find out if what companies provide DSL specifically to your house, then check for prices, speeds, contracts, and other plan details to find the plan that’s best for you.

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