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Why It Matters

This page is a rant against the poor broadband speeds, unavailable static IP addresses, ridiculous "acceptable use policies", and draconian "inbound email policies" of most ISPs I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with.

The narrow view of these problems is that they are annoying encumbrances to people (like me) who spend too much of their time messing with computers. Hardly cause for grave concern.

However, it is clear that encouraging broadband Internet affordability and adoption is good for society. Pervasive, fast Internet access encourages the creation of high tech jobs, enables telecommuting / teleconferencing, teaches computer literacy to the next generation and encourages innovation to improve our lifestyles. Every industrial nation except the United States has an explicit national policy promoting the adoption of broadband (source). In the 21st century, a country's broadband infrastructure will become as critical as its transportation infrastructure.

Poor Broadband Speeds

Did you know that the typical South Korean broadband connection is over eight times faster than the average US broadband connection? Did you also know that in South Korea over 80 percent of households have access to Internet connections of 20mbps or faster (source). It's not only South Korea that is pulling away from the United States in the categories of broadband availability and speed. The US ranks 13th in the world in broadband adoption. (source). Given this, is it any surprise that the US is slipping in the ranks of the world's highest-tech countries?

Let's not talk about governments, rankings and politics. Let's talk specifics: I live in Kirkland, Washington... near several technology companies (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Real) and the city of Seattle. Yet the best speed broadband solution I can find for my home is a DSL line leased from Verizon with a data transfer rate of 300k/s down and 70k/s up.

I'm lucky, though. There are many places in the US that have no access to broadband at all. In 2005, 20% of households in the US had no available broadband connection (however slow) of any kind. (source).

If the United States wants to foster a high tech workforce to compete in the "Information Age" then it needs to address this issue. Revolutionary things become possible when there is a ubiquitous, high-speed data network available. But great ideas like video conferencing, telecommuting, entertainment on demand, distributed data backup, etc... require both network speed and availability.

Ridiculous "Acceptable Use Policies"

Would you buy telephone service that restricted what you could use the line for? Or one that limited you to a certain number of calls per month? Of course not.

But if you read most Internet service "acceptable use" statements you will find that they have restrictions similar to the ones I just described. For example, most forbid you from running "servers of any kind" on your machine. Some have clauses against "excessive network usage" (but do not define what this means). What other kind of utility advertises "unlimited use" and then restricts what you can really do with your connection if you read the fine print? None that I know of.

Unavailable Static IP Addresses

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous section. Internet service providers, in an attempt to curtail what you can do with the connection they sell you, make it very difficult to get a static IP address for your machine. A static IP address is like a phone number for your computer that never changes. What most people (including me) are forced to settle for is a DHCP IP address. This is like a phone number that changes every couple of days.

Why does it matter? Well, it doesn't as long as you are always "calling out" to other people. But if you run a mail or webserver on your machine people will want to "call in" to you. ISPs make this hard because they want to discourage such behavior.

At present my only option for getting a static IP address is from Verizon. They require a business telephone line (which costs over $40/mo) before you even qualify to spend an extra $10/mo to get a static IP address with your DSL connection. Needless to say I don't do this.

You might wonder why the ISPs care if you have a little website on your computer. Unless you're site is very popular they should not care about the traffic it causes. I believe that the problem is that they want to sell you web hosting and design solutions for a premium price. The roles of service providing utility and web/email hosting company seem to be at odds and constitute a conflict of interest, in my opinion.

Draconian Email Policies

Several ISPs have implemented "inbound email policies" such as this one that contain clauses that summarily deny any email that originates from an IP address in a dynamic IP address range. In my opinion this policy is contrary to the spirit of email and the Internet.

This is censorship and it's needless -- modern email filters are capable of identifying spam with very good precision. However this restriction causes me to have to use webmail accounts or ISP-approved mail servers (and accounts) to send outbound mail to people because most ISPs reject inbound mail from my machine as "spam" simply because it originates in a range of dynamic IP addresses. Legitimate email communications are summarily blocked.

I would also like to run my own mail server on my own machine because then I don't have to worry about disk quotas and I can tune my own spam filtering rules. Of course, running my own mail server to accept inbound email voilates every acceptable use policy I've read and is complicated by the unavailability of static IP addresses.

The Options

For the record, here are the options available in the Kirkland, WA area as of 2007:

  1. Verizon DSL: My present ISP. 300k/sec down and 70k/sec up. Draconian use policy and DHCP only (without business phone service and a lot of extra money). They are also in the middle of rolling out fiber to homes in some areas which is a great step forward in bandwidth speed. Keep it up! Their use policy leaves a lot to be desired, though:
    "...2. Verizon reserves the right to deny Service to you, or immediately to terminate your Service for material breach, if your use of the Service... and in the sole discretion of Verizon: (a) is obscene, indecent, pornographic... (d) is objectionable for any reason, or (e) in any manner violates the terms of this Acceptable Use Policy...

    3. You may NOT use the Service as follows: ... (n) to generate excessive amounts (as determined by Verizon in its sole discretion) of Internet traffic... (dd) for customer who have been assigned a dynamic IP address to use such IP address to circumvent the changing of IP addresses assigned by the Service or at a time."

    To Verizon's credit, they have never bothered me about hosting my own small website on my machine... whether this is because they don't care or don't notice, though, I do not know.

  2. Earthlink DSL: My previous ISP. 90k/sec down and 20k/sec up. No static IP address available despite advertising it. Somewhat restrictive use policy clauses:
    "n. Long Connections and Multiple Logins. Using a personal account for high volume or commercial use is prohibited. The Services are intended for periodic, active use of email, newsgroups, file transfers, Internet chat, games, and browsing the World Wide Web. Members may stay connected so long as they are actively using that connection for the above purposes. Members may not use the Services on a standby or inactive basis in order to maintain a connection...

    o. Exceeding Web Site Size and Traffic Limitations: All EarthLink Members receive free webspace for use with their EarthLink Internet access account. Each member's free webspace is allocated a certain amount of traffic per month..."

  3. Clearwire WiMax: Never tried them but according to my research their service is unreliable. Restrictive use policy
    "The Service is intended for periodic, active use. You may not use the Services on a standby or inactive basis in order to maintain a connection...

    ...you may not use the Service or take any action, directly or indirectly, that will result in excessive consumption or utilization of the system or network resources, or which may weaken network performance, as determined in Clearwire."

  4. Comcast Cable: I used them a long time ago... good speeds but the same draconian policies as everyone else:
    "...use or distribute tools designed or used for compromising security, such as password guessing programs, decoders, password gatherers, unauthorized keystroke loggers, analyzers, cracking tools, packet sniffers, encryption circumvention devices, or Trojan Horse programs. Network probing or port scanning tools are only permitted when used in conjunction with a residential home network, or if explicitly authorized by the destination host and/or network. Unauthorized port scanning, for any reason, is strictly prohibited...

    ...connect multiple computers behind the cable modem to set up a LAN (Local Area Network) that in any manner would result in a violation of the terms of this Policy or an applicable Service plan;...

    ...run programs, equipment, or servers from the Premises that provide network content or any other services to anyone outside of your Premises LAN (Local Area Network), also commonly referred to as public services or servers. Examples of prohibited services and servers include, but are not limited to, e-mail, Web hosting, file sharing, and proxy services and servers;...

    Comcast may provide versions of the Service with different speeds and bandwidth usage limitations, among other characteristics, subject to applicable Service plans. You shall ensure that your use of the Service does not restrict, inhibit, interfere with, or degrade any other user's use of the Service, nor represent (in the sole judgment of Comcast) an overly large burden on the network... You further agree to comply with all Comcast network, bandwidth, and data storage and usage limitations. You shall ensure that your bandwidth consumption using the Service does not exceed the limitations that are now in effect or may be established in the future. If your use of the Service results in the consumption of bandwidth in excess of the applicable limitations, that is a violation of this Policy. In such cases, Comcast may, in its sole discretion, terminate or suspend your Service account or request that you subscribe to a version of the Service with higher bandwidth usage limitations if you wish to continue to use the Service at higher bandwidth consumption levels.

    In addition, you may only access and use the Service with a dynamic Internet Protocol ("IP") address that adheres to the dynamic host configuration protocol ("DHCP"). You may not configure the Service or any related equipment to access or use a static IP address or use any protocol other than DHCP unless you are subject to a Service plan that expressly permits otherwise."

    Comcast has recently started enforcing these policies by suspending users it calls "bandwidth hogs". However Comcast does not define what a "bandwidth hog" is or how much data bandwidth use is "acceptable". One person who was cut off by Comcast reported that Comcast's tech support division and "security" division do not communicate -- the tech support knew nothing about the bandwidth consumption warning and suggested it was a prank call. Comcastic!

  5. SpeakEasy T1: I used to have SpeakEasy DSL and it was great: good speeds and a reasonable use policy. However when I moved a couple of years ago I found myself "out of range" for their DSL. The only option is a T1 which is out of my price range. The SpeakEasy I dealt with was a great company... recently they were bought by Best Buy. It remains to be seen whether the company I knew will survive.
email.html was last updated 19 July 2013 and is Copyright (C) 2002-2015 by Scott Gasch (scott.gasch@gmail.com).