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Networking Communications The Internet United States Technology

Still Little To Do About a Bad ISP 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-comcastic dept.
theY4Kman writes "The Washington Post reinforces the grim situation on Net Neutrality and limited ISP choices faced by Americans: 'The FCC's research shows that 78 percent of American households have access to only two land-based broadband providers and that 13 percent have one. Don't expect that to improve. Many competing DSL services have left the market, spurred by the end of line-sharing in 2005 and other corporate consolidations. A few months ago, for instance, AT&T elected to close its WorldNet DSL service. Meanwhile, technologies that were once promoted as alternatives to phone and cable-based services have flopped. City-wide WiFi access ... turned out to be a business bust. The power-line broadband that then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell lauded as having "great promise" in 2004 fared no better: Last week, Manassas voted to unplug its pioneering service. ... We have a situation full of lawyerly jargon, with risks that can't be dramatized by putting a sick kid on a stage. I hope you like your Internet provider, because you may be stuck with it for a while.'"
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Still Little To Do About a Bad ISP

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  • Of course. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lalena (1221394) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @10:20AM (#31886894) Homepage
    Given that "data" must be transmitted over the same mediums used by existing monopolies for decades (cable, phone, fiber, satellite), how could anyone expect anything different. I'm thankful I have at least 2 choices. It took a long time for me to have 2 choices for phone or TV.
    • Satellite (Score:4, Informative)

      by mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @10:52AM (#31887044)
      DirecPC [Hughes Net] and WildBlue [Dish Network] have some products, as well.
      • 3G (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tepples (727027)
        Satellite is little better than 3G with the amount of monthly transfer you get for the price. So to me, home Internet access forms four tiers:
        1. Cable and FTTH
        2. DSL
        3. Satellite and 3G
        4. Dial-up
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by thomst (1640045)

          Satellite is little better than 3G with the amount of monthly transfer you get for the price

          Actually, 3G is better than satellite, because your satellite data transfer rate plunges to near-zero during heavy rain or snow.

        • Another option (Score:2, Informative)

          by zogger (617870)

          There is another broadband-like tech out there that gives a lot better than dialup, and isn't tied to real laggy and limited transfer satellite or cellphone telcos, and that is motorola canopy wireless tech. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_Canopy [wikipedia.org]

          I am using it from a local mom and pop ISP outfit and it works OK, and is cheaper than a landline and dialup account. And man, I am grateful too, there was no way that the cable company or the local wired phone monopoly would ever bring broadban

      • There are two reasons you care about your broadband provider - price/performance, and policies. Yeah, if there's only one Layer 2 DSL provider, that's going to limit the speed you can get to whatever your telco offers (though in many places you can also get Covad or other alternate DSLAM provider using telco copper), but for me what's at least as important is the set of policies and pricing on things like static IP addresses, bandwidth caps, being allowed to run servers at home, etc. And for that, you rea

    • Re:Of course. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 18, 2010 @11:23AM (#31887190)

      What this country needs (will never happen) is for FttH from a municipal owned central office. Your local town owns the fiber from your dwelling to the central office. Then the municipality allows "vendors" into the CO to provide service to its residents over said fiber. Voice, Video, Data all runs over this fiber and "vendors" get to compete house to house for your money. You then pay a small fiber fee each month for the municipality to maintain the fiber and the CO, like a water bill. No more coax, no more copper.

      Separate the wire carrier from the content provider.

      • Mod Parent Up!
        I've been saying this for years! The only barrier that keeps competition away is the very large infrastructure costs. The main problem I see with this solution is that it would be easier for the government to filter the connections, but with the current ISPs starting to do this already it's becoming less of an issue.
  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Sunday April 18, 2010 @10:28AM (#31886930) Homepage Journal

    All of the shutdowns, buyouts, prohibitive laws, monopoly over the lines, and other occurrences that killed competitors had nothing at all to do with the incumbent providers...

    Regulation would fix this. The cost of entry into the broadband market is so prohibitively high that only the largest companies (e.g. Google) can even consider laying down a new broadband access grid. Line sharing is supposed to allow for open competition. But as usual, the ability of companies to donate millions of dollars, through various means, to campaign committees means our representatives listen to them, not us, and not common sense when their lobbyists put forward an anticompetitive bill.

    Fix Washington, fix this. Like just about everything else.

    • by gapagos (1264716)

      Regulate the market even more? That would be... *echo effect with red light and smoke coming up* ..KHOMUNIZIM!!!!!!!
        - Glen beck

    • Re:Of course (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Inf0phreak (627499) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @10:50AM (#31887034)

      Regulation almost never fixes problems like this. And it will not do so here, becuase the entrenched players will lobby for provisions that---though expensive for themselves (they'll just pass the buck on to you anyway)---make it nigh impossible for a small company to get started.

      Again it all comes back to lobbying and campaign financing. And noone in Washington has any incentive to fix it. Congress? Heck no, they got cushy lobbying jobs to look forward to when they retire.

      • by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @11:27AM (#31887212) Homepage

        Again it all comes back to lobbying and campaign financing.

        Doesn't sound like regulation to me, that sounds like America suffers from government corruption.

        Really, a large corporation should not be paying Congress to lobby so they can kill their competition. This is the type of thing you expect from Russia and China, not the USA.

      • Again it all comes back to lobbying and campaign financing. And noone in Washington has any incentive to fix it. Congress? Heck no, they got cushy lobbying jobs to look forward to when they retire.

        I actually think this is a real opportunity for reform candidates. Pretty much every person I know on both sides of the political spectrum are in favor of campaign finance reform. It might actually be the wedge needed to get a third party into congress in many districts or at least scare incumbents. It is truly a reflection on modern politics that an issue with such enormous public support can go unresolved because voters are too apathetic and uninformed to vote based on it.

    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Informative)

      by Spad (470073) <slashdot @ s p a d . c o.uk> on Sunday April 18, 2010 @11:08AM (#31887120) Homepage

      Regulation of a market only works if the regulation is free from the influence of those operating in the market; in this case, as with the Banking sector, regulation doesn't solve anything because any corporations with something to lose will simply lobby to shape the regulation to their liking.

      Broadband regulation has, on the whole, worked pretty well in Europe - here in the UK, forcing BT into LLU [wikipedia.org] has led to an extremely competitive broadband market and so far, every time BT have looked to take advantage of the situation, OFCOM [ofcom.org.uk] have smacked them down. If the government hadn't stepped in, we'd be in pretty much the same situation that the US is in; Cable via Virgin Media (where available) or ADSL via BT.

      • Here in Canada, our big backbone providers have to share their networks with smaller ISPs. It's a law that they're trying to get rid of, (and the conservatives seem happy to let them - bastards!) but for the time being we have cheap affordable internet.

        There are two big ISPs in the west (BC/Alberta area) - Shaw Cable and Telus ADSL. Cable isn't so great where I live. Since I don't have Cable TV, 15mbit/1mbit cable with a 60GB cap costs about $20/mo for 6 months, then $55/mo. But since everyone near me is on

    • Either have the government buy up all the lines and lease access to anyone who wants it at the same price across the board or split up ISPs who own lines into two companies, the line controlling entity and the generic ISP. The only problem here is that the companies who own the lines don't want anyone else using them because it cuts into their business. If they were free to sell access to anyone/everyone then they would want to do everything in their power to get as much business as possible. We would just
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      Regulation caused this, so of course the fix would be more regulation. The problem with regulation is that it is bought and paid for by the same companies to be regulated. As nice as an altruistic regulatory body might sound it just wont ever happen. Sure big business is full of corruptions and problems, but nothing like that that is seen in the government. I always side with the easy to understand evil of greed in big business than the much more sinister and difficult to understand lust for power that

      • by mpe (36238)
        The problem with regulation is that it is bought and paid for by the same companies to be regulated.

        A process known as "regulatory capture".

        As nice as an altruistic regulatory body might sound it just wont ever happen. Sure big business is full of corruptions and problems, but nothing like that that is seen in the government. I always side with the easy to understand evil of greed in big business than the much more sinister and difficult to understand lust for power that is government.

        Assuming you can
    • Polyopoly is a term for local monopolies, due to high cost of relocation. Historically seen in factory locations in industrial-revolution-era woolen mills in England, in modern times ISP local monopolies.

      Solved by creating a mechanism for farmers to sell their wool to remote mills, not just their local ones. This became, by repute, the British Woolen Marketing Board, and a good attempt a creating a monopsony (;-))

      --dave

  • Did that ever happen?
    The IT manager that sent Terry Childs to jail was supposed to have implemented it a year or two ago.
  • by kenh (9056) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @10:51AM (#31887038) Homepage Journal

    How many houses are passed by FiOS, Comcast, Time Warner, etc. residential broadband services and opt out? We need to understand why.

    Do any of those "out-opt'ers" cite lack of speed as a reason? I bet not, I bet they either don't see the need OR can't/choose not to invest in a home computer and on-going monthly expenses.

    Many workplaces are wired for internet access, millions of smart phones have some form of internet access, nearly every school building in America is wired to a high-speed internet connection (K-12 and college/university), as are most public libraries (the last two thanks in large part to tax subsidies paid, in no small part, by homes with more than one phone line), and let's not forget book stores, coffee shops, "grilled sandwich" shops, and, last but not least, your neighbor's "open" WiFi connection - the vast majority of Americans have a plethora of choices, and if they feel they need more choices, they need to work on their local PUC that authorizes the monopolies and duopolies in 91% of America.

    • by tepples (727027)

      millions of smart phones have some form of internet access

      Millions of "feature phones" are still in use.

      nearly every school building in America is wired to a high-speed internet connection (K-12 and college/university)

      But a lot of times, K-12 Internet is heavily filtered to block sites offering even non-pornographic entertainment, to the point where it interferes with legitimate course work.

      if they feel they need more choices, they need to work on their local PUC that authorizes the monopolies and duopolies in 91% of America.

      PUCs reject new proposals for last-mile infrastructure because they answer to voters who have a NIMBY mentality.

      • by kenh (9056)

        But a lot of times, K-12, Internet is heavily filtered to block sites offering even non-pornographic entertainment, to the point where it interferes with legitimate course work.

        I'll assume that the word "entertainment" isn't really what you meant (we can argue about the value of entertainment in an educational setting if you like ;^), but I'll respond to the crux of your point - they filter because they have to - it's a federal requirement, called CIPA, filtering must be in-place before the school can rec

    • by Jaime2 (824950) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @11:14AM (#31887148)
      I'm not getting FiOS any time soon, although the towns all around me are. My town won't allow Verizon to put in FiOS until they stop the practice of removing the copper when installing fiber. Verizon is using its monopoly power over the PUC to remove choice from consumers. My PUC won't stand for it, so we all get screwed. I certainly don't see that the PUC has any power over Verizon here.
      • My town won't allow Verizon to put in FiOS until they stop the practice of removing the copper when installing fiber.

        They don't do that. At least not in my town. I supervised the FiOS install at my ex's house, and there was no removal of copper. They simply ran a line from the trunk to the side of the house, and put a new junction box on the side of the house, next to the orig POTS interface. One jumper from the FiOS box to the POTS interface junction box, and another to the existing cable coax junction.
        I
      • by kenh (9056)

        Who owns the copper pairs? The right-of-ways were given to the Telcos, and I believe they funded the copper wiring plant with the proceeds of their (one time) monopoly, but the RBOCs gave up their monoplies long ago for the siren song of "Long Distance"...

        I think the Telcos own the copper wiring plant, and FiOS installs ARE expensive. They don't force customers to switch to FiOS, and the copper pairs only lead back to the telco's central office - and, IIRC, telcos are required to provide 911 service on any

  • by Manip (656104) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @10:56AM (#31887060)

    Perhaps it is time to split these big companies into two operations - ISPs and network operators.

    After you have done that you can then mandate that the company sell back bandwidth on its network to its self as well as the competition. So for example let's say MyISP.Net own all of the cable in Texas, that network provider would have to sell bandwidth on its cable back to its self and any third parties that want to offer Internet in Texas for the same price with the same T&Cs.

    That way you open up the network in that area to lot's of competition which encourages lower prices and better quality of service. Plus in addition to that you might spawn new companies who only want to built new cable without having to manage an ISP.

  • So let's change the scenario.
    If you don't like your electricity supplier, you switch to another one?
    Or if you don't like your local telephone company?
    Or what happens when the gas company doesn't suit you?
    Or when your water supply isn't pure enough, do you switch to another water supplier?

    I don't think I've ever seen an article bemoaning the lack of choices in any of the above services, so why not just push for treating internet access like we do electricity? Make it a highly regulated, government controlled

    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @11:11AM (#31887130)

      The difference is all the utilities you mention are highly regulated and in some cases run by the local government. If my local water supplier is delivering poor quality or too low of volume or their prices are outrageous I have two different options. One, I can elect a different mayor and city council who will fix the problem or two I can call the feds who heavily regulate water companies and require certain levels of purity and quality of service as well as pricing. When my electric supplier want so raise their rates, they have to ask the feds and they can't exclude my buying power over their distribution lines from the wind farm down the way instead of from the coal plant owned by the distributor. For that matter if I throw up a windmill they are required by law to pay me for what electricity I add to the grid.

      Utility companies in general are often monopolies because of practical limitations to the infrastructure, but they're also traditionally very heavily regulated to keep them from abusing that position and because they are considered necessary services. So far internet access is not considered a necessary service and is not highly regulated at all. Companies aren't required to provide service to everyone in the area like phone companies are and they aren't prevented from leveraging those monopoly or duopoly situations by bundling other services.

      • So far internet access is not considered a necessary service and is not highly regulated at all.

        True. And that's going to change. The question is, will the required regulation change with it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      If you don't like your electricity supplier, you switch to another one?

      In California, I can do this. PG&E is required to carry someone else's watts for me, which of course only happens on paper. But still, I don't have to buy power generated by PG&E.

      Or if you don't like your local telephone company?

      Well, there's vonage... unless you can't get decent internet :p

      There's also cellular; I terminated my land line and got cellular because SBC (at the time) was suffering from a strike, and they told me it would be minimum three days before they could come out and fix my phone line that had spontaneously, mysteriously gone ba

    • by Eil (82413)

      Bad analogies: You can't decouple the electricity, water, and electricity supplies from the infrastructure that supplies them. It is relatively easy to do with phone and data, however.

      • Bad analogies: You can't decouple the electricity, water, and electricity supplies from the infrastructure that supplies them.

        Actually, in most locales electricity distribution and generation are decoupled by law. You buy from a distributor, but they have to buy from any and all generators at the same rate, including from other companies owned by the same parent corporation.

    • I can't believe you're complaining about utilities. Why are there so many nutcases in America? If you hate having only one provider of electricity why don't you move to Somalia? No regulations there. I'm sure you'll have 10 corporations just begging you to run lines to your house.
  • The local city wi-fi closed its doors recently and its service was picked up by a local phone company. Part of the problem was the price, at least for me. They wanted $50 a month for city wide wi-fi. My Comcast bill is $60 a month for basic cable (no digital box so we have HD which is extra if you get the box) and comes with high speed internet.

    [John]

    • I happen to live in a small city with one of the nation's largest wi-fi cooperatives. They just got a lot of individuals to buy the same mesh network routers, centrally run it, and let anyone who wants to add their home or business network pipe to the pool. It does wonders for tourism, bringing in road warriors, and even helps the housing market a bit. I've always wondered why cities can't do this more affordably than most seem to. Really how much does it cost for some big network pipes, two techs and an ad

  • No kidding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shaltenn (1031884) <Michael.Santangelo@gmail.com> on Sunday April 18, 2010 @11:14AM (#31887152) Homepage
    We had problems with our Optimum Online cable service for 3 months. 3 months. We called them twice a week for 3 months, each month they would say "Your nodes are over-saturated and we are working on it." A tech would come out, look at our lines, say they are fine, and agree that we are in an over-saturated area. For 3 months. We were paying for 30/5 service and getting 1/.5. Finally after 3 months of dealing with this non-existent internet access (you try sharing 1/.5 amongst a house of 8 people) they get it fixed and we call up asking for some sort of credit for 3 months of basically non-working service. Optimum said they could give us a week. A week! A week for 3 months of non-working service. Finally after being on hold for an HOUR they agreed to give us one month and then promptly hung up on us. We would have gone elsewhere if there was a choice, but there really isn't.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Contact your local Better Business Bureau. I find them to actually be fairly effective in most cases. Tell them you want a refund of whatever percentage the service wasn't working, i.e. if you got 5% of promised rates, offer to pay 5% of the bill.

      • by Shaltenn (1031884)
        Aye but they get around this by saying "Up to 30/5" not you will have 30/5. After talking to the tech, I discovered that they say "It's not a problem" to speeds greater than 7/1.
    • And you are lucky. Most of us don't even have the option of a 30/5 plan, and would never dream that our ISPs would fix a problem with over-saturation (unless it involved throttling/capping or encouraging customers to cancel).
    • by kenh (9056)

      I had a coax line snap in my yard (from the pedestal to the house dmarc point), and when I called the Cable Co. they sent a fellow out right away, he found the problem and ran a temporary above ground coax and put in a ticket for the "trencher" to run a new underground line. Fine.

      A week goes by, no trencher, and my lawn service cut the coax. Cable Co. responded quickly, ran new cable, back up in no time.

      A week goes by, no trencher, and my lawn service cut the coax. Cable Co. responded quickly, ran new cable

  • There was an article [slashdot.org] a couple weeks ago about how lifting regulation sent more people into a market.

    The FCC is actually unconstitutional.

  • I can think of at least three towns in Northern NH that don't have a single land-based broadband option open to them. Heck, landline phone and cell coverage is spotty. Low population density - you betcha. But isn't that the sort of thing the billions of dollars dumped on the communications companies by the government supposed to solve? Oh, that's right, they turned the money around and lobbied with it instead of improving their networks.
  • Addressing Manassas, BPL was never well-conceived, and Manassas was destined to fail. I'm sorry, but you transmit an RF signal along an unshielded random wire length without radiation and susceptibility problems. The BPL folks wanted regulation to prevent interference from all the existing users out there, and then lied to their potential customers about the impacts. Good engineering practice, and adherence to solid engineering won out here. It's not like BPL was going to do great things: It's expensive, co

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BLKMGK (34057)

      Here's a good one... I lived in Manassas for over 15 years and only recently moved. This is THE first time I've even heard of them trying to "pioneer" BPL! I thought surely it was some other Manassas but nope, I looked and there's a web site and everything - holy crap! You're talking about an area that dragged it's feet FOREVER to get cable internet. an area where I had to BEG to get the local phone company to sell meDSL - they refused but a third party sold me ISDL at some ungodly rate over the same lines

  • I operated a small ISP for nearly 8 years and was finally driven out of business by my upstream provider (a municipality in the form of a PUD) which illegally subsidized a competitor and illegally created another competitor. This PUD had invited a competitor into the area and created fake "contracts" that covered up a secret agreement to repay the competitor for 110% of its costs to compete with me. The competitor created invoices for "work performed" under the contracts that just happened to cover their costs; plus ten percent. The PUD also sent their own employees to work on the competitor's systems. This was (and is) actually against the state constitution, not just illegal. Unfortunately no state entity was willing to investigate this activity or prosecute the perpetrators and when we tried to sue we discovered that municipalities are protected from pesky problems like anti-trust and racketeering so the suits were dismissed.

    Only four of the managers of the PUD were discharged over this and no one went to jail or was even prosecuted despite having substantial written evidence provided by whistle blowers inside the PUD (who released documents before the PUD could act to cover them up).

    We sold out for pennies on the dollar of our investment and felt lucky to get even that because by the time we bailed virtually all the other smaller ISPs had also been driven out of business.

    Would regulation have helped me? There was (and is) plenty of regulation but there was not even a token attempt to enforce them. We were told, off the record, by a state investigator that the problems were so big that it would have been economically disastrous to the entire state if they regulations were enforced.

    This, mind you, in the state (Washington) which has had numerous scandals involving public utility districts; including the infamous Washington Public Power System repudiating $200 million in municipal bonds some 30 years ago. (WPPS still exists under a new name.)

  • In a city with a single provider, what would happen if that provider just disappeared one day, and nobody bought them? There'd be no Internet service at all. Surely some other provider would be formed quickly. So it is possible for another provider to be formed.

    Now, what if everyone canceled their service to a provider. Surely that provider would also disappear, since it can't run without income. So like above, another provider could be formed to serve people.

    So my real question, why can't everyone canc

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Because people aren't going to drop their ISP unless they know another one is there to pick up their business. Would you cancel your internet knowing there was nobody else yet to provide your connection?
    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @01:40PM (#31888234)

      So my real question, why can't everyone cancel their service with a monopolist provider, and sign on with whatever new provider came in its place? The only thing stopping this seems to be that most people are satisfied enough with their current service that they wouldn't want to be a part of this, and thus it does't happen.

      There are several things at work here. First you'd need motivated people to organize the customers. Next, you'd need someone to create a new ISP, but if you still only have one provider and no competition you might end up in exactly the same situation a few years down the road. Additionally, you need people to understand what is going on. Because our legal system has been fairly okay about preventing monopoly abuse, most people don't even understand the issues involved and assume eventually other competitors will appear, especially if the service can be provided cheaper (ignorant of the government subsidies, legal right of ways, and other impediments to fair competition). And lastly, you'd need people to go without what is a vital service for many of us to conduct our jobs long enough to drive the monopolist out, which could be long time especially if they have no bandwidth costs and they're getting state or federal government investment dollars.

      You can't say people are satisfied when their choice is between organizing a complex boycott that may or may not work; or paying now and hoping real competition will some day be available.

  • One big problem with broadband over powerlines was the fact that it constantly interfered with the amateur radio spectrum, and between people denying this, and companies unable to filter the signal or otherwise prevent interference, you simply had interference with an allotted set of spectrum which can't be tolerated. It would be nice to revisit that technology in a couple of years if they can figure out how to quit interfering with other frequencies.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by GPSguy (62002)

      Actually, it interfered with a lot more than Amateur Radio spectrum: There were issues with DoD, DHS, public safety, SCADA operations, marine and petroleum. The multiple carrier aspect of it was interesting to examine on the spectrum analyzer, as it indicated a seriously broad-spectrum threat to RF services.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Speaking strictly to the US population, this should be no surprise. To the best of my knowledge, this situation is exactly what you have been warned about for 10 years, and so I assume is what you want. If it is not, you had best get involved.

    To briefly remind people, it was during the Clinton Administration that the 1996 telecommunications act was passed. This was very controversial, and just like today, there was much misinformation and propaganda that was spread about it. I'm not saying everything ab

  • Here in Australia, we tend to have much smaller data allowances and higher prices (Due to higher data costs in Australia; We're very remote).

    However competition among ISPs is fierce, and most areas of the country have dozens of different ISPs to choose from. This has lead to a very innovative market.

    Finally, something about our internet that is better :P.

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