Bleg: internet connection advice

After six-plus years in my Brentwood apartment, the gypsy in my soul demands that I move: to the apartment down the hall. I’ll be leaving behind my cable modem, which costs more than $100/mo. for television service I don’t use. I also don’t have/want a landline phone. What’s my best option for getting connected?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

43 thoughts on “Bleg: internet connection advice”

  1. I don’t know, but get a landline phone, as cheaply as possible. It will (might) work when disaster takes down cell towers, etc.

  2. Move to Western Europe, Korea, or Japan? Actually, those little Verizon thingamajigs that slip into the USB port work very well for a colleague of mine. I’m also thinking that is the way to go; no TV for me either. Neither of the two major providers who can hook up my house are any good at all.

      1. 4G Wireless WAN Card, aka Wireless Cellular Modem. Cisco seems to make them but may only provide them through other providers.

      2. In the mid-west Clear 4G is a popular cellular-based internet conduit, but I know several subscribers and they aren’t too thrilled with the experience as a primary connection. Apparently there is much network congestion and dropped connections at various times of day. Many use it as a secondary connection for mobility and maintain another connection in their homes. Our DSL connection at work requires near-daily modem rebooting to keep the connection live. My cable connection is very reliable and very fast, having recently been boosted to over 20 Mbps thanks to competitive pressure from Google Fiber’s entrance into the local market. I pay $55/mo for internet-only (comparable to the price for Clear’s much slower and less reliable 4G service) and get my TV and phone over the top of that connection from other providers like Netflix and Vonage. Most providers want you on their “triple-play” package, but it’s usually possible to get just one service.

        My advice is to try for an internet-only service from your cable provider, pointing out that for them it’s the difference between losing a small portion of the profit from one customer’s subscription and losing all of it. On the other hand, if you travel a lot with computing devices that aren’t already cellular-capable and don’t mind the network congestion issues, you might prefer a 4G device. Google “4G modem” to see what’s available. You will require unlimited data service, which on many first-tier networks will cost about what you’re paying now while the cheaper bottom-tier over-capacity reseller services like Clear are the first connections to get dropped when the network gets congested, so shop carefully. I would also recommend test-driving the service for at least a month before signing a long-term contract.

        1. The tethering idea is an excellent suggestion if you’re already paying for an unlimited cellular data plan. This article suggests that it may be possible to tether multiple computers at once, but also indicates that providers are charging extra fees for tethering and may not offer unlimited data plans which allow tethering. Also, the phone you’re tethered to must be present nearby, so when you take your cell phone with you, the rest of the family has lost it’s connection. Works better for single people than families.

    1. DSL means you have to buy landline phone service. Also, when I moved six years ago it wasn’t available in my neighborhood. But thanks; it’s worth checking on.

      1. DSL means you have to buy landline phone service
        That hasn’t been the case anywhere I’ve lived in last 10 yrs. FWIW.

      2. I have Verizon 12Mb DSL for $50/month, 5 static IPs, in the middle of nowhere, and no phone service. I use google voice to make voice calls for free.

  3. Up here in the Berkshires, there is an option of “dry loop” DSL, which means the line does not provide (and you do not pay for) phone service.

    There is an equivalent for cable, but the I-don’t-want-cable surcharge is (last I knew) slightly more expensive than basic cable.

    1. You have to pay extra to *not* get cable? I’m confused. Do you mean, there is also a normal phone company too?

  4. Hook up a 4G WAN card to your laptop? Would only be cost effective if you have a data plan with unlimited throughput or that has a high usage threshold (or you have low usage requirements, e.g. if you rarely stream video/audio). Supposedly, you can “tether” your smart phone to serve this purpose but that may violate your Terms of Use.

  5. AT&T doesn’t want to sell it to you, but you can have DSL without phone service. I pay $30 for service to one place. Is is a bit slow (2MBit on good days), buy you can check your email and the state of your flame wars. Might be better on this coast- I’m referring to what they provide in Cleveland, OH.

    Alternately, find a local provider. In California, there are still lots of small ISPs. They are going to be a better deal, in general, and are likely to have a human on the line when something goes wrong. I only know Bay Area folks, so can’t make a recommendation outside basically BART radius.

      1. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, well, sucks for connectivity, comparatively.

        In San Francisco and NYC, and I hear other dense areas, it is much better. Still not cheap (in SF, I pay $65/mo for about 20Mbit). In places like Cleveland, you’re at the mercy of AT&T, not exactly a model of a company that invests in consumer satisfaction. All told, for two households and two cell phones with data, I pay just shy of $250/month.

        At work, it is even worse – I’m provisioning a T1 line (1.54Mbit, admittedly different, because it is a dedicated circuit that we will be saturating most of the time), and installing it is almost $1000, and service is $400/month. In the server room, there is a T1, terminated, and currently unused. “Install” means “update billing database” please allow 10 working days for completion. Being the sort of person I am, I connected it to a router, and found that it has been live this whole time. I don’t know when it was supposed to have been turned off (person in my role before me didn’t leave good records, I’m new to this job), but that drop has been live for at least four years, unused.

        I feel like there is a lesson on economic signaling, and perhaps insight into corporate operations here. But what do I know, I’m just a sysadmin.

        1. I have friends in Palo Alto who swear by their Google Fiber. But I think that’s about the only place people can get it …

          1. They’re rolling it out here in Kansas City. My step-daughter is signed up and scheduled for next fall. My neighborhood is still years from eligibility.

    1. I’m lucky, I have a local provider in my area. They provide Internet service, and they’re very good at it, because it’s all they do. They’re not trying to sell me TV or phone or movies, just a fast connection to the Internet. (And they have to compete against a phone company that uses its monopoly on landline phone service to squeeze out small independent Internet providers.) If you can find a local Internet specialist, they should be your first call.

      Having a local ISP means I also have the luxury of boycotting all the companies (that we know of) who colluded in Bush administration spying. I’d encourage you to do that, but it would only make your task harder instead of easier.

  6. See if you can get the Verizon FIOS up in Brentwood. Be careful when you’re ordering, though. When you give them your zip code and they see that they don’t have FIOS there, they very smoothly transition to a DSL offer and you could easily order DSL by mistake if, say, you live in Santa Monica where they don’t have FIOS.

  7. Also: I was getting my cable & internet from Time Warner which cost too much given that I wasn’t watching the TV. I looked around TW’s website and didn’t see any internet-only options so I went to drop the whole thing. When they asked their routine “do you mind telling us why you’re terminating your service?” question, I told them it was because I wanted to cut costs and needed only internet, not cable.

    At that point they made a really great offer for internet-only, and then offered an even lower price that included some kind of local-stations-only cable feed that doesn’t involve the use of a cable box. Their internet ended up being cheaper and better than the verizon DSL that I got by mistake because they don’t run fiber to Santa Monica.

      1. Sure, but the point is that the offered me a good price for internet only, and then an even LOWER price if I’d accept the local-stations-only cable feed along with the internet. So I took that second deal, and I haven’t yet got around to plugging it in to the TV.

  8. Rereading those comments, I see I wandered a bit. Trying again, more concisely:

    I found myself in very nearly the same circumstances, a few miles south.

    Your best option, if you can get it, is fiber. Google verizon FIOS and see if you can get that. Their website is sneaky, though, and they just stealthily offer you DSL, or “high speed internet” as they call it, if they don’t offer fiber service in your area. Their DSL isn’t horrible, but it’s not great.

    Your next-best option, if Time-Warner cable serves Brentwood, is to tell them that you want honest-to-God internet-only. They have great deals on that, cheaper than the verizon DSL, but near as I can tell they don’t promote those deals at all. If you get live customer service on the line, though, and make it clear to them that you’re an internet-only customer or no customer at all, they will give you a great offer.

  9. FIOS is cool but overkill for most people. Cable is superior to DSL in reliability generally.

    Be careful to sign up for the 12 month promotional rate, not the three month. Typically the promotion is a much faster speed for the same price as the slowest. After 12 months, if you’re feeling cheap, call up and ask the price be continued on pain of switching to DSL, then take an offer not as good but still better than the list price.

  10. Here in Pasadena, Charter Cable Internet seems to suffice (speeds are good enough for Netflix, except perhaps at some times of peak use; a test site claims 2.5 mbps download, which is something like 1/5 of what’s advertised) and is just under $50 a month (long after the introductory 6-month $30/month expired, but there was also a $50 or so connection fee) – that’s with no TV service, no phone service, and buying a cheap cable modem and a cheap wireless router off of eBay or Amazon (I forget which) for about $20 each, instead of paying the cable company $10 a month or whatever to rent theirs.

  11. Here are my experiences:

    Cable is more reliable and faster than DSL even when the nominal speeds are the same. I can’t get FIOS in my area. I’d try it out if I could.

    Some wireless connections are pretty reliable, others not so much.

    Cable companies tend to be more open to dickering on price.

    Beware of low monthly limits on data usage on some wireless connections. Check your current provider to see how much data you typically download in a month. My Internet-addicted household of 3-4 people uses between 25-80 GB/month. The high end of that came when I was recuperating from surgery and watching a fair amount of video. Cable companies and phone companies mostly limit you to 250 GB per month. Cellular connections vary but most of them have relatively high charges for data and some throttle your connection under some circumstances. Clear touts their “4G” service as a substitute for a home Internet connection but they throttle your speed so far down that your connection is essentially unusable if you exceed 15 GB/month. They don’t tell you they do that unless you call to complain–and sometimes not even then.

  12. Do you have an LTE or 4g phone? You could always just tether! No need for a separate plan.

    Not practical if you have a desktop or any type of server setup but works great for laptops.

  13. Centurylink provides 20mb dsl internet for $25/mo w/o phone in Colorado and claim to have 40mb in some places.

  14. Mark, I’m going to second Warren Terra’s advice. Charter Cable is REALLY good, at least in Pasadena.
    He actually seems to have a lousy deal, maybe old equipment.

    My deal is: I pay $40 a month (will rise to $50/mo after 24 months). This is the check I write them (ie no extra taxes, equipment fees, surcharges and other BS), and they provide for free a Docsis 3 modem which I consider acceptable — it’s larger than I’d like, but it doesn’t run too hot.

    For that I get what is nominally 30Mbps downlink (and 4Mbps uplink). But what they actually give me is substantially better than that. There is an initial “turbo” boost for the first 1 MB or so of each connection, which is either uncapped in speed, or capped to something like 100Mbps. This makes short transfers like new web pages basically throttled by the performance of my TCP stack (how aggressively does it start and does it ramp up its connection probing), not by the HW.
    After this turbo stage, the capping at 30Mbps is very lackluster, so that as a practical matter what I generally get is closer to 40Mbps or 50 Mbps.

    (Their voice telephony option is also pretty good if you care about that. $20/month for unlimited local and long distance, plus all the PCS type features like callerID, and, again, no BS about extra fees, taxes and suchlike — what you pay is $20 a month).
    I don’t use and have no opinion about their cableTV, since I have an HTPC hooked up to 3 USB tuners listening to over the air broadcasts acting as my DVR.

    A (substantially shabbier) second-best alternative would be ATT U-Verse, which I had for two years before switching to Charter. ATT charges you more than Charter (the prices are nominally the same, but ATT charge you $6 a month to rent their PoS box, and their phone service, while supposedly cheaper, charges you so much in taxes, fees, surcharges and nickel-and-dime stuff for every minor feature that it is SUBSTANTIALLY more expensive).
    ATT (at the price points I’m giving, $40 intro, rising to $50) give you 15Mbps/mo, not 30, and that 15Mbps is tightly capped. On performance connections ATT will deliver the full 15 that they sold you, but they won’t give you a damn thing more, unlike, as I said, the very loose capping that Charter utilizes. Also if ATT have a turbo boost at the start of each connection, it lasts for so few bytes that I never saw it kick in.

    ATT offer a “full service” box, unlike Charter’s barebones box. You may like that, I hated it.
    The Charter box is ONLY a cable modem. That means I can easily hook it up to my Airport base station and have the Airport providing all services (NAT, DHCP, DNS caching etc), and I have the performance of the Airport box (gig ethernet ports, 3×3:3 WiFi on 5GHz and 2.4 GHz, etc).
    The ATT box wants to do everything, but it does everything badly. It offers only 100Mbps ethernet ports, and lousy Wifi (my box was 802.11g only), it has to be rebooted once a week because the WiFi firmware is so unstable, and it runs crazy hot. The only way I found it to be usable was to devote a day to figuring out how to switch off every “feature” it provided, so that by the end it was acting as a pure pass-through modem, nothing else.

    One final thing. At Charter speeds, you finally get to a point which we have not seen before, where your internet performance may be throttled by equipment in your house. To see the full Charter speeds, you certainly need an 802.11n modem (and IMHO anything other than an Airport is too much pain for the money saved), and it helps to tweak your TCP stack to start connections a lot more aggressively. (But only tweak your stack IF you know what you are doing, otherwise you will likely do more harm than good. If you run a mac household, I can provide you with details on how to do that,)

  15. Remember when you wanted a telephone you just called the telephone company and they came out and installed it? I think they also connected you up with long distance via AT&T. Now it’s easier?

  16. My cable provider, Comcast, can hook you up with Internet only, at least in Northern California. I suspect most others can do the same. You can probably bring the same modem down the hall with you. The best service they offer shouldn’t cost more than $50-60/month, I would guess (though I’ll confess I do have cable TV and phone service, so I can’t be sure).

  17. Dear Mark,

    Since we live in more or less the same area it may be that my (cheapskate) experience over the years may be helpful. I have ended up with AT&T, not because I like them or because they are consumer friendly, but, because they have fast enough service cheap.

    You can get their service with or without a landline phone although they may try to charge a bit more for the dry loop deal. I’ve had it for years and it is very reliable, at least for me.

    The big problem is that there is no real price for the service. Every six months or year or so I have to call up and dance around with customer “service” in order to get the $43 a month service for from $15 a month on up depending on how hard I want to negotiate. Fat Wallet has long discussions on how to negotiate with AT&T on DSL because that’s what you have to do in order to get a price close to what others are paying.

  18. You might want to see if you can get AT&T Uverse. You can get just internet at very good, and reliable, speeds for ~$40/month. Verizon FIOS is supposed to be comparable.

  19. I’ve been through this several times, and the best resource I’ve ever seen is http://www.dslreports.com/. Plug your zipcode into the Review Finder, and see what services people in your area are using and what they think about them. If you go with DSL, you’ll want to get very specific information on the distance to the local switch (I think it’s called a SLAMM). The signal gets exponentially poorer the further you are away from that. I’ve been on TimeWarner for a few years now, with phone/internet (no TV) and many fewer service issues than when I had ADSL from the phone company.

    1. Good point about distance to switch. Makes a huge difference in speed and reliability. My step-daughter has U-verse and gets fast (15 Mbps) and reliable DSL with the neighborhood DSLAM cabinets about half a block away. At work we get about 6 Mbps and poor reliability and the DSLAM is much further down the street.

      The cabinets are large and look something like http://nemeczek.hochschule-reutlingen.de/Outdoor-DSLAM.164.0.html“>this.

  20. Wow. You-all are very good at this techhie stuff.

    So, is there any way to get rid of most of cable/Direct TV, and just keep CNN, MSNBC, TCM, and the local channels? I know I could ditch cable and get a box and dish that will get me a lot of digi PBS channels, but then there’s no TCM. What to do? (TCM is really the keeper. I wouldn’t mind just paying for that one channel, either, as we do now. I just resent having to pay for all the other cr*p.)

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