13 ways to screw over your internet provider – gpgmail


Internet providers are real bastards: they have captive audiences whom they squeeze for every last penny while they fight against regulation like net neutrality and donate immense amounts of money to keep on lawmakers’ good sides. So why not turn the tables? Here are 13 ways to make sure your ISP has a hard time taking advantage of you (and may even put it on the defensive).

Disclosure: Verizon, an internet provider guilty of all these infractions, owns gpgmail, and I don’t care.

1. Buy a modem and router instead of renting

The practice of renting a device to users rather than selling it or providing it as part of the service is one of the telecommunications industry’s oldest and worst. People pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars over years for equipment worth $40 or $50. ISPs do this with various items, but the most common item is probably the modem.

This is the gadget that connects to the cable coming out of your wall, and then connects in turn (or may also function as) your wireless and wired router. ISPs often provide this equipment at the time of install, and then charge you $5 to $10 per month forever. What they don’t tell you is you can probably buy the exact same item for somewhere between $30 and $100.

The exact model you need will depend on your service, but it will be listed somewhere, and they should tell you what they’d provide if you ask. Look online, buy a new or lightly used one, and it will have paid for itself before the year is out. Not only that, but you can do stuff like upgrade or change the software on it all you want, because it’s yours. Bonus: The ISP is limited in what it can do to the router (like letting other people connect — yes, it’s a thing).

2. Avoid service calls, or if you can’t, insist they’re free

I had an issue with my Comcast internet a while back that took them several visits from a service tech to resolve. It wasn’t an issue on my end, which was why I was surprised to find they’d charged me $30 or so every time the person came.

If your ISP wants to send someone out, ask whether it’s free, and if it isn’t, tell them to make it free or ask if you can do it yourself (sometimes it’s for really simple stuff like swapping a cable). If they charge you for a visit, call them and ask them to take it off your bill. Say you weren’t informed and you’ll inform the Better Business Bureau about it, or take your business elsewhere, or something. They’ll fold.

When someone does come…

3. Get deals from the installer

If you do end up having someone come out, talk to them to see whether there are any off the record deals they can offer you. I don’t mean anything shady like splitting cables with the neighbor, just offers they know about that aren’t publicized because they’re too good to advertise.

A lot of these service techs are semi-independent contractors paid by the call, and their pay has nothing to do with which service you have or choose. They have no reason to upsell you and every reason to make you happy and get a good review. Sometimes that means giving you the special desperation rates ISPs withhold until you say you’re going to leave.

And as long as you’re asking…

4. Complain, complain, complain

This sounds bad, but it’s just a consequence of how these companies work: The squeaky wheels get the grease. There’s plenty of grease to go around, so get squeaking.

Usually this means calling up and doing one of several things. You can complain that service has been bad — outages and such — and ask that they compensate you for that. You can say that a competing ISP started offering service at your location and it costs $20 less, so can they match that. Or you can say your friend just got a promotional rate and you’d like to take advantage of it… otherwise you’ll leave to that phantom competitor. (After all, we know there’s often little or no real competition.)

What ISPs, and, more importantly, what their customer service representatives care about is keeping you on as a customer. They can always raise rates or upsell you later, but having you as a subscriber is the important thing.

Note that some reps are more game than others. Some will give you the runaround, while others will bend over backwards to help you out. Feel free to call a few times and do a bit of window shopping. (By the way, if you get someone nice, give them a good review if you get the chance, usually right after the call or chat. It helps them out a lot.) Obviously you can’t call every week with new demands, so wait until you think you can actually save some money.

Which reminds me…

5. Choose your service level wisely

ISPs offer a ton of choices, and make it confusing on purpose so you end up picking an expensive one just to be sure you have what you need. The truth is most people can probably do pretty much everything they need on the lowest tier they offer.

A 1080p Netflix stream will work fine on a 25 Mbps connection, which is what I have. I also work entirely online, stream high-def videos at a dozen sites all day, play games, download movies and do lots of other stuff, sometimes all at the same time. I think I pay $45 a month. But rates like mine might not be advertised prominently or at all. I only found out when I literally asked what the cheapest possible option was.

That said, if you have three kids who like to watch videos simultaneously, or you have a 4K streaming setup that you use a lot, you’ll want to bump that up a bit. But you’d be surprised how seldom the speed limit actually comes into play.

To be clear, it’s still important that higher tiers are available, and that internet providers upgrade their infrastructure, because competition and reliability need to go up and prices need to come down. The full promise of broadband should be accessible to everyone for a reasonable fee, and that’s still not the case.

6. Stream everything because broadcast TV is a joke

Cord-cutting is fun. Broadcast TV is annoying, and getting around ads and air times using a DVR is very 2005. Most shows are available on streaming services of some kind or another, and while those services are multiplying, you could probably join all of them for well under what you’re paying for the 150 cable channels you never watch.

Unless you really need to watch certain games or news shows as they’re broadcast, you can get by streaming everything. This has the side effect of starving networks of viewers and accelerating the demise of these 20th-century relics. Good ones will survive as producers and distributors of quality programming, and you can support them individually on their own merits. It’s a weird transitional time for TV, but we need to drop-kick them into the future so they’ll stop charging us for a media structure established 50 years ago.

Something isn’t available on a streaming service? 100 percent chance it’s because of some dumb exclusivity deal or licensing SNAFU. Go pirate it for now, then happily pay for it as soon as it’s made available. This method is simple for you and instructive for media companies. (They always see piracy rates drop when they make things easy to find and purchase.)

This also lets you avoid certain fees ISPs love tacking onto your bill. I had a “broadcast TV fee” on my bill despite not having any kind of broadcast service, and I managed to get it taken off and retroactively paid back.

On that note…

7. Watch your bill like a hawk

Telecoms just love putting things on your bill with no warning. It’s amazing how much a bill can swell from the quoted amount once they’ve added all the little fees, taxes and service charges. What are they, anyway? Why not call and ask?

You might find out, as I did, that your ISP had “mistakenly” been charging you for something — like equipment — that you never had nor asked for. Amazing how these lucrative little fees tend to fall through the cracks!

Small charges often increase and new ones get added as well, so download your bill when you get it and keep it somewhere (or just keep the paper copies). These are really handy to have when you’re on the phone with a rep. “Why wasn’t I informed my bill would increase this month by $50?” “Why is this fee more now than it was in July?” “Why do I pay a broadcast fee if I don’t pay for TV?” These are the types of questions that get you discounts.

Staying on top of these fees also means you’ll be more aware when there are things like mass refunds or class action lawsuits about them. Usually these have to be opted into — your ISP isn’t going to call you, apologize and send a check.

As long as you’re looking closely at your bill…

8. Go to your account and opt out of everything

When you sign up for broadband service, you’re going to get opted into a whole heap of things. They don’t tell you about these, like the ads they can inject, the way they’re selling this or that data or that your router might be used as a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

You’ll only find this out if you go to your account page at your ISP’s website and look at everything. Beyond the usual settings like your address and choice of whether to receive a paper bill, you’ll probably find a few categories like “privacy” and “communications preferences.”

Click through all of these and look for any options to opt out of stuff. You may find that your ISP has reserved the right to let partners email you, use your data in ways you wouldn’t expect and so on. It only takes a few minutes to get out of all this, and it deprives the ISP of a source of income while also providing a data point that subscribers don’t like these practices.

9. Share your passwords

Your friend’s internet provider gets him streaming services A, B and C, while yours gives you X, Y and Z. Again, this is not about creators struggling to get their content online, but rather all about big media and internet corporations striking deals that make them money and harm consumers.

Share your (unique, not reused!) passwords widely and with a clean conscience. No company objects when you invite your friends over to watch “Fleabag” at your house. This just saves everyone a drive!

10. Encrypt everything and block trackers

One of the internet companies’ many dirty little deals is collecting and selling information on their customers’ watching and browsing habits. Encrypting your internet traffic puts the kibosh on this creepy practice — as well as being good security.

This isn’t really something you can do too much to accomplish, since over the last few years encryption has become the rule rather than the exception, even at sites where you don’t log in or buy anything. If you want to be sure, download a browser plug-in like HTTPS everywhere, which opts you into a secure connection anywhere it’s available. You can tell it’s secure because the URL says “https://” instead of “http://” — and most browsers have other indicators or warnings as well.

You should also use an ad blocker, not necessarily to block ads that keep outlets like gpgmail alive (please), but to block trackers seeded across the web by companies that use sophisticated techniques to record everything you do. ISPs are among these and/or do business with them, so everything you can do to hinder them is a little mud in their eye.

Incidentally there are lots of ways you can protect your privacy from those who would invade it — we’ve got a pretty thorough guide here.

11. Use a different DNS

Bryce Durbin / gpgmail

On a similar note, most ISPs will usually be set up by default with their own “Domain Name Service,” which is the thing that your browser pings to convert a text web URL (like “Gpgmail.com”) to its numerical IP address.

There are lots of these to choose from, and they all work, but if you use your ISP’s, it makes it much easier for them to track your internet activity. They also can block certain websites by refusing to provide the IP for content they don’t like.

gpgmail doesn’t officially endorse one, but lots of companies offer free, fast DNS that’s easy to switch to. Here’s a good list; there are big ones (Google, Cloudflare), “open” ones (OpenDNS, OpenNIC) and others with some niche features. All you need to do is slot those two numbers into your internet configuration, following the instructions they provide. You can change it back at any time.

Setting up a VPN is another option for very privacy-conscious individuals, but it can be complicated. And speaking of complicated…

12. Run a home server

This is a bit advanced, but it’s definitely something ISPs hate. Setting up your home computer or a dedicated device to host a website, script or service seems like a natural use of an always-on internet connection, but just about everyone in the world would rather you sign up for their service, hosted on their hardware and their connection.

Well, you don’t have to! You can do it on your own. Of course, you’ll have to learn how to run and install a probably Unix-based server, handle registry stuff, install various packages and keep up to date so you don’t get owned by some worm or bot… but you’ll have defied the will of the ISP. That’s the important thing.

13. Talk to your local government

ISPs hate all the things above, but what they hate the most by far is regulation. And you, as a valued citizen of your state and municipality, are in a position to demand it. Senators, representatives, governors, mayors, city councils and everyone else actually love to hear from their constituency, not because they desire conversation but because they can use it to justify policy.

During the net neutrality fight, a constant refrain I heard from government officials was how much they’d heard from voters about the issue and how unanimous it was (in support, naturally). A call or email from you won’t sway national politics, but a few thousand calls or emails from people in your city just might sway a local law or election. These things add up, and they do matter. State net neutrality policies are now the subject of national attention, and local privacy laws like those in Illinois are the bane of many a shady company.

Tell your local government about your experience with ISPs — outages, fees, sneaky practices or even good stuff — and they’ll file it away for when that data is needed, such as renegotiating the contracts national companies sign with those governments in order to operate in their territories.

Internet providers only do what they do because they are permitted to, and even then they often step outside the bounds of what’s acceptable — which is why rules like net neutrality are needed. But first people have to speak out.


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AT&T’s CEO of Communications, John Donovan, to retire in October – gpgmail


John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, announced today his plans to retire effective October 1, 2019. Donovan has for the past two years led AT&T’s largest business unit, which services 100 million mobile, broadband and pay-TV customers in the U.S., as well as millions of business customers, including nearly all the Fortune 1000.

The news comes amid several big changes in that business unit itself, and more in the broader telecom industry.

For starters, AT&T had just rebranded its over-the-top streaming service DIRECTV NOW to AT&T TV NOW, and  just last week rolled out a brand-new TV service, AT&T TV, in 10 test markets.

While DIRECTV NOW (aka AT&T TV NOW) is meant to compete with other over-the-top streaming services like Dish’s Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV and others, the new AT&T TV is a more conventional — though still “over-the-top” — option that can work with any broadband connection.

However, it locks in customers to two-year contracts, requires a set-top box and has packages that range from $60-$80 per month, much like a traditional TV subscription.

Elsewhere at AT&T, its WarnerMedia division is working a streaming service of its own, HBO Max, which is meant to battle more directly with premium offerings, like Disney+ or Apple TV+, for example. AT&T also operates a low-cost streaming service, Watch TV.

And the company continues to offer pay-TV offerings like DIRECTV (satellite service) and U-verse (cable).

It seems AT&T is due to consolidate these efforts at some point, and Donovan’s departure could signal some changes on that front, perhaps. Plus, as The WSJ reported, Donovan and WarnerMedia head John Stankey had a strained relationship at times. That could because HBO Max will end up competing with other AT&T offerings and services, the report suggested.

In addition to its various streaming ambitions, AT&T is also starting to roll out 5G, a move Donovan spearheaded. The company is also preparing for competition from new players, including what arises from a T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and from Dish’s plans to enter the wireless market.

Donovan had been CEO of AT&T Communications for two years, after having joined the company as CTO in 2008. Prior to his CEO role starting in July 2017, he had been promoted to AT&T’s chief strategy officer and group president — AT&T Technology and Operations.

He previously worked at Verisign, Deloitte Consulting and InCode Telecom Group.

Donovan, 58, was nearing the company’s retirement age of 60, but his departure was still unexpected, The WSJ also said.

“It’s been my honor to lead AT&T Communications during a period of unprecedented innovation and investment in new technology that is revolutionizing how people connect with their worlds,” said John Donovan, in a statement. “All that we’ve accomplished is a credit to the talented women and men of AT&T, and their passion for serving our customers. I’m looking forward to the future – spending more time with my family and watching with pride as the AT&T team continues to set the pace for the industry.”

“JD is a terrific leader and a tech visionary who helped drive AT&T’s leadership in connecting customers, from our 5G, fiber and FirstNet buildouts, to new products and platforms, to setting the global standard for software-defined networks,” added Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and CEO. “He led the way in encouraging his team to continuously innovate and develop their skill sets for the future. We greatly appreciate his many contributions to our company’s success and his untiring dedication to serving customers and making our communities better. JD is a good friend, and I wish him and his family all the best in the years ahead.”

Disclosure: gpgmail is owned by Verizon by way of Verizon Media Services. This does not influence our reporting. 


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Satellite internet startup Astranis books first commercial launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 – gpgmail


Y Combinator-backed startup Astranis is now set to launch its first commercial telecommunication satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, with a launch timeframe currently set for sometime starting in the fourth quarter of next year. Astranis aims to address the market of people who don’t currently have broadband internet access, which is still a huge number globally, and they hope to do so using low-cost satellites that massively undercut the price of existing global telecommunications hardware, which can be built and launched much faster than existing spacecraft, too.

Astranis satellites are much more cost efficient because they’re smaller and easier to make, which changes the economics of deployment for potential carrier and connectivity provider partners. Its approach has already attracted the partnership of Microcom subsidiary Pacific Dataport, an Anchorage company that was formed to expand satellite broadband access in Alaska. This will be the goal of the company’s first launch with SpaceX, to deliver a single satellite to geostationary orbit that will add more than 7.5 Gbps of capacity to the internet provider’s network in Alaska, tripling capacity and potentially reducing costs by “up to three times,” according to Astranis.

This isn’t the first ever satellite that Astranis has sent up to space – it launched a demonstration satellite in 2018 to show that its tech could work as advertised. Astranis’ approach is distinct from others attempting to offer satellite-based connectivity, including SpaceX’s own Starlink project, because it focuses on building satellites that remain in a fixed orbital position relative to the area on the ground where they’re providing service, as opposed to using a large constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites that offer coverage because one or more are bound to be over the coverage area at any given time as they orbit the Earth, handing off connections from one to the next.


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No One Knows How Many US Homes, Businesses Lack Broadband Access


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How many Americans can’t buy home broadband because no ISP offers service in their area? You might think the answer to this question would be straightforward. The FCC releases reports on the state of US networks (wireless and wireline) on a regular basis, including the number of US citizens, principally in rural areas, who lack broadband service.

Unfortunately, there’s good reason to believe that the FCC’s data is wrong. That’s the conclusion of a report, conducted on behalf of the FCC, which studied this problem. The Broadband Mapping Initiative was launched in April 2019 by CostQuest, a research firm working on behalf of US Telecom. US Telecom is an industry lobby group made up of bigwigs like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, and Verizon. The project studied broadband deployments in two states: Virginia and Missouri — to determine whether or not the FCC’s previous method of estimating how many US homes lacked broadband was undercounting the total. The answer: Almost certainly yes.

The Impact of a Lousy Measuring Method

Knowing how many US citizens can purchase affordable broadband is critical to understanding whether citizens can access the tools required for modern life. If state and federal governments don’t know which communities or areas lack service, they can’t create projects to target them for improvement. Unfortunately, the FCC has historically allowed ISPs to report whether a location was served using census block data. If one home or business in a census block could be serviced by the company, the company is allowed to claim that the entire census block can be serviced by the company.

This logically raises another question: How large is a census block? There’s no uniform answer. In cities, a census block might be one city block. In rural areas, they can be much larger. Some census blocks have zero population; others might be entirely populated by a single large apartment building. This approach to data set building might have made sense decades ago, but today we have far more precise tools at our disposal. The image below shows 10 census blocks that would be considered covered under the current categorization system:

Broadband-Service-Current

Now, here’s how much service is actually provided in each of those blocks:

Broadband-Service-New

That’s a whole lot of “Uncovered” in the “Covered” zone.

The term “fabric” refers to the new system US Telecom built for measuring which addresses were actually served for broadband. What the report found collectively is that 38 percent of the rural areas in Virginia and Missouri that supposedly have broadband service…actually don’t. At all. 61 percent of rural locations supposedly served weren’t actually in the proper location. Twenty-five percent of the supposedly served locations were actually more than 100 meters from where they were supposed to be. Twenty-three percent of the locations were attached to the wrong census block.

In Missouri, 9 percent of non-rural locations and 36 percent of rural locations lacked service. In Virginia, 12 percent of non-rural and 39 percent of rural locations were unserviced. Overall broadband availability data was wrong in 48 percent of rural blocks.

Fabric-Report

It isn’t clear exactly how big the gap is nationwide, but these findings suggest the number of people without broadband could be significantly larger than the FCC’s official estimate of 21.3 million people. A total of 445,0000 homes and businesses in Missouri and Virginia that are currently counted as having broadband access are now estimated to lack it. Expand that nationwide, and it’s going to give a much more accurate picture of who does and doesn’t have broadband. It’s also virtually certain to mean we’ve done a much worse job extending coverage than people think we have.

But if you think about it, this actually makes sense. I’ve known more than one person who moved and suddenly found themselves unable to get broadband access, despite previous assurances of service at the new address from their own ISP. Stories periodically surface of ISPs telling rural homeowners to pay tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for new fiber pulls. I’ve met people who can’t buy broadband at their homes and rely on expensive cellular wireless for internet access, or use satellite service with its awful latency. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but these stories surface on a semi-regular basis. It may not be a common issue, strictly speaking, but it clearly is a problem. Hopefully building better data sets will help solve it.

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FCC approves $4.9B in funding for rural broadband improvements – gpgmail


The FCC has just approved nearly five billion dollars in subsidies for rural broadband operators to be paid out over the next ten years. Recipients of this windfall will have to “maintain, improve, and expand” their broadband infrastructure, especially in underserved areas.

Carriers in 39 states, American Samoa, and many tribal lands will receive varying amounts of funding depending on the number of people they serve, the cost of providing that service, and so on. Naturally states with more people in rural areas receive more cash — you can see how your state made out in the chart below.

To be clear, this isn’t some spontaneous cash drop by the FCC; it has to decide how to distribute the funds it receives from fees and such, and one of the major efforts underway these days is improving rural broadband. But the specifics of how to disburse billions over a decade, who qualifies, how to verify their qualification and compliance with the terms — it’s a complex process and must be negotiated and approved, as this program eventually was.

It’s different, by the way, than CAF II and other funds, which are also directed at rural broadband but different methods, for example working directly with municipalities or contractors. I’ve asked the FCC for a bit more detail and will update if I hear back.

Rural carriers often have higher costs for deployment and maintenance, and have to pass that cost on to their subscribers. Considering rural broadband often has lower speed and reliability than urban connection, these poor folks end up paying more for less. The fund is meant to defray those costs, both for carrier and subscriber. If Uncle Sam is paying half the bill to roll out new fiber, that means the bottom line for Joe Six-Megabit goes down a bit too (ideally). Sure, it’s kind of trickle-down economics, but it doesn’t have to trickle far.

North and South Dakota are getting the lion’s share of the fund, with a combined $1.3 billion headed their way, and some 96,000 homes and businesses to be served. That’s an average of about $13,000 per site over ten years, or $114 per month per site. Sounds reasonable when you work it out that way — this isn’t just a subsidy but an investment.

Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas all are getting quite a bit as well, but don’t be jealous if you’re in, say, California, which is only getting $13 million over a decade to serve 1,300 new sites. There’s plenty of internet money swirling around California — it’s places that have more land than cash that the FCC needs to help out.

Here’s the full list of amounts and locations:


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Comcast’s $10 internet plan opens up to all low-income and disabled Americans – gpgmail


Low-income families face the same issues the luckier among us do when it comes to getting broadband: few options and fewer still that are affordable. Comcast, though simultaneously the source of many of these issues, has a good program for anyone facing financial hardship, and several new groups now qualify for $10 connectivity.

The “Internet Essentials” program has for several years now offered cheap internet to the economically disadvantaged and other groups who need a helping hand. It has connected some two million households so far and may connect plenty more under the new, expanded eligibility options the company just announced.

Essentially if you’re the beneficiary of any of a bunch of financial aid programs from the government, or are disabled, or a low-income household, you’re eligible. You can apply here for free.

Previously you were eligible under a dozen or so of those programs, but today Comcast announced that the following groups are newly able to take advantage of the program:

  • Persons with disabilities
  • Seniors on Medicaid
  • All low-income adults (defined as 38% above the poverty line in your area)

That last one probably makes a lot of people eligible who might not have participated in one of the other programs, like the National School Lunch Program or Section 8 housing. If you’re low income, get on in there.

In case you’re not quite sure of your exact income, you’re also welcome if you take part in any of the following assistance programs:

  • Medicaid
  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP, free and reduced-price lunch)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps)
  • HUD housing assistance and Section 8
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare)
  • Supplemental Security Income (social security)
  • Head Start or Early Head Start
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Tribal assistance (TTANF and FDPIR)
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • VA pension

Any of these should qualify you for $10 (plus applicable taxes and fees — probably a couple bucks) broadband. You also can apply for a $150 computer, but I’m not sure I’d recommend whatever they’re selling. Cheap laptops are pretty easy to find, so ask around before you go in on Comcast’s house brand.

Just to make sure expectations are in line with reality here, this is a 5-megabit connection, meaning it doesn’t really even qualify as “broadband” under current definitions. But you’ll be able to stream music, play games, do most web stuff and watch YouTube perfectly fine. Just be ready to buffer a bit if you want to watch Netflix in HD. There’s also a 1-terabyte data cap, so 4K all day probably isn’t a good idea.

Good on Comcast for offering this (and rare it is the company deserves kudos). It’s more comprehensive than other low-income connection options from AT&T, Cox and so on, though if they’re the monopoly in your area, you might not have a choice. At least the programs exist — there’s a pretty good list here. Be sure to ask your provider if they have one before you decide to pay full price.


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