How to get fast Wifi without raising our blood pressure?
December 22, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Internet Fury in Brooklyn: We seem to be unable to get a fast internet service in our apartment in Brooklyn; please help me figure out what the problem is.

We've had Time Warner but an Apple modem. For some reason the WiFi has always been problematic, and a call to Apple to try to fix the problem meant $75 per call; and both TW and Apple always said the problem was with the other company. So we abandoned the Apple modem.

Time Warner yesterday came and installed a new modem. The phone rep assured us that Mr. Pipti would not have to give up his Earthlink address. She said "It shouldn't be a problem because you've had the email address longer than you've had Time Warner."

The modem was installed yesterday; this morning, Earthlink account is canceled. We called Time Warner this morning and they said that it's not possible to have an Earhtlink address with this new service; we can have a slower service with maybe (!) the same address if we want.

The speed of this service is only barely adequate and the Wifi still only works in 2 of 3 rooms in a small apartment.

Mr. Pipti is apoplectic. He can't access his email now and he doesn't want to change his email address anyway.

On the (furious) call to Time Warner, they offered a new Roadrunner email; he wrote down the password and login name. It doesn't work.

1) What can we do, immediately, to get the Earthlink address back? I actually think Mr. Pipti would be okay with changing his email address, once he calms down, but for now we need to get it back.

2) Are there any alternatives to Time Warner? We are writers; we work at home; we need the Internet. But non-broken Wifi seems to be literally impossible--we've not had a week of smooth sailing in a year.
posted by pipti to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
I'm a little confused, why are you replacing/troubleshooting the cable modem when it seems to me that the wifi router is the problem? (Does Apple even make modems? Are you actually talking about the Apple Airport wifi router thing?)
posted by Grither at 7:07 AM on December 22, 2010

I can't tell you anything about the earthlink account, but the first step in getting the speed problem sorted out is figuring out a little more about your setup.

Time Warner is cable internet, right? And, as far as I know, Apple does not make cable modems. They do make WiFi routers. The modem is what receives the internet from Time Warner, and the router is what distributes that internet wirelessly to your home. You had a router of some sort, which I imagine you plugged into a cable modem from Time Warner. When you abandoned the Apple router, you received a new modem. If that modem is sending a WiFi signal by itself, it is a combination modem and WiFi router.

What you need to do is figure out whether the problem is with your internet connection from Time Warner or if it is with your WiFi connection on your end. Run an ethernet cable directly from the modem and into your computer. Run an internet speed test (you can Google for this). Note the speed, and disconnect the wire and do the test again on your WiFi connection. Make sure the WiFi network you are connecting to is yours and not a neighbor's. This can be easy to miss. Note if they are the same or different. Compare the results with the speed you're paying for. Post the results and the speed you should be getting here and the hivemind may be able to help you.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:18 AM on December 22, 2010

For the people that want to know exactly what pipti is saying...

When you get Time Warner in NYC, you have the option of getting internet through them, or through Earthlink, but offered through Time Warner. It seems as if pipti started using the Earthlink cable (I think it is faster, and I do the same) but also decided to use the Earthlink email address. [End]

My solution to you? You should never use a stupid Time Warner or Earthlink address in the first place. Always use an email that is not connected to a provider/school/work place/etc. So with the assumption that you are going to go out and get a gmail address (which is probably the best thing you can do, for now and the future). Go out and buy a decent Wifi Router made by Linksys/Cisco. The Apple routers are too user friendly, and in the process make your life even harder (I'm a huge Apple nerd and will never buy an Apple router again, Linksys all the way). Lastly, return whatever Wifi router Time Warner gave you and just ask for whatever service you had back.

Do some tests with the new service while the modem is connected directly to your computer. ( is perfect for this). Then connect your wifi router and connect to the internet over wifi, you should have roughly the same speeds. If that is the case and you still aren't happy with the speed, upgrade your plan with time warner.

The two takeaways:

1. Call earthlink to get your account reinstated, you should be able to eventually access your email through a web portal.

2. Don't blame time warner for your wifi trouble. Get yourself a good router and don't use the one that they give you (and tell them you absolutely don't want a router should they try to give it to you anyway).
posted by darkgroove at 7:22 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

  1. Hook up your computer straight to the modem. (The modem is the small thing your ISP gives you. Last I checked, Apple did not make modems.) Check the performance ( is a good start).
  2. Then hook up the airport to the modem and hook your computer up to the airport with an ethernet cable. (The airport is not a modem, it is a router, and possibly a printer server, file server, etc.) Check the performance.
  3. If you've got problems at this point, go to the store and buy a $30 linksys router (or ask a neighbor to borrow theirs for 10 minutes). If you're not having problems, skip to step four. Repeat with this. If the linksys router works fine, then your airport is wonky. If the router is having issues, then the problem is with the modem.
  4. If you didn't have problems with the airport when using an ethernet cable and the airport router, now use the airport router with a wireless connection. Got problems? Either the airport's wireless portion is borked, your laptop's internal wireless card is borked or you've got some awesome interference going on. Good luck figuring out which one, but you're going to want to use the process of elimination again.
As for the email issue, I'm sorry to hear that. But at the same time, tying your email to your ISP is a very silly thing to do unless you plan on having the same ISP for the rest of your life. (Have you seen how fast the technology world moves?)

If you want a different ISP, check to see if FIOS is in your area. It's in most of Queens and I think the majority of Nassau so I would assume you're covered in Brooklyn, but what do I know about where you live? (Note, when FIOS gives you a modem, it has a router built in, including WiFi. You can add an airport to it and have two routers if you want, but unless there's a special reason you have in mind to do this, don't bother.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:27 AM on December 22, 2010

Seconding darkgroove, but if you get gmail, get Google Apps (free) so you can have your own domain, which also means that if Google decides that they don't want to be in the email business any more or if you decide you don't want to deal with Google any more, you can move your email hosting elsewhere without changing email addresses. Which is the entire problem you're having here.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:33 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry, yes, I meant router, not modem. Things are addled here right now. As for the speed test--before Time Warner came yesterday, the speed was at--I think--9. This was with the cable plugged in. Wifi worked not at all. Now the Wifi is at speed 11, again, I think. The husband ran these tests and he's left the house for the moment.

Darkgroove: you think the Earthlink option is faster? TW said on the phone today that we *could* use the Earthlink option, but that it would *slower.*

Brian: I see what you're saying about not having an email address connected to an ISP. I think a switch to Gmail is in order, for him.

Takeaway: Perhaps the best solution is to switch to Gmail, say so long to the Earthlink address, and hope that this new Time Warner router and service (which seems to be speedy *enough*, though not lightning fast) works out ok. If we have more problems, we can try the Linksys router and perhaps FIOS service? (A social and not technical problem is that we now HATE Time Warner and don't want to give them our business, but a more pressing problem is that we need Internet access and trying out different solutions means more lost time and work.)
posted by pipti at 7:47 AM on December 22, 2010

Well, where I am in Brooklyn (Park Slope), TWC has never been awesome, and it's gotten worse over the years. Next time you call them, ask about their Turbo service- its $10/mo for a modest speed increase, but they comp'd me a year of it.

Check into FIOS availability. Personally, I'm giving up TWC when it reaches our building. It is more expensive, though (about $100/mo), and for that price you can get Time Warner's Wideband, which is their next-gen infrastructure that supposedly has FIOS-level speed (no idea on if it actually delivers on that).

pipti: "Wifi still only works in 2 of 3 rooms in a small apartment"

I do want to emphasize that this is no way Time Warner's fault. WiFi is a finicky beast- have you tried changing the channel your Base Station uses, or moving it to a different location?
posted by mkultra at 9:02 AM on December 22, 2010

9 what? 11 what? megabits per second? Furlongs per fortnight? kilobytes per hour? 11 megabits per second is quite amount of throughput, I'm not sure anyone would consider that slow.

According to TWC's webpage, even getting turbo will only get you 15 megabits per second downstream and not even 1 up. FIOS would be faster. I don't know how fast your plans is supposed to be but maybe 11 is it. Do you actually saturate your pipe now? 11 megabits per second sustained for any length of time is quite a lot. What exactly do you do as a writer that would do this?

Another thing to consider is wireless is slower than wired. 802.11b has a maximum theoritical upper limit of 11 megabits per second. In practice, you'll get 10, maybe 10.5 if you're lucky. And all of this assumes there's no interference at all whatsoever. (You know, microwaves and baby monitors and wifi spots being operated by yourself or neighbors. And the walls this has to all go through, etc.) You'll get 100 megabits persecond full duplex with ethernet and if you've got any technology purchased within the past few years, chances are you'll have gigabit hardware giving you 1000 megabits per second. But that's all assuming that your ISP will give you a connection that fast. (Hint: It will not.)

But if you get the $65/month plan, you'll have 25 megabits per second down and 25 megabits per second up. There's no reason to spend $100/mo to get FIOS unless you want faster still. (Do you download movies in 1080p and want them to finish in less than an hour and have a source that will server them that quickly? If so, they I could see the argument for it, though there are others.

But usually people who know that they want a 150 megabit per second connection usually know exactly why they want it and will get a router beefy enough to do stateful packet filtering and know how to handle all of this. So don't go spending all this money on a super fast connection because a $30 linksys will slow it down.

I'm not sure why you hate TWC aside from the email issue/customer service issue. You seem to be getting what you're paying for. If the wifi doesn't reach through the rest of your apartment, that's your problem. It would be like complaining to ConEd that your living room is dim. You last said that on WiFi you're getting 11 (what I assume are megabits per second, I doubt it would be any other unit of measure and I doubt it would be your ping) so there really are no other solutions to try. The only problem is your email, which as we mentioned, you should really move away from anyhow.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:13 AM on December 22, 2010

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