May 5, 2003

Trip to Zurich Provides Insight into Power of Mobile Phone and Broadband Technologies

Dave Aiello wrote, "A number of CTDATA readers probably already know that I was in Zurich, Switzerland since Thursday visiting my close friends (and two of CTDATA's best customers): Peter Frank and Ramona Morel. While I was there, I had the good fortune to meet Peter's father, Dieter Frank, who was also visiting Zurich at the time."

"This Europe trip was uncharacteristically short, but I achieved a series of firsts on this trip worth noting:"

  1. First trip to Europe with a GSM phone, specifically the Treo 180.

    As far as I am concerned, this trip confirmed the fact that having a GSM-compatible phone is the way to go for American power users. What a delight it was to be on-line immediately upon arrival in Zurich for seamless delivery of calls and SMS.

    Yes, it costs money to roam this way, in much the same way that roaming used to cost in the USA. But, the ability to send text messages to the people at home for a relatively low cost made me feel that I was not that far away.

  2. First trip to Europe with broadband access where I stayed.

    OK, I was there to visit Peter and Ramona, and not to work. But, I did spend an hour and a half on-line via the DSL connection in their home on Friday night. As a result, the disconnectedness many that Americans sometimes feel with limited English-language television in many places in Europe really wasn't an issue for me on this trip.

    In addition to posting a story to, I was able to resolve a billing issue with AT&T for CTDATA's office in New Jersey via email. All of this took place while I was sitting at Ramona's work desk at her home in Zurich.

Dave Aiello continued, "So, what about the bills? I'm looking forward to seeing the bill from T-Mobile USA that summarizes my roaming charges for the weekend. Although I expect that they will be modest, I probably won't get that information until June."

"Because I stayed with friends, I couldn't beat the price of broadband access if I tried. However, I suspect that broadband access at hotels, where available, is comparable in cost to that in North America. So, if you have the opportunity to stay in Europe where broadband is available, you may be glad you did."

March 27, 2003

Comcast Attempts to Tie Broadband to Residential Cable TV

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Comcast is increasing residential cable modem charges on customers who do not also subscribe to cable TV. The article talks about a user in Berkeley, California who received a notice that indicates that Comcast will increase her bill for cable modem service from $43 to $57, a 25 percent increase.

A Comcast spokesman is reported to have characterized this price increase as an incentive. By this, we assume they mean that only those customers who pay for both cable television and broadband will get reasonably priced broadband service.

It's clear that Comcast is taking advantage of a number of trends in our current communications market to try to extract more revenue from existing customers:

  • lack of serious competition in residential broadband services,
  • hesitance of consumers to switch broadband providers, even when alternatives are available,
  • unwillingness of the FCC to police the residential cable and telecom markets and stop anti-competitive behavior.

We have to wonder why a residential customer in Berkeley doesn't jump to DSL immediately. Surely SBC offers residential DSL services there.

September 6, 2002

Broadband and the Small Technology Business

Dave Aiello wrote, "I showed up in the office this morning, and began some very bandwidth-intensive tasks: I copied the backups of our production SQL databases from our co-located servers in Seattle, and I began a full update of Red Hat Linux 7.2 on a new server I am building, using the Red Hat Update Agent. Both of these tasks required encrypted communication sessions."

"I couldn't have completed them at all without a network-style, broadband connection. We happen to use Verizon Online DSL, but, a lot of services of this sort would be equally good for our purposes."

"In the last four years, CTDATA has utilized broadband services from Covad, Comcast, and Verizon. Of the three, our worst experience was with Comcast. The other services that both happen to use DSL technology have performed well, and customer service and support has been good. We are still evaluating Verizon Online DSL, but we are pleased with the service so far."

Continue reading "Broadband and the Small Technology Business" »

August 23, 2002

CTDATA's Office Back on a Broadband Connection

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier today, I was able to get our office network connected to a 384k SDSL connection provided by Verizon Online. The hard work on this end was figuring out how to make our firewall speak PPoE to a Westell DSL Modem. Other than that, it was easy."

"This brings a definitive end to the Comcast Business Communications saga. I wonder about the viability of this business because they seem to be unable to complete simple customer move orders for a number of reasons. They also seem to be at the mercy of Comcast's residential cable business for installation services. Even after they 'accepted' our move order (over six weeks after we first tried to place it), they were unable to give us an install date."

"Verizon, on the other hand, seems to be geared up to sell DSL. From the time I placed the order with them a week ago, they provided order status messages via email. The technicians and order processing people that I have spoken with have had a clue what they were doing. Given some of the anecdotes I've read in the media and on-line about RBOC DSL sales and installation problems, I had set my expectations fairly low."

Continue reading "CTDATA's Office Back on a Broadband Connection" »

August 17, 2002

Ricochet Relaunches in Denver as a Wireless Broadband Provider to Homes and Businesses

Yesterday, Unstrung reported that Ricochet Networks has relaunched in Denver as a provider of broadband access to homes and businesses that are neither served by DSL nor cable modem services. This is a major change in the business model. Metricom, the company that offered the Ricochet wireless internet service prior to its spectacular bankruptcy, targeted mobile professionals at airports and in densely built downtown areas of major cities.

Mort Aaronson, Ricochet's CEO said, "The users weren't mobile… you could own 1,000 percent of the mobile business market and still go bankrupt." So, we assume that we should not expect much Ricochet re-deployment in the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas any time soon.

August 16, 2002

Why We're Giving Up on Comcast Business Communications

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier today, I wrote a letter to Comcast Business Communications cancelling our request for business cable modem service at CTDATA's office in East Windsor, NJ. We have been here for seven weeks, and Comcast still has not given us a date when they will provide us with service."

Read on if you are interested in seeing the letter...

Continue reading "Why We're Giving Up on Comcast Business Communications" »

July 15, 2002

MSN Just Says No to Supporting Customers with LANs in their Homes

Martin O'Donnell pointed out an article from The Seattle Times where Paul Andrews documents the procedure MSN uses to systematically deny its users of technical support when it learns that those users also have a Local Area Network installed in their homes. The time has come for mainstream ISPs like MSN to start dealing with reality and work with customers who have more than a single PC setup at home.

It's unrealistic to expect everyone who might have the technical wherewithal to install more than one PC and a WiFi network in their home to also be good at troubleshooting things like PPP configurations. People shouldn't be expected to disconnect everything in their home and isolate a single PC whenever they have internet access questions.

June 11, 2002

California Startup Develops Cheap Wireless Broadband Technology

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Etherlinx of Campbell, CA has developed a wireless broadband router that could cost as little as $150 in quantity. They envision this as a way to provide high speed Internet access to the home, rendering DSL and cable modems obsolete.

Their secret weapon is a technology known as a "software-designed radio," which has permitted them to create an inexpensive repeater antenna that can be attached to the outside of a customer's home. The device, which the Etherlinx executives said they believe can be built in quantity for less than $150 each, would communicate with a central antenna and then convert the signals into the industry-standard Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, signal for reception inside the home.

May 8, 2002

Consumer Groups Oppose Transfer of Cable Franchises to Merged AT&T-Comcast

CNET reports that several consumer rights groups are using cable franchise hearings to oppose the AT&T-Comcast Merger. According to the article, the groups believe that the merger will result in poor service and potentially create an anti-competitive situation with respect to internet access and broadcast content.

April 25, 2002

Cumberland, Maryland Builds City-Owned High Speed Wireless Data Network

The New York Times reports that the City of Cumberland, Maryland has deployed a high speed wireless network because neither Verizon nor the cable companies in the city and the surrounding area were making inexpensive broadband Internet access widely available. The article implies that the government officials in that area considered the unavailability of broadband an economic stumbling block.

This broadband network is reminiscent of the city power companies that electrified the major cities of the Western United States. Such power companies still exist in Seattle and Los Angeles.

April 19, 2002

Cable Companies Establishing Tiers of Broadband Service

Martin O'Donnell pointed out an article on CNET which says that many cable companies are carving out two or more tiers of broadband service, which they hope will allow them to charge more money to the most active broadband users. Throughput on the AT&T Broadband and Comcast networks has been throttled back to 1.5 megabits per second, from 3 mbps during the @Home period.

April 16, 2002

South Jersey Comcast Customers Temporarily Blocked Out of Google

Martin O'Donnell pointed out a story on CNET that says Google recently blocked a small IP-address range belonging to Comcast customers from using its popular search engine. The reason that Google took this action is that someone was violating its terms of service by running automated queries. We have to assume that the automated queries were being run through the main (HTML) search interface.

The article points out that responding to automated queries is resource intensive for the search engine companies. How much less resource intensive is it if people use the new Google Web API to do essentially the same thing?

IP Address Range blocking is fairly common in abuse situations, and we think that Google was within their rights to do what they did. But, what would the Comcast customers do if Comcast could not stop the activity to which Google objected?

March 4, 2002

Comcast Completes Migration of Customers to New Backbone

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Comcast completed the migration of its customers off of the @Home Network. The new Comcast backbone was under construction prior to the Excite@Home bankruptcy, but had to be greatly accelerated in order to avoid substantial outages to its customers.

In the article, Comcast customers reported problems with using Comcast-provided email service. Every Comcast customer who had been using an email address in the "" domain had to change email addresses to either or another provider. This was bound to cause confusion and technical problems.

February 19, 2002

Comcast Under Fire for Monitoring Customers' Browsing

Last week, a controversy erupted over Comcast's recent decision to monitor the web surfing habits of its cable modem subscribers. Now, WiredNews reports that Rep. Ed Markey has written a strongly worded letter to Comcast President Brian Roberts, questioning the company's policy.

The most interesting point in the WiredNews article is the revelation that Comcast's Terms of Service with at least some of its customers states that "Comcast may collect information in accordance with applicable law concerning customer's use of the Service ... and other information about a customer's 'electronic browsing.'" We verified the claim made by WiredNews: the provision still appears on the Comcast Online web site.

January 29, 2002

Cox Customers Having Problems with Migration to New Backbone

Over on Doc Searls Weblog, Doc reports on the problems he and his neighbors are having converting to Cox High Speed Internet service. From the comments he posted last night, it is pretty clear that he is not happy: "I'm going down to Cox's office in the morning to corner a tech and get some kind of explanation, and hopefully some help. Given the number of other people who are also surely as {without service} as I am, the line should be long."

January 17, 2002

Cox Having Trouble Serving Its Customers in Fairfax County, VA

ISPworld reports that Cox Communications is having difficulty providing good customer service to its broadband customers in Fairfax County, Virginia. According to the article:

There seems to be two layers of technical support, a local ? and clueless ? layer working a local help desk from 8 AM ? 9 PM and the more clueful national Road Runner support desk. The trouble-shooting litany (that I can repeat by heart, thereby making me qualified to work the local help desk) is "Unplug your cable modem, wait two minutes. Plug it back in. What lights do you see? Do you see the cable light come on and stay on?"

This is the same kind of advice, masquerading as technical support that Comcast Business Communications provided to CTDATA last weekend, as we reported. It is an example of bad support, regardless of who receives it. But, what we take issue with is the fact that business customers pay up to five times the monthly rate that residential customers pay, and they sometimes receive the same lame troubleshooting advice, especially in off-hours.

January 14, 2002

Seattle's Amazing Humming Telecom Boulders

Martin O'Donnell pointed out a Seattle Times article that explains the difficulty AT&T Broadband is having getting consumers to sign up for high speed internet access. Among the issues cited are the high cost of residential service relative to perceived value, and the relatively small portion of the Metropolitan Seattle Area where the service is available.

But, by far, the most interesting aspect of this story is the amenity AT&T Broadband is offering select Seattle-area neighborhoods: a $900 faux rock that houses the gear necessary to provide high speed Internet access. According to the article, "At $900, rocks are twice as costly as {steel wiring cabinets}. If word gets out they're available, Davis says, every neighborhood might want one. Residents consented, but still aren't entirely satisfied. 'It's weird,' says neighbor Margot Fetzer of the knee-high, humming boulder. 'It looks like papier-mache ... with a little lock on it.'" The article includes a photo of the rock-shaped wiring cabinet.

Sounds like the kind of thing people will want Comcast to install in Lawrenceville, NJ.

Comcast Broadband Access Woes Continue

Subscribers to Comcast broadband services in Central and Southern New Jersey continue to report problems. CTDATA, a customer of Comcast Business Communications for Internet access at its Lawrenceville, NJ office, was without Internet service from about 1:30 on Sunday afternoon until Monday morning.

We placed a call to customer service around 2:00pm on Sunday and entered a trouble ticket. Comcast engineering did not return our call until 9:36 AM on Monday morning. When they did call back, we were told that their engineers are troubleshooting network problems on a site-by-site basis. Also many of the businesses who have lost Internet access have been out since the January 4 network cutover. That's a total of 10 days.

The fact that we have lost connectivity 10 days after the cutover is suprising, considering the information that Comcast provided to us today.

Update: Our office's broadband service was restored on Monday in the middle of the afternoon. That means we were down for approximately 24 hours. We have yet to receive a reasonable explanation for this outage.

January 10, 2002

Lessig Says Copyright Holders Policies are Limiting Consumer Demand for Broadband

In Tuesday's Washington Post, Stanford University Professor Lawrence Lessig says that the restrictive policies of the publishing, recording, and motion picture industries are limiting consumer demand for broadband services. According to the article:

... {Piracy} is not the most important reason copyright holders have been slow to embrace the net. A bigger reason is the threat the Internet presents to their relatively comfortable ways of doing business.... Online music is the best example of this potential. Five years ago the market saw online music as the next great Internet application. A dozen companies competed to find new and innovative ways to deliver and produce music using the technologies of the Internet....

These experiments in innovation are now over. They have been stopped by lawyers working for the recording industry. Every form of innovation that they disapproved of they sued. And every suit they brought, they won. Innovation outside the control of the "majors" has stopped.

... {Innovation} and growth in broadband have been stifled as courts have given control over the future to the creators of the past. The only architecture for distribution that these creators will allow is one that preserves their power within a highly concentrated market.

January 5, 2002

CTDATA's Experience with the Comcast Backbone Cutover

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last night, Comcast executed a cut-over of its cable modem customers in Central New Jersey to a new backbone which supposedly does not utilize the @Home Network infrastructure. In a previous article, we documented the instructions that Comcast provided to help us know what to do after the cutover."

"When I arrived at the office about 8:30am, we definitely did not have connectivity. The instructions from Comcast appeared to say that we should call 888-447-6060 to see if the cutover was complete before rebooting the router. I called the number. The recording said that the Central New Jersey cutover was scheduled for 11:00pm on January 4 and the recording would be updated when the network changes were complete."

"By 8:45am, I decided to try rebooting the router despite the fact that the Comcast recording implied that the network changes were not yet complete. Once the router reinitialized, we had Internet connectivity. Every service and every site I've tried has worked seamlessly."

"I'm not sure that this will be the experience of all Comcast customers in Central New Jersey. I suspect that others following my approach but waiting for definitive word from Comcast are confused right now. But, the bottom line is that the network is working, at least from our vantage point. We will provide updates if the situation changes."

Update: The Philadelphia Daily News reported Saturday that some Comcast customers in South Jersey have experienced problems. CTDATA's broadband connection continues to perform well.

January 3, 2002

Comcast Experiences Snags in Customer Migration to New Backbone reports that Comcast broadband customers have reported problems with migration to the new backbone that Comcast has been building to separate its infrastructure from Excite@Home. Over the next few weeks, all Comcast broadband customers will be cut-over to their new network.

CTDATA, as a Comcast Business Communications customer has received several notices from the company about pending network changes. Read on for a copy of the latest message that we received from Comcast....

Continue reading "Comcast Experiences Snags in Customer Migration to New Backbone" »

December 21, 2001

Microsoft Expected to Push AT&T Comcast to Drop VPN Restrictions

Computerworld reports that Microsoft is expected to use its stake in AT&T Comcast to push for policy changes. High on the list, apparently, is the right to use virtual private networks (VPNs) at the consumer price point. Comcast has prohibited VPN use on its consumer-grade service since the Summer of 2000. AT&T Broadband does not prohibit it, but also does not provide technical support.

December 20, 2001

Qwest Stops Expanding DSL Service Areas

EE Times reports that Qwest has halted the expansion of the number of central offices where it deploys DSL service equipment. Qwest acquired USWest a while ago, and is now the Regional Bell Operating Company for the Northwestern United States. Qwest CEO Joseph Naccio reportedly blamed the decision on the 1996 Telcommunications Reform Act, and added that it is unfair to incumbent local carriers, since cable TV multisystem operators do not have to allow broadband competition.

Of course, there are areas in Qwest territory where neither DSL nor cable modem services are available. Some people living in those areas had reasonable expectations of broadband access in the near future, due to the competitive market that appeared to be developing in 1998 and 1999. With this decision, many of those people's hopes are dashed.

What is the Broadband Internet Access Section of

The Broadband Internet Access section of is a place to document our experiences with cable modems, DSL, and other high speed Internet access services primarily designed for residential or small office customers. We will also report news affecting these markets in this section