Confused about Internet access
June 26, 2012 11:17 AM   Subscribe

In two weeks, I start a new telecommuting job, and I need to set up my home office. I'm totally confused about Internet access, though, and I have some questions...

So, my new employer told me I need to get a work landline and Internet access. We currently have a personal landline and DSL (Frontier) and a wireless router. I have no idea what to get for my work stuff. (They're sending me a laptop, if it matters.) I want to have some better idea of my options before I call the phone company or whoever I'm going to call.

Here are my questions: (please bear with me -- I am kind of clueless with this stuff)

1. With DSL, we often lose Internet access during rainstorms... which is pretty sad for 2012. That would be really annoying if I'm depending on Internet access to do my job. Does that mean I should get cable?

2. And what if I get cable Internet (Time Warner in our area) -- I don't know if anyone in this house (1940s house) has ever had cable. How can I tell? If no one ever has, what does cable installation entail? Lots of drilling and wires? And does it mean that we have to get cable TV? We don't really need cable TV -- we're pretty set with Netflix...

3. If we stick with DSL, is it even possible to get a separate bill for my DSL work usage, since I could potentially just connect to our WiFi with my new work computer? I think that for tax purposes (or something), my new employer wants me to have a tangible "home office," and separate bills/accounts would probably support this. Is it even possible to get an additional DSL account if you already have one?

4. I should probably try to get some bundled service with phone/Internet, right? What does "digital home phone" from the cable company mean?

5. How do I fend off pushy salespeople if I don't really know what I'm talking about with this stuff?
posted by trillian to Technology (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your point #4 is directly at odds with point #3. You can't get a phone/internet/cable bundle and then somehow get a separate bill for your business usage, which would presumably be just the Internet.

Now, if you wanted to get a separate phone line for your office, and a separate internet connection, then you could get those two things bundled together. And they'd obviously be on a different bill from your existing services.

But you can't get separate bills for services that are part of a double-play / triple-play package. Sometimes you can determine the broken-out costs of the individual services inside the bundle, sometimes you can't even do that.

If I were you, I'd probably get a cable-internet line run to the office, in addition to the services you have now. They'll pull cable from the pole to your house (if it doesn't exist already) and probably install a jack by drilling into an exterior wall from the outside with a long bit, and sealing it with caulk. If you want a better job that's less destructive to your house, you'll need to hire an electrician who does data/video wiring. The cable internet line would just be for your office. It will cost probably $60/mo or so to get internet without accompanying television service. Then you can take that bill and submit it to your new company for reimbursement in total honesty that it is just for work.

One note: DO NOT tell the cable company that it is for a home office. Seriously, don't do it. They will try to force you into buying a "business" internet package that is exactly (for your purposes) the same as the home service, just 150% more expensive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you see cable inputs in any of the walls? See anything that looks like this: If so, congrats, you can hook up cable internet. Cable is the fasted, most reliable and affordable internet, so I'd get it. As a new costumer, you will probably be able to get a very cheap package. Go to Time Warner's website and see if they have promotions for new costumers, or ask.

And I agree with the above poster. Never say it's for work. Always say it's for personal use if asked. They will try to charge extra or add annoying hurdles.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:29 AM on June 26, 2012

I work from home. Losing the Internet just sucks. I don't even depend on WiFi anymore - I got the cable company to install the broadband modem in my office.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:32 AM on June 26, 2012

Response by poster: Your point #4 is directly at odds with point #3. You can't get a phone/internet/cable bundle and then somehow get a separate bill for your business usage, which would presumably be just the Internet.

Now, if you wanted to get a separate phone line for your office, and a separate internet connection, then you could get those two things bundled together. And they'd obviously be on a different bill from your existing services.

Sorry, oops, I wasn't being clear. Yes, I want a separate phone line and separate Internet connection for my office.
posted by trillian at 11:33 AM on June 26, 2012

1. With DSL, we often lose Internet access during rainstorms... which is pretty sad for 2012.

I had this problem with a DSL line. It turned out that a tree branch had grown up alongside the phone line coming in from the street and the insulation had rubbed off. Without fail, every time it rained--no internet!

Given DSL's poor reputation, I kept assuming that the problem was something to do with the phone company and just accepted that I wasn't meant to have internet access during periods of precipitation. When I finally got around to calling the phone company, they sent someone down who had the problem located and solved in a manner of hours.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:38 AM on June 26, 2012

Have you talked to anybody to see whether cable internet goes out during storms as well? Could just be a regional piece of reality there. Generally though, I would recommend ordering a new landline for the office and stacking DSL on top of it. Should be pretty simple and straightforward.
posted by rhizome at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2012

With DSL, we often lose Internet access during rainstorms... which is pretty sad for 2012.

I've had DSL from half a a dozen providers in four towns (Houston, Austin, Jersey City, and Princeton) since 1999 and that's not normal in my experience. Mine stayed up in 2001 during TS Allison although it went down briefly afterwards. I'd have someone look into why the DSL is going down before I made a decision about provisioning the home office.
posted by immlass at 11:44 AM on June 26, 2012

You can get a landline for work with DSL on it. You'll still have issues with DSL, but you'll get a separate bill. If your job doesn't care if you have wireless on your DSL, and if folks in your house use that line for private stuff, then you can cancel the DSL off of your home phone and use the work phone.

Cable is just as much a crapshoot as DSL, and if lots of people in your neighborhood are using Cable for Internet connectivity, you may have an issue with decreased speeds at high-usage times.

Another option is U-Verse (ATT) or FIOS (Verizon), which are IP based services. We have U-Verse in our house on a bundle and we get the IP-Phone (not quite a landline, but you can't really tell) and 12M of Internet. We had ATT for DSL and the DSL went out every time it rained, but the U-Verse works fine in the rain.

Nothing is perfect. Our Comcast was great! Never had a problem with it, but U-Verse made me an offer I couldn't refuse and while the actual installation was a nightmare, I'm very happy 18 months after the fact with the service.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:49 AM on June 26, 2012

NO internet service is 100% reliable every single moment, and your employers should understand that, as long as it isn't too often.

I prefer cable to DSL, personally, but both technologies, properly set up, should give you what you need. No offense, but given the nature of the questions, you're presumably more clerical/marketing/customer service than IT, so any modern broadband connection should be more than adequate for whatever they're asking you to do.

I'd start by asking the phone company to check it out - Nthing, don't tell them what you're doing. A consumer account shouldn't go up and down. Tell them it's interfering with your use of the internet and if you don't get satisfaction you're switching.

If the DSL you have is really too sketchy and that can't be fixed, cable is worth a try, but I'm confused about the idea that the employer wants you to have a tangible, separate home office for tax purposes. Practically speaking, you don't NEED two connections. You're already paying for internet - even if they won't reimburse you for that expense, why complicate your life by paying twice for something so they will reimburse you once?

Digital home phone from the cableco is probably some digital phone deal where the phone service is delivered digitally over the fiber instead of the historic copper network. Should be functionally the same, and should be adequate for what your employer wants. Unless they're highly specific in excluding any form of phone service other than POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), any form of landline phone where you can make or receive calls should be fine. Generally, they just want to exclude cell phones, as they tend to be noisier.

You might want to clarify with them what they're asking. It's not uncommon for a telecommute gig to require such things as a real desk, a quiet place, and a dedicated land line, but the tax angle on a home office is a) really not their concern - you're paying for that "infrastructure," not them, so any tax benefits would tend to acrue to you, not them, and b) the bar with the IRS for a home office deduction is very high. Most people don't find it worth pursuing unless they've literally built a separate building or add-on to their home.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:52 AM on June 26, 2012

We'll just assume, since you've never had cable, that an installation tech would need to re-do the cable drop to your house if one even exists.

What this means is that they'll climb up the pole, attach a line to it, and string it to your house. At your house they'll attach it probably near where the phone line attaches, run it down to an enclosure they'll install, and ground it so that if lightning hits the pole it won't fry your equipment through the cable line.

Then, since you say it's a 1940s house, they'll run the cable around the outside of the house, concealing it as much as is possible (vinyl siding was nice for this, since I could tuck it under the siding), up to whereever you want the new CATV outlet, and drill in from the outside and install a wall plate.

If you decide to go the cable route, they could set up a box in your home office that would supply phone and internet service to that room and that room only, and it would be a relatively painless installation once the drop and the outlet were installed.

I'm not sure how your local phone company is doing things, how your house is currently wired, or what kind of phone drop you've got right now. If you get a new line from the phone company, it's possible that your current phone drop already has a pair of wires available that could be used to supply separate DSL and phone to your home office but it would need a new outlet installed, almost certainly. Well, maybe. Hm. Actually the phone tech might be able to tone out the line going to your home office already and wire it to the second line but that would mean that your current phone+DSL service would not be available from your current outlet in that room.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining this very well! Feel free to memail me if you want.

Phone/cable companies consider the drop from the pole to your house to be part of their infrastructure and won't charge for it. One outlet is almost always included in any standard installation fees, so that shouldn't be an issue either.

I'm not sure what Ruthless Bunny means by "IP based services" - all internet access uses IPs, necessarily. Perhaps they're specifically referring to the phone? In which case yes, with cable company phone service you're getting phone via a different sort of technology but for your purposes its identical.

ANYWAY, condensed version:
1) Either way, you're likely to need a new outlet in the room, unless you're ok with your current internet/phone not being available in your office.
2) Installation for one outlet shouldn't be too bad.

That said, randomkeystrike is largely correct, there's no good reason I can think of to require a separate phone number/internet connection.
posted by kavasa at 11:59 AM on June 26, 2012

Will your work be paying for any of this ?

What kind of connection do you need ? Are you going to use a VPN to connect to work, or are you just using some sort of web mail ? What other work will you need internet connectivity for ? (Transfer massive files, or just doing regular google-like research, or what ?)

I'd disagree with Kadin2048's advice, depending on what your needs are. I run 2-4 VPNs at home, and all VPN stuff is against the residential cable/DSL terms of service (TOS).

BUT, the mrs' work pays for a work-level cable connection. Yeah, it's pricier, but I get better speed/quality connection (fixed IP, different subnets from the residential folks) and no worries that one day the cable co will enforce the "no VPN" rule and cut me off. Plus, if cable goes out at 4 pm on Sunday, I have a cable guy at my house in an hour to fix the problem.
posted by k5.user at 12:05 PM on June 26, 2012

Response by poster: What kind of connection do you need ? Are you going to use a VPN to connect to work, or are you just using some sort of web mail ? What other work will you need internet connectivity for ? (Transfer massive files, or just doing regular google-like research, or what ?)

I don't think I'll be using a VPN. All I know is that I'll be using Outlook for email, etc., and mostly a lot of Word because my job will mostly involve writing/editing for the web. Probably no huge files.

Also, I will definitely contact the phone company about the rain issue! Thanks to all who pointed out that's not typical.
posted by trillian at 12:09 PM on June 26, 2012

I think that for tax purposes (or something), my new employer wants me to have a tangible "home office," and separate bills/accounts would probably support this.

Are you sure this is the case, versus your employer mostly being interested in making sure you have adequate connectivity to be fully available during work hours? (In other words, that you're not trying to cut costs by using Vonage or a cheap VOIP service rather than a landline?) I work from home and this is my employer's concern. I have a phone line that is a dedicated work line with a work voicemail message ("Hi, you've reached iminurmefi at XYZ corporation but I'm away from my desk, please leave a message") but a single high-speed internet connection that I use for work and personal life. I would double-check that your company actually wants you to have two internet connections before spending money on this.

In terms of which services to get, I have cable internet with no cable TV so that's definitely possible, and the reliability/speed tends to be quite a bit higher than DSL but right around the same cost, at least in my area. I'd advise you to set up the modem/router in your home office and actually run an ethernet cable to your computer even if you keep your wireless router, as sometimes the wireless isn't as fast/reliable as a wired connection and there's no real reason not to have a permanent set-up.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2012

Oh, and echo-ing what randomstrikekey says above--clarify with your company whether "landline" means only POTS service through an old-school telephone company, or whether it means telephone service at your house that is not a cell phone. The phone service I get through my cable company is indistinguishable (for me) from POTS service and bundling phone+internet makes the whole shebang quite affordable. The main problem with POTS service when you're telecommuting is that unlimited long-distance calling plans are quite expensive, so it's often much more cost-effective to go with a super-reliable VOIP connection through the cable company that gives you free long-distance.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:38 PM on June 26, 2012

Actually, with Time Warner Cable, around here, they offer a "home office teleworker" package that includes twice as much upstream bandwidth, and non-Road-Runner support, for $10/month more. The $10/month more is worth it just for the ability to call them up and be able to speak to someone who's actually listening to me and willing and able to look at the problem I'm having withOUT

1) thinking I'm a moron and
2) telling me they only support Windows.

They also put you on business address ranges, so if you happen to be running a mail server or something like that, you may find it works better for sending mail. Also, for whatever reason, the service just seems to work a heck of a lot better, despite it being carried on the same cable. I can only think of one or two outages in the past several years, and I think they knew about each one when I called, which compares favorably to Road Runner, where they often couldn't determine a regional outage was happening even after fifteen minutes and six "try rebooting your PC"'s later.
posted by jgreco at 12:41 PM on June 26, 2012

I've been telecommuting for two years, and my job is entirely dependent upon internet access. I'm in Los Angeles and have TimeWarner Cable with "RoadRunner Turbo," which at the time was the fastest connection available. I think they have even more powerful connections now, but in any case, I've been very happy. I think I've had maybe 1 outage and 1 modem issue that was solved by a phone call in the first 6 months I had the service. It's also fast and can easily handle multiple connections. They provided a wireless modem that I can also plug directly into, and I use it both ways (seems slightly faster when I'm using an ethernet cord). I'm really not sure if you need to have a basic cable package. I suspect not because my internet access screws directly into the wall jack, not my cable box. If you go this route and you must get cable TV, ask for the cheapest plan, not HD, and stick to your guns. They should provide the equipment. You also won't need a DVR cable box but those might be standard now.

I also have my landline phone with them, and it's pretty much just like any other phone, the phone jack is just connected to my cable box. If you can escape the cable TV part, however, it sounds like getting a second line added to your existing phone service would be a better bet connection wise.

As for installation, if there are not existing cable jacks, there will be some drilling & dropping of wires, but when my Mom got satellite TV in our over 100 year old house, it was pretty seamless. Generally, free installation is included when you set up new service. As for not getting ripped off, poke around the website first for any deals before getting in touch with a rep. I'm fairly certain I had figured out my package including approximate price on my own before contacting anyone.

Slightly off topic, if you have any questions about telecommuting or setting up a home office please feel free to email me. Congrats on the new job!
posted by katemcd at 12:41 PM on June 26, 2012

Is there an IT department you can contact to find out exactly what is required for a home office set up? If it's a small company, you may just be using web based services, and can get by with a very basic internet connection.

But if the set up requires more security, they may ask you to use a VPN which might change things up a bit.
posted by lootie777 at 2:18 PM on June 26, 2012

I have Time Warner Digital Phone + Internet (Talk + Surf). I don't have the TV component but I was thinking about getting it a month or so ago when they were advertising a deal that was only $10 more per month than I am paying now. Sound quality on the (cordless) phones (which they gave me as a promotional gift when I signed up) is excellent and I can call anywhere in the US and Canada for the same flat rate per month.

As a new customer, they will offer you all kinds of amazing plans. Just know that you can get the same deals when you are an "old" customer if you are prepared to spend some time talking to them on the phone wondering offhand if you should just disconnect and go with another provider.

My place was already wired when I moved in, every room had coils of cable which I didn't want/need. The installation guy took care of that and sorta capped off the bits I wasn't using because the internet was leaking out of them <>
Note that when the power goes out, I not only lose internet but phone as well. That's been a bit of a problem. The last time it happened a power surge knocked out the modem and it took 2 days for a repairman to come and replace it but I did get a discount on my next bill.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:26 PM on June 26, 2012

As others say, your various local providers may have both residential and business service, and the former is likely cheaper. But do research both--my memory from when I looked a couple years ago was that for net-only service, business service was actually slightly cheaper, because they only wanted to sell residences bundles including TV. Probably a freak occurrence, but worth checking. They may also have slightly better service and as said above be less likely to interfere with VPNs if you need that. And if work's paying (I assume that's why they care about the IRS rules) then maybe you don't need to be too price-sensitive anyway.
posted by bfields at 7:25 PM on June 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by trillian at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2012

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