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Net neutrality still a gray area

We have had quite a few people ask us lately about President Obama’s (really the FCC’s) plan to regulate the internet and internet providers, warmingly referred to as net neutrality. Generally speaking, the idea behind net neutrality is that ISP’s shouldn’t/can’t/won’t discriminate internet traffic based on the source or destination. In more relatable terms, that means that we won’t slow down foxnews.com and speed up cnn.com or vice versa. Comcast got into a bit of trouble (really more peer pressure than anything else) for prioritizing their Xfinity app on the Xbox while de-prioritizing Netflix. Imagine Charter’s voice-over-ip telephone product being crystal clear but MagicJack sounding terrible. That’s what net neutrality is trying to avoid.

As in most things in life that the government tries to fix, there are some sufficiently muddy waters in what the President has proposed to the FCC and it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The greater than 300 page document has not been released to the public for any review so much of the discussion is very preliminary at this point. In other words, many of the politicians, news organizations, or lobbyists talking about it are trying to mold it into what they want it to be. And short of substantive information in the form of the actual document, that is all we’ll get for a while: conjecture.

The only thing we do have is an official statement from Commissioner Pai (one of 5 non-elected Commissioners that run the FCC) earlier this morning that previews some of the items in the plan.

Commissioner Pai’s Statement on Network Neutrality

I would highly encourage everyone to read this 2 page summary as net neutrality could greatly impact how the internet works as well as the providers available in a given area and the rates in which consumers would pay for their internet. They have also released a fact sheet along with the press release.

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Any early Christmas present for our customers

Thanks to all of our wonderful customers, Siuslaw Broadband continues to grow leaps and bounds directly from your referrals and the wonderful word-of-mouth advertising you provide. You have nominated us 3 years in a row for the Excellence in Customer Service Award through the Chamber of Commerce and we hope to be nominated again (and win!) this year.

As we have continued to grow, we have begun to push the limits on some of our network segments. This was experienced by a number of our customers when one of our radios on our main tower failed a few weeks back and performance was significantly degraded until we were able to climb the tower and swap the failed equipment. We have a number of radios on the tower and when one of them failed, the load was too much for the remaining radios. As such we are tripling the capacity on our main tower this weekend, December 6th and 7th.

In addition, we are installing some of the “next generation” of wireless equipment, which, if one believes the marketing hype, can bring a three-fold increase in performance. Unfortunately, it is not (yet) backwards compatible with our existing equipment and since the technology is still in its infancy, we’ll be slowly testing the gear to ensure it meets our high quality standards.

The network upgrades are currently scheduled for this weekend, Saturday, December 6th pending weather. If it is raining cats and dogs or too windy, our fallback day is Sunday, December 7th. During the upgrades, we’ll be adding new equipment which will not be service impacting for any customers. Once the new equipment is up and running, we’ll move some of our customers over to that new gear which may cause a roughly 30 second blip in connectivity while that change occurs. The existing equipment we have in service will be removed and upgraded with new equipment. After all of the equipment is in place, the system will start to load balance all of our customers across our system at which point you may see another 30 second or so blip in service.

We greatly appreciate everything that our customers do for us and love when we’re able to make new and exciting changes to improve the internet for our existing customers and others in Florence. We expect the interruptions to be very brief this weekend and hopefully not too noticeable. As always, should you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to email or call us.

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Dirty little secrets of ISP’s

Dirty little secrets of ISP's

Has there ever been a time where you wanted a speeding ticket? Yeah, me either. But in the ISP game, speed perceived speed is king. And when you type something into your browser, you expect it to return what you ask, yes? Did you know many ISP’s step in to try and “help” you when you don’t search for the right thing? Well, we’ll talk about those and some other items big ISP’s commonly do to game the system.

“Boost”

Power boost, turbo mode. There are a few names for it. Bottom line, these techniques provide temporary speed increases. Comcast is one of the most prolific users of this “product”. What this enables ISP’s to do is offer temporarily faster service to their clients. This happens for two reasons: make larger files download faster and tweak the perceived speed of your internet connection.

How fast is your internet?Comcast specifically sells this to help download large files more quickly. Based on a file’s download size, PowerBoost can kick in to help it feel like it is downloading faster. However, the boost is short lived and generally is either time-bound or size bound. Meaning if you download a 50 meg file, PowerBoost kicks on and lasts for 30 seconds, just for the sake of the discussion. This also works for most speed testing websites. This “product” affects the perceived speed of the internet connection so much the SamKnows, the FCC’s broadband measurement program, specifically notes the effect that PowerBoost has on Comcast customers’ speed.

 

 Network Neutrality

Network neutrality is a very hot topic for internet service providers. What is basically boils down to is a fairness among providers. Not to pick on Comcast again, but an very thorough Level3 network engineer busted Comcast for allowing their Xbox 360 Xfinity app to stream to the Xbox and not count against their data caps and have a higher level of network priority than other traffic. This launched denials by Comcast, investigations by the Department of Justice, and a number of other legal and industry maneuvering.The premise behind network neutrality is that an internet service provider cannot prioritize their traffic over another providers traffic. IE, Comcast cannot say my VOIP (voice over IP) traffic is better than Skype’s and prioritize it higher. They can prioritize VOIP traffic in general to provide a better quality of service for all users of all services, not just their own. This is still a bit of the wild west mentality. Luckily, most providers do not push the network neutrality envelope too much. Yet. That we know of.

 

 An Ongoing Topic

Every few months, a new hot topic rears up so we will do our best to cover those big incidents and help explain them in layman’s terms. You can follow all of these dirty little secret posts here. And if you hear any rumors and feel like you’ve got a dirty little secret about your ISP, let us know. Like our next series: can your ISP read your email?

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Quality Versus Quantity in an Internet Provider

Quality Versus Quantity in an Internet Provider

The age old question, which is better? It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about wine, kids, or seat belts. Some times, you might crave that jug or box of wine that you only spent $6 on for a gallon. Other nights may require one $50 bottle. Seat belts, however, I’d rather have one great seat belt in my seat than 3 seat belts that are just so-so.

Internet is much the same way. People have different needs when it comes to their internet and if they’d like to have quality versus quantity. A decent analogy for the internet is the quantity is how much internet you can get (your speed) whereas quality is measured in latency, or the time it takes two systems to communicate.

Quantity is easy to measure. And easy to sell. Here’s an example of an ad from Charter:

Notice the first thing they talk about is “Get the Nation’s Fastest Internet” and “Speeds up to 30 Mbps”. Online speed tests are prevalent nowadays so measuring that claim is pretty easy. Charter is what we call a quantity ISP. They provide lots of cheap bandwidth. They are a great provider for households who down extreme amounts of data online, such as people running peer-to-peer file sharing or those who watch multiple HD Netflix movies per day. However, this quantity comes at the price of quality.

Charter, being a cable company, has their network built as something called a star network. They bring in a single pipe to feed a neighborhood and all the neighbors get fed off of that one pipe. Generally, this is why you can get great speeds at 3am but not 8pm. You’re sharing your bandwidth with all of your neighbors. Now your connection to the little green pedestal in your neighbors yard a few houses down is great. But plug in 2 dozen neighbors in the same pedestal sharing one line out and you get some congestion. More congestion = bad performance. As the network becomes more congested, latency gets even worse. As a point of reference, here is a set of pings, a tool that measures latency, from a Charter connection:

Averages about 184 ms, or about 1/5th of a second. For us humans, that sounds amazingly fast. But in computer time, that is not quite an eternity, but close. For comparison, here is set of pings from one of our servers inside our network, making this very similar to what one of our customers would experience:

Notice our ping time averages 18ms, 10 times better than that of Charter taken at the same time during the evening. What this means to our customers is that the latency they experience while visiting most websites is incredibly fast. We won’t get into any of the technical details here (like TCP restransmission and its terrible effects on performance), but know that the worse your latency, the worse your internet experience will be. Imagine having 50 gallons of hot water (lots of quantity) to take a nice relaxing shower and having no pressure to deliver it (no quality).

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The Wind Strikes Again

As shocking as it is to most Florence residents, we had a pretty decent wind storm a few days after Christmas that knocked out power for nearly the entire town. We had a similar event the last week of November but the outcome was pretty different.

The power outage in November ultimately took our tower down at roughly 3am as the backup generator system was not functioning yet. After a hard days work with our tower operator and other cell tower operators on site, we were able to get the tower for our operator up and running. With this power outage last week we incurred no down in our systems. Both of our primary locations ran perfectly on their backup batteries until the generators were able to be powered on.

Siuslaw Broadband had nearly 90% of its customers without power, but maintained internet services for the entire affected area. Below is a graph of our internet traffic for the time of the outage. As you can clearly see, we had a major drop in traffic shortly before 5pm and saw little to no traffic while the bulk of the town was without power.

There were a few isolated spots that still had power, mostly south of town surprisingly enough, that were able to access all services which attributed to our very small volumes of traffic during the outage. As expected, once the PUD began restoring service across the city, everybody started using those new iPad’s they got for Christmas to get online again.

 

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A windy evening

As some of you early birds may have noticed, our service went down early this morning. Shortly after 2am, the power to the tower site on Glenada hill was lost, taking down all power into our building and our tower. We ran on our battery backup for roughly one hour until the batteries had been depleted around 3am. We had a technician on site within a few hours and had stable service returned shortly after 8am.

All of the tower is without power, hence why you probably can’t get a few radio stations or local on-air television at the moment. The tower operator has been planning to add a generator, but the project has not been completed yet. Steps are currently underway to get temporary access to another generator at the tower site to avoid issues like this in the immediate future. We continue to run on our own generator without issue.

It appears the most of our clients south of town were offline this morning and without power, but had it restored sometime between 10am and 11am. If anyone has any persistent issues with their internet today, do not hesitate to give us a call at 541-902-5101.

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A Woman’s Perspective

My husband, Robbie, is the brains behind this company, this idea, this dream of providing a quality internet service. He truly believes that internet can change peoples’ lives, and that’s just what he intends to do. Internet is the new everything- family, friendship, work, research, knowledge, entertainment. Internet can make you feel like you are somewhere else, like you are with those you love.

I have learned a lot this last year. Not only about how internet works (which I have), but also about how important internet is. I’ve always taken it for granted, opened my lab top and expected it to work. I expect to be able to check my facebook, check my e-mail, find my coupon deals, and buy my son clothes. And my husband is right, it has changed our lives.

So we are ready. We’ve done our research. We’re ready to go live. And now with it just a week away I find myself excited instead of nervous. Why? Because I know that we can bring quality internet into your living rooms, I know that you will be able to keep in contact with those you love, and I know that you will find a happy couple that has committed to bringing that to you.

Whatever you are using the internet for, it is important. Because internet changed our lives, and it will change yours too.

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What is the internet?

What is the internet?

Silly question, I know. But most people don’t actually know what the internet truly is. Its more than just Facebook or Netflix. Comcast and Qwest aren’t the internet.

The simplest definition of the internet is that it is a collection of computer networks tied together. Imagine that someone in Florence had a big network of computers and servers and they wanted to be able to connect with a business in Newport to exchange information. They would need a physical connection put in place up the highway to tie in the two computer networks. At that point, the two networks would be able to talk to each other just like they were next door neighbors.

Now take that example, and image hundreds of thousands of those little networks all tied together. Generally, these networks are tied together by their internet service provider. Acme Co. uses BigISP in downtown Portland for internet. Acme has a connection into BigISP. BigISP then has relationships with other ISP’s which is commonly referred to as peering. Now not all ISP’s are next door neighbors and can afford to build a cable from their part of the city to the other. So rather than build their own connection, ISP’s also purchase “transit” from third party providers. That way BigISP in Portland doesn’t have to build their own cable from Portland to Des Monies, Iowa.

Peering (two neighbors connecting themselves for free or low cost) and transit (two networks far a part paying a third party) are the fundamental building blocks of how computer networks tie together. In a real world example, some of you may remember a few months back there was a big dust up between Comcast and Level3 about delivering Netflix movies to Comcast internet users. This centered solely around the peering relationship between Comcast and Level3. Comcast has all the customers, but they need to get those customers to the internet. Netflix pays Level3 for transit to deliver their product and Level3 peers with Comcast to bring it into our homes.

Surprising, isn’t it? Who knew that’s how the internet really works? Aside from us nerdy folk…

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And so it begins

And so it begins

For better or worse, when I get an idea stuck in my head it starts to fester. Fairly quickly, I’m unable to fall asleep and thoughts of my new idea occupy my mind. I zone out when I’m running, again, with this new idea in my head.

For about the past 18 months, the idea of starting a WISP (wireless internet service provider) in Florence has been weighing heavily on my mind. We’ve done an incredible amount of due diligence, have our financial projections and business plan completed, and have solidified our advisory board. What started out as just an inkling of an idea has turned into a full fledged business.

I have a passion for technology and love to find ways to use technology to improve peoples lives. Over the next month or so, we’ll be making the final preparations to launch Siuslaw Broadband into western Lane county and focus on serving our customers with a reliable internet service with tremendous customer support. Look forward for some more posts about life on the internet, the in’s and out’s of being an internet service provider, and random rumblings from a Duck fan.

 

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