Category Archives: Tech Talk

WiFi vs Internet. Wait, what?

Grandpa, tell me about the good ole days…
Once upon a time, there was a product called “Internet” that service providers, such as the company I work for, provided.  It was fast, reliable, and easy to support.  Customers would buy it and plug their computers in. If they were savvy enough, they would even buy a wireless router, plug it in and set it up per the instructions they got with that router.
But I don’t want Internet, I want WAAHFAAAAAH!
Now, no one shops for Internet. I worked for another company a few years ago. The owner was good friends with a guy in town.  He found out this friend didn’t have our service. Offended, he asked his friend “Why don’t you have my internet?”  His friend’s reply:  “Because the phone company has WiFi, and I need WiFi.”  The guy had NO clue.
People nowadays don’t know what Internet is, thanks to (of all things) the Internet.  We service providers have to advertise it as something else just so they don’t overlook us. We have to call it WiFi.  WiFi isn’t the Internet, but you can’t tell the average consumer this.
What’s wrong with this?
When you sell Internet, that’s easy to support.  If a customer can’t get online, it’s either the internet connection to their home is broken, the modem is broken, or the customer needs to troubleshoot their equipment inside their home.  End of story (should be, anyway).
When you sell and label your product “WiFi”, the airwaves that you can’t control, the devices they can’t put the right password into, and the printer they use twice a year all of the sudden become your (Yes, YOUR – Mr Internet Service Provider) responsibility. Here are some common examples:
Someone puts in a 2.4ghz baby monitor, or the church next door buys 2.4ghz wireless mics interfering with the signal and next thing you know:  “The WiFi is broken – call the cable company!”
OR Someone puts the WiFi router next to the microwave oven, and Johnny’s Fortnite game crashes when Susie heats up some mac and cheese, then a phone call hits our dispatch voicemail with “that Dad-blanged Cable company needs to get out here NOW and fix our WiFi!”
As a service provider, you are forced to do one of two things.  1) Sell the internet, package it with a WiFI router, call it WiFi.  Sales go through the roof, but be ready to deal with all the complaints because of WiFi’s inherent weak points or  2) Sell the internet, tell customers it includes a WiFi router, and try to educate them on what all that means.  Still get the complaints because “my WiFi worked fine with XYZ.com” (even though they told you when they switched, they had nothing but trouble with XYZ’s crappy WiFi).
The answer, in my opinion, is customer education AND marketing.  You have to advertise WiFi somehow, or they won’t know what you’re selling.  You also HAVE to tell customers you are selling internet with a WiFi router that will only be as good as the environment and devices it’s placed with.
Herein lies another issue  
The other providers are putting in modem/router combos.  The customer might for some reason have had better luck with that unit than yours.   However, you also know that if the customer has a 4000sf home, the basic wireless N combination modem/router is probably not going to be enough.  They expect the ISP to handle it all.  The right product is a modem (remember those, from the good ole’ days?), and a Mesh WiFi system to distribute signal throughout their home.  But that requires us investing 3x as much (or more) than the modem/router combination unit, and convincing the customer they need to pay a higher equipment fee for it.  Then there’s the risk of 6 months down the road, the customer will get an ad from XYZ.com (remember them?) for 1/3 of what they are paying, not mentioning their speeds are 1/3 of what they are paying for.  The customer forgets that it’s the same crappy company they left 6 months ago, and because you couldn’t give this fancy mesh router out for free, writes up a bad review because you “ripped them off” because their video game wouldn’t go online sometime in the middle of the night 2 months ago,  leaves your company. Not only do they leave, they keep your $300 mesh router and make you have to send them to collections nailing the coffin that they’ll never come back.
Consumers need to be educated!
ISP’s need people to spread the word.  We control everything to the modem.  Everything beyond it, what connects to it, etc is not in our control.  Consumers should invest in their own infrastructure.  The power company doesn’t care if you don’t have enough amperage to your kitchen to power your fridge, nor would you expect them to care (I hope?).  They just care that they are providing enough to the side of your house.
Big companies advertise “The fastest WiFi available” and “The Most Reliable WiFi”. There’s no such thing.  WiFi is not controllable. It’s an open radio frequency.
Just think “CB RADIO.”  Remember that?  People could talk over each other, florescent lights interfered, etc?  That’s EXACTLY what happens on Wifi.  Consumers need to get used to the fact it is that way, and it will only get worse, the more people use WiFi around them.
That’s my rant for the day.
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Cable vs Satellite – Which is the best deal?

You see the deals every day on TV and receive the post cards in the mail: “Switch to satellite and pay only $24.95/month.” But is it true?

The average Cable bill in the US is about $60/month plus tax according to FCC studies. The last cable company and current cable company I work for are about $50 plus taxes and fees for the “Expanded Basic” package.

In Cable, there are two tiers everyone gets when they sign up for cable. Basic – usually channels 2-23 on the dial (which is where your locals, educational, and shopping channels reside), and Expanded Basic. Expanded Basic is the tier where core channels as defined by the various programming providers are grouped. Contrary to popular belief, the programming providers (Discovery, Disney-ESPN, Viacom, Turner) are the ones who dictate what majority of your channels are in your lineup. The local cable provider has little choice in this. Usually Basic + Expanded is about 60 channels plus the HD Simulcasts of those channels, and about 40 digital music channels.

For most cable providers, no additional equipment is required to get this lineup, just a digital cable-ready TV Set.

Now let’s look at satellite providers. Their $24.99 deal they offer is their lowest-priced package and includes 120-190 channels. Look at their lineup, and you’ll see these channels include music channels, HD Simulcasts, West Coast duplicates of the same channels, and “filler” channels that add to the totals. Look closer, and you’ll notice core channels missing that your cable lineup does NOT include. You have to buy a pricier package to get them.

Taking about 10 minutes and going to Dish and DirecTV’s websites can tell you more. I did it, and found out DirecTV’s Entertainment package being offered at $24.95 was not $24.95. Add “Advanced Receiver fees” for 3 sets (even though they claimed the boxes were free) and the price quickly jumps to within a couple bucks of the Expanded Basic package we sell at CCC. After the first year, the bill jumps to over $70, then goes to over $90/month plus tax after the contract is up. Dish’s price jump isn’t as extreme but you’ll still pay over $75 for the “Top 120” after the contract is up. Rest assured, though, you most likely won’t get the channels you want for even that price. You’ll have to upgrade to a higher package and your savings you expected to get by switching to dish are out the window.

It pays to look at all of the details before you accept service from a satellite provider. Doing it online seems to give you a better story in writing, rather than calling. They won’t even talk to you without giving up your social security number anyway. Then they’ll skirt around the truth and not really tell you how much it is going to be. Once you take the service, you are locked into a contract for 2 years even if the “promo deals” expire during that period.

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Retransmission Consent Abuse

I have to warn you.  This is a political call to action.

First time I heard of Retransmission fees, was in 2006 when I was minding my own business as a network admin here at CCC.   I kept seeing crawls on the TV screen and hearing customer service reps be barraged by calls from concerned customers who wanted to keep their local stations.  Since then, I’ve watched as cable companies all over get hammered by increased fees and stringent terms as these corporations that own large cable companies force their new cash-cow down consumer’s throats.  As of 2012, retransmission fees increased over $2.6BILLION and is going higher.  TV stations are ordering cable providers all over the country to remove their signal because they refuse to sign their so-called “Deals” that increase fees by over 100%.

Yes, I’m against the Retransmission Consent laws as they are used today.  Enacted in 1992, Retransmission Consent was a rule that allowed local broadcasters to require permission for cable tv companies to carry their signal, and require a fee to do so. Prior to this, everything was “must carry” which meant if you were in coverage area of that station’s market, your cable tv operator was required to carry the station.

I’m not hostile towards free enterprise. I’m against double standards.  Broadcast TV has always been free to anyone who wanted it in the station’s coverage area.  Local stations are free if you can get their signal.  However, what if you don’t have a big antenna that can reliably pick up your local station? If you have cable for other channels, would you want to switch boxes or inputs just to see your local channels?  I used to live 30 miles from the Louisville TV station’s towers and struggled with their signal. Now I live 100 miles from Little Rock, which is also our DMA (Designated Market Area) and there’s no chance of getting local stations from there.  Since the only way I’ll get those stations are via cable or satellite, I have to pay a company to bring me the signal.  Because of Retransmission Consent fees, however, the cable tv operator or satellite operator has to pay the broadcasters a fee so they can legally provide their FREE channel to me.  Like many, I’m all for paying a cable company or satellite provider a fee to build and maintain a way to get me the signal since I’m getting other channels I’m paying to get too.  However I’m not ok paying for a broadcast station that is supposed to be free.

Here’s another way of looking at it.  Say I CAN pick up the stations from Little Rock with an antenna.  I don’t wan’t JUST the broadcast stations, though.  I want Disney, AMC, A&E, Discovery, and so on.  However, I don’t want to pay extra to get broadcast stations.  Because of Broadcast TV’s rules and contracts, my cable provider STILL has to charge me for those local stations because they are required to include them in the basic package.  If I were able to get cable without locals, I would’t even watch locals much, because of the inconvenience of changing inputs on my TV set between cable and antenna.  Then, the rating go away, as I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

To me, Retransmission Consent Fees are strictly a way of making money because of a law that was written due to legislators failure to see in the future.

A Retransmission Consent fee would only be fair to the consumer if the following took place:

  • Over the air broadcast became pay tv in itself (scramble it and require decoders to force viewers to pay)
  • Cable providers were allowed to provide locals in a tier, giving consumers a choice to have these channels or not
  • Cable providers had local ad insertion rights on those channels to help recuperate from the fees (much like is done with the cable channels broadcast channels feel they are equal to).
  • Broadcast stations were priced based on a local rating system, rather than a network rating system. Not all locals are equal with their news and weather.
  • Broadcast stations were required to break into programming for severe weather in their ENTIRE coverage area – not just their home city and surrounding counties.  Also they would be required to cover news relevant to the entire coverage area.  If this requirement wasn’t kept, there would be a discount on the amount of time the local content was played to level the playing field.
  • Fair negotiations were genuinely fair.  A small cable provider would get rates within 10% of what the other providers in their area pay.
  • Copyright Licensing fees were paid by the station, not the cable/satellite provider.  (Yes, another fee Cable has to pay to provide your “free” over the air channels.)

If Broadcast wants what I’ve heard them call “Their fair share,” they need to play by the rules other pay channels play by in the free market system.  Retransmission consent fees are programming fees, plain and simple.  Either it’s free or it’s not.  It can’t be both ways.

Here’s your call to action.  There is an Act that has been presented by Rep Anna Eshoo on in Capitol Hill. It’s called the Video Choice act. You can find a PDF of it here: http://eshoo.house.gov/uploads/CBO_227_xml.pdf  In general, it’s a good start, and if the above changes could be worked in, it would be much better.  Please, write or call your US Senator or Representative in favor of the Video Choice Act.  If you live in Arkansas, Senator Pryor is key in pushing this through. I know this isn’t as important as the healthcare mess, or the national debt being messed up, but I believe this is something Congress can do that they can actually work together on to fix.

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