Internet-related Whaa!

I’ve been with my ISP since, I think, 2002 – ever since I first got broadband anyway.  In internet years, that’s like half a lifetime (actually it is half my online lifetime; I’ve had the internet at home for 14 years, and been with this ISP for about 8 of them).  I spent days researching it, scratching my head over things like contention ratios when everyone else I knew got no further than looking at the price.  My ISP has never been the cheapest, and over time it’s got relatively more and more expensive (they’ve cut their prices, but not enough to keep pace – broadband is one of those rare things that’s actually got cheaper in absolute terms), but I’ve kept shelling out for it on the grounds that it’s extremely reliable, and unlimited (or unlimited enough that I’ve never had a problem – no ISP is actually unlimited), and has never throttled my connection, even though I’m a fairly hardcore user.  But now it’s closing down.

I’m actually feeling quite sad about this.  It’s the end of an era.  I feel I should call techy support and have one last conversation based on mutual incomprehension and bad temper for old time’s sake.  Except, presumably, those poor people are losing their jobs, so I shouldn’t joke about them.  I’m sure they did their best, and even if they didn’t, I still wouldn’t wish unemployment on them.

I am, I guess, lucky that the ISP is closing down in a controlled way, and that I have time to find and switch to a new one.  They were bought out by Sky, who are now closing them down, and encouraging us all over to their main service with various inducements.  If they’d just gone bust I’d have lost connectivity straight away, and might not even have been able to get a MAC number, which would have meant weeks with no net!  And I don’t even have a smartphone as a fallback!!  The horror!!!

I’ve done a small amount of digging, and it looks as though my options for a replacement are limited.  I spend most of my life online, and I download a lot, and I increasingly watch TV online rather than through my aerial, so I need an ‘unlimited’ service, and one that won’t throttle my connection, and won’t slow down to a sub-streaming crawl at peak times.  As such, it looks as if there are only two options: Sky or BE.  I’m currently finding myself torn, which is unexpected.  Torn because, with the inducements I’ll get, Sky are offering the better deal, but I really don’t want to give money or encouragement to the Murdoch clan (I hadn’t realised my ISP had been bought out).  Unexpectedly because I would have assumed the Murdoch factor would have been enough to automatically make me go for the alternative regardless, but it would appear not to be.

That’s not what’s really bothering me, though.  No, what’s bothering me is that any ISP I switch to won’t support my ancient-but-still-serviceable USB modem, meaning that I will finally have to make the jump to a router.  I am literally clueless about routers.  I had to wade deep into especially-for-very-stupid-people FAQs to ascertain that a ‘wireless router’ can in fact connect via a cable (I may be an ignoramus when it comes to networking, but even I know wireless is slower).  Then, a while later, I had to wade back into the same FAQs to check that the cable connection was straightforward Ethernet, not some shiny new standard that would make my 5-year-old PC laugh sarcastically, then break off in an asthmatic wheeze.

I’ve mentioned it before, I think, but I have a deep and abiding fear of computer networking, or, as I like to call it, the Dark Art.  I think some of this comes from the fact that the last time I tried to network two computers was back in the days of Windows 95.  I certainly have a similar shudder at the thought of something else I last tried to do back then – installing a flatbed scanner that connected via a cut-down SCSI card.  Both are things I ultimately managed to do, but without understanding how, which meant they never got any easier.

Nowadays, of course, the scanner would connect via USB, and apparently networking is similarly doddlesome these days (though I’m not sure XP counts as ‘these days’).  I’m hoping that it’ll just be a question of plugging things in, switching them on, and following a self-explanatory wizard to a happy resolution.  Sadly, experience tells me that’s not the most likely outcome.  Far more likely is that the wizard will either tell me the router’s working when it isn’t, or, alternatively, dump me out with an error code that doesn’t come up on google, except for a single post on a dead bulletin board which claims it’s something to do with trying to change the default language to Flemish while the time zone is set to Chicago, but only with versions of ME sold in Minneapolis in February 2002.

Anyway, I have to make a decision as to which ISP to go with before christmas.  This may prove problematic, since I currently have the decisive capabilities of a Lib Dem activist trying to work out if they’re pissed off or excited by the government.  And also because a statement on BE’s website to the effect that I must be at home when my router is delivered is flirting gently with my paranoia.  Rationally, I’m sure all they mean is it has to be signed for, but there’s an undertow of wondering if it’s something more sinister, and, anyway, I’m not good at opening my front door to people I don’t know (or people I do know, come to that).  They do have an option for having it delivered to another address, such as a friend’s, but sadly I don’t have any friends.  Or, at any rate, no friends who a) live close enough and b) I know well enough to ask the favour of, especially since, when they ask why, my only explanation will be “Because I’m a fruitcake!”

So, yes, he said, finally getting to the damn point, if I abruptly disappear over the next month or so, don’t assume the worst.  It will most likely be some kind of teething troubles with the new ISP/ router/ paranoid idiot not answering the door when his router is delivered.

Of course, you may be wondering how you’ll tell the difference if I do disappear offline, given how infrequently I’ve been blogging of late.  I’m sorry about that.  I had faithfully promised to myself that I would turn over a new leaf for December.  The really frustrating thing is that I kind of have turned over a new leaf, in that I’ve written quite a few posts, but have ended up not posting them, for reasons varying from concern that the details in the post will make it possible to identify me in real life, to a not altogether rational concern about how the posts might be received.  I’ll try to do better from now on – assuming, that is, I have a net connection via which I can post…

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8 Responses to Internet-related Whaa!

  1. Ed says:

    I’ve been with BE for about two years and they’ve been 100% reliable. I chose them because at the time they were advertising the fastest download speeds (up to 20Mb) – I consistently get around 15Mb. I haven’t got a TV so watch online and am constantly downloading stuff. I’m not sure if this makes me a heavy user, but I’ve never noticed any throttling of bandwidth or slowing around peak times.

    I’d like to be able to say Sky are rubbish, but unfortunately from what I’ve read they are OK (and cheaper than BE), but like you, I would begrudge donating money to the evil Murdoch empire!

    Setting up a router really is a doddle – if I can do it I’m sure you can.

    There definitely isn’t anything sinister about you needing to be home when the router is delivered – it’ll just be so you can sign for it.

  2. Danni says:

    Go with Be.

    They are unlimited (well, the limit is how much data you can pull through your phone line). There are people who download over a terabyte of data every month on Be, and they are fine with it.

    The wireless router they supply has 4 standard Ethernet ports on the back, so you can use them. Any computer from the past 12 years should be able to connect with no problem. It is pretty easy to do with XP (there has been a massive improvement since Windows 95). They have a quick start guide, and if you’re able to use the ‘phone you can call support if you have problems

    Their support is excellent. As I cannot use the ‘phone, I communicate with them by email, online support ticket, IRC chat, and occasionally I get letters. They’ve answered all my questions and fixed all my problems within a very short time frame.

    You do have to be in to sign for the router delivery, but you get to choose the day it’s delivered. I had a new modem delivered from them last week, originally for Wednesday but I changed it to Friday by text message.

    My only contact with Sky has been when there have been problems, and they are very fond of blaming the customer when it’s their fault. I am slightly biased though as I’ve never been a customer of theirs (because of the problems my family and others have had with them).

  3. Katherine says:

    You’ll be fine setting up the router – I did mine, creating a wireless network and all, in about three minutes and I don’t know what an SCSI card is nor what it means that one such might be ‘cut down’. I haven’t been able to manage to download the latest update of Quicktime (eurgh) successfully yet (and I have no idea why) but the router was no problem.

    Good luck!

  4. Chouette says:

    I’m also with Be. If you do go with them, then you could get 15 quid off your bill by getting someone already with them to refer you.

    I like Be, they gave a me a free day on my birthday :D

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments. :o) It looks like there’s a lot of support for BE, who are, to be honest, who I’d have gone for like a shot if it wasn’t for the router delivery issue. I guess I really just need to find a way of dealing with it – it’s only a one-off thing, after all. Thanks for the information and advice!

  6. Danni says:

    If the router delivery thing is a major issue, could you buy any ADSL router and ask them not to deliver one? It would mean working out how to set it up yourself, but that shouldn’t be too difficult, as most routers work roughly the same way.

  7. J. Wibble says:

    Sky and Be are both great ISPs, I was with Be at my old place and now I’m with Sky mostly because as I also have Sky TV (don’t tell the Daily Mail :p) I get £5 a month off broadband with them. They both send you the routers already set up with all the complicated configuration stuff so you just have to plug in the ethernet cable, and they both send you instructions and a CD which has a step-by-step guide that includes pictures. I’m a fairly heavy user and never had any throttling with either of them, and good speeds. I assure you the router delivery thing is just so you can sign for it, don’t panic about it.

    My dad managed to set up a dial-up internet connection on a Windows 98 computer back in 2002 (with some “help” from BT tech support), and he didn’t know what ‘right-click’ meant. You’ll be fine. :)

  8. J. Wibble says:

    Oh, and Re:Danni – Sky and Be only offer tech support for their own routers, so getting your own one might be problematic if you do have any issues.

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