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