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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Pete Buttigieg echoes Warren with $80B rural broadband plan – gpgmail


Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg has unveiled his plan to address the broadband gap in this country: an $80 billion “Internet for All” initiative and set of related reforms. It echoes Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) announcement last week, which is, generally speaking, a good thing.

It’s detailed in a document entitled “Investing in an American Asset: Unleashing the Potential of Rural America,” which feels like it may rub people the wrong way. It seems to imply that rural America is an “asset” to the rest of America, and that its potential has not yet been unleashed. But that’s just a tone thing.

There are a number of programs in there worth looking at if you’re interested in the economy of rural areas and how it might be spurred or revitalized (for instance paying teachers better), but the internet access portion is the most relevant for tech.

Buttigieg’s main promise is to “expand access to all currently unserved and underserved communities,” including a “public option” where private companies have failed to provide coverage.

That gets broken down into a few sub-goals. First is to revamp the way we measure and track broadband access, since the current system “is inaccurate and perpetuates inequity.” It’s important this isn’t overlooked in anyone’s plan, since this is how we officially make decisions like where to spend federal dollars on connectivity.

Like Warren, Buttigieg wants to remove the impediments to public and municipal broadband options that have been put in place over the years. This will allow “community-driven broadband networks, such as public-private partnerships, rural co-ops or municipally owned broadband networks” to move forward without legal challenges. A new Broadband Incubator Office will help roll these out, and the $80 billion will help bankroll them.

Net neutrality gets a bullet point as well — “Given the FCC’s volatility on this issue, Pete believes that legislation will ultimately be necessary,” the document reads. That’s frank, and while Warren and others have spoken out in favor of an FCC solution, it is likely that legislation will eventually come around and hopefully solve the issue once and for all.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the first to make net neutrality a campaign promise, though most of the candidates have expressed support for the rule in the past.

The plan is a little less specific than Warren’s, but the truth is any plan involving this amount of money and complexity is going to necessarily be a bit vague at first. Demonstrating priorities and openness to ideas and methods is the important part, as well as throwing out a giant number like $80 billion. The specifics are unlikely to see much debate until one of these people is in the Oval Office.

“To ensure greater opportunity for all, we must make a massive investment in Internet access” summarizes the Buttigieg plan pretty well. You can read the full plan here or below.

Pete Buttigieg Rural Economy by gpgmail on Scribd


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Warren makes $85B federally funded broadband promise – gpgmail


As part of her bid for the presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has made some bold proposals to improve access to broadband in underserved areas, and has made it clear that restoring net neutrality is also among her priorities. She proposes $85 billion to cover the enormous costs of making sure “every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford.”

The proposal is part of a greater plan to “invest in rural America” that Sen. Warren detailed in a blog post. As well as promises relating to healthcare, housing and labor, the presidential hopeful dedicated a section to “A Public Option for Broadband.”

This isn’t “broadband as utility,” as some have called for over the years, but rather a massive subsidy program to multiply and diversify internet services in rural areas, hopefully bringing them to the speeds and reliability available in cities.

Before announcing her own plan, she criticized the outcomes of earlier subsidies, like the FCC’s $2 billion Connect America Fund II:

[ISPs] have deliberately restricted competition, kept prices high, and used their armies of lobbyists to convince state legislatures to ban municipalities from building their own public networks. Meanwhile, the federal government has shoveled billions of taxpayer dollars to private ISPs in an effort to expand broadband to remote areas, but those providers have done the bare minimum with these resources — offering internet speeds well below the FCC minimum.

Her alternative is to shovel billions to everyone but ISPs to improve internet infrastructure.

“Only electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, counties, and other state subdivisions will be eligible for grants from this fund,” she wrote, “and all grants will be used to build the fiber infrastructure necessary to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas, underserved areas, or areas with minimal competition.”

By paying 90% of the costs of rolling out fiber and other costs, the federal government allows smaller businesses and utilities to get in on the fun rather than leaving it all to megacorporations like Comcast and Verizon. (Disclosure: gpgmail is owned by Verizon through Verizon Media. Our parent company is almost certain to be dead set against Warren’s plan.)

Not only that, but it directly targets use by municipal broadband organizations, which have formed in some states and cities in response to ISP chokeholds on the region. These organizations have been rendered illegal or toothless across half the country by legislation often supported or even proposed by ISPs and telecoms. Sen. Warren said she would preempt state laws on this matter using federal legislation, something that would no doubt be controversial.

Applicants would have to offer at least one 100/100 megabit connection option, and one discount plan for low-income customers. This would ensure that companies don’t take the money and then lay down the bare minimum connection tolerable today.

The $85 billion fund will be administered by the Department of Economic Development, part of the Department of Commerce, under a newly minted Office of Broadband Access; $5 billion will be set aside for full-cost coverage of broadband expansion on Native American lands, which are often worse off than non-Native rural areas.

To be clear, this internet effort would not mean a government-run broadband option, even in the municipal case (these are often nonprofits or private entities funded by governments). The plan is to help small companies and organizations overcome the prohibitive cost of entry and jump-start them into actual operation. The government would not operate the service or have any control over it other than, as mentioned, at the outset as far as requiring certain capacities and such.

In addition to the plan for a publicly funded broadband push, Sen. Warren made it clear (as Sen. Sanders did last week) that she would be appointing FCC commissioners who support net neutrality, specifically as it was enacted in 2015 under Title II.

The FCC’s inaccurate broadband maps and progress reports will also get a kick in the pants under Warren’s plan, though the specifics are few. And “anti-competitive behaviors” like under-the-table deals between ISPs and landlords will be rooted out, as well.

These are big promises and of course easy to make ahead of election, but they’re also smart ones, directly addressing frustrations in the industry and parts of the process currently dominated by immovable ISPs and their lobbyists. And the fact that these issues are being addressed so prominently at all as part of a presidential bid is good news to those currently on the wrong side of the digital divide.


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Bernie Sanders makes reinstating net neutrality a campaign promise – gpgmail


Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has made reinstating net neutrality via FCC appointments one of his campaign promises, The Daily Dot reported today. He is far from alone among the Democratic presidential candidates in supporting the policy, but appears to be the first to make it part of his election campaign.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Senator told The Daily Dot:

When Bernie Sanders is president, he will appoint FCC commissioners who will reinstate net neutrality protections and make sure that giant corporations treat all content and traffic equally.

I’ve contacted the Sanders campaign for confirmation and further information, and will update this post if I hear back.

Sanders has supported net neutrality consistently when it has come up over the years, speaking out for it when it was established in 2015’s Open Internet Order and speaking against the FCC’s order overturning it.

Revamping the FCC’s lineup isn’t something he could do instantly; commissioners serve five-year terms, though the newest appointees are the Democrats forming the majority of the five-person commission, so the next president will have the ability to choose a new Democratic commissioner when one of the Republicans leaves. (It’s likely that Chairman Pai would leave his position if a Democrat was elected president.)

Legislation and executive action are other options for addressing the net neutrality issue; lawmakers are actively pursuing the former, though any bill can be considered dead on arrival in the Senate right now, since Republican legislators are mostly against net neutrality, and it would likely be vetoed even if it passed through Congress.

Among the other Democratic presidential frontrunners, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have both been vocal supporters of net neutrality, as well.

“Under this administration the FCC has become a puppet for giant internet providers,” said Warren in a speech on the floor last year in favor of a measure that would have rolled back the latest FCC rules. “If the FCC will not stand up for the public interest, it’s up to Congress to do so. But it’ll take this Republican-controlled Congress prying itself free from the grip of giant companies and doing what’s right for the American people.”

Sen. Harris told the FCC in her official comment on Restoring Internet Freedom:

Broadband providers must not be allowed to tilt the competitive playing field by blocking or throttling their competitors, prioritizing their own offerings, or otherwise unreasonably interfering with lawful content. Title II of the Communications Act is currently the only legal basis for establishing those vital protections for America’s consumers and businesses, and so I also urge the Commission to maintain that legal foundation

I won’t list their comments exhaustively, but Andrew Yang, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Pete Buttigieg and others have been on the record historically or lately as supporting net neutrality and have taken various actions to promote it or voted for legislation to restore it.

The major outlier among all these is Joe Biden, who has spoken against certain forms of net neutrality in the past, but also was present for the Obama-prioritized push to instate it during the duo’s second term. The issue and situation was different in 2006 and 2007, but it’s hard to give the guy a pass just because it was a few years ago — especially when the first thing he did after announcing his bid for the presidency was to hold a fundraiser hosted by a Comcast executive.

While it’s never safe to assume anything, it seems highly likely that any of these candidates, should they be elected, would take the steps Sanders describes. But it’s notable that Sanders is the first to make it official.


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