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Category Archives: Internet

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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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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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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