Internet Service in Manhattan, or, Ethical Consumption under Capitalism?
December 13, 2017 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I just moved to a new apartment in Manhattan and, like many other normal human beans in this city, I would like to set up internet service. But, a moral question has me stalled on which ISP to pick! Special snowflakes inside.

Hey y'all!

I recently moved to an apartment in Manhattan and have been researching internet providers, which has led me to both a pragmatic question as well as a broader ethical question. The pragmatic questions I can tackle on my own, the ethical question has me stumped. For exposition's sake, I have a bunch of text upfront, but I'll copy/pasta the question here for ease of reading:

Should I pay a significantly greater amount of money for ethical reasons, or should I just do the obvious thing and pick the cheap option that nets me the most Shiny Ducats (e.g. )? Does it even matter where this money goes?

As a note, I'm not soliciting opinions on which ISP to pick -- I just think including this text provides more background for The Question section at the bottom. If you're not interested in some technical nitpicking, feel free to skip down to that section -- it's in bold ^_^

I've spent about two weeks looking around at various options and comparing providers against my own criteria, which are specific and arcane mostly because I work with computers and I obsess over details like this. Those criteria are:

- Low latency (I prefer playing games over watching TV; I don't have Netflix/Hulu/HBO Go/ accounts, nor do I have intentions of getting any)
- I'd like the option to run my own servers at home, and I know that some ISPs prohibit this or block ports to make it harder
- Reasonable up/down network bandwidth (10/1 Mbps (up/down) seem to be about the bottom line for doing most things)
- Maybe it would be nice to give money to an ISP that supports things like net neutrality? I might be overly idealistic here, but something about taking higher bandwidth in exchange for a lobbyist's paycheck feels wrong to me. But then again, I don't want to be a fool and pay money for something that won't really matter.

Irrespective of those preferences, it seems that I have a small collection of options in this neighborhood, which I'll also list for the sake of the question: Expensive, but Enticing
This is by far the most interesting option to me -- seems to be a "small" ISP; they're apparently based out of NYC, and when I called them I got a NYC-based tech on the phone in less than two rings. That alone impressed me. This is also the only ISP I found that offers dedicated internet access*, which is very unusual in my experience.

But, here's the catch: they charge a *lot* more money for pretty paltry connection bandwidth. As in, $100/mo for 6 Mbps (unknown up). That's double what the other ISPs charge, for about half the speed that those other ISPs advertise. But, of all the options that I've found, this ISP seems to be the only one that's actively geared toward running your own servers. They essentially seem like the human option.

Spectrum: Cheap, but Evil
Not a great choice given my criteria -- they outright prohibit running your own servers, they aren't well-regarded for customer service, they own a lot of the wiring in Manhattan so they can do what they want; they're essentially evil. But, they're the most common choice in my building, and they claim to offer the highest bandwidth of all ("starting at 100 Mbps") -- though, I'm certain that these are only shared* connections too, and I'm pretty sure that they're not telling the whole truth with their adverts. All that said, their prices are low -- $40/month for whatever "starting at 100 Mbps" actually means.

Verizon: Also Cheap, Also Essentially Evil
Seems similar to Spectrum, slightly different prices and bandwidth offerings from what I can tell. Certainly shared* connections, like Spectrum, so the same story with promised vs. actual bandwidth. I also believe Verizon blocks port 25, and their overall policy on serving traffic is not clear to me -- it seems they don't prohibit it, but that really doesn't say much. Their advertised connection speeds are lower than Spectrum, about 10-15 Mbps, but their prices are pretty much the same.

* I'm leery of shared internet access. When I lived in SF we had 150/150 Mbps Comcast internet. However, that was a shared connection, which meant that in actuality we would get 10/1 Mbps, on a good day. Sometimes you can call to complain and get a temporary bump, but usually it's just slow, and there's nothing that can be done about it. Dedicated connections don't seem to be better, per se, but I feel that there might be a higher chance of getting the full bandwidth amount that the ISP promises.

For what it's worth, these ISPs are all probably using the same wires, so I don't think the true bandwidth varies that much between them -- objectively this is just a decision about which company gets some petty cash, and what kinds of obligations we have to each other.

The Question
Here we come to the question that has thus far mildly paralyzed me with respect to Just Getting Frickin Internet:

Should I pick because they're a small, NYC-local ISP, despite their higher charges for less bandwidth? Or should I just do what everyone else has done and get Spectrum/Verizon internet?

Should I pay a significantly greater amount of money for ethical reasons, or should I just do the obvious thing and pick the cheap option that nets me the most Shiny Ducats (e.g. )? Does it even matter where this money goes?

All of my friends/parents/colleagues have made arguments which are essentially variations on "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism" -- e.g. "just get the cheapest fast internet service, =d.b=, and stop stressing out about this dumb dilemma". But a part of me rebels against that approach -- isn't that how things stay the same? People all collectively making the most economically-easy choice ("get more thing for less money!") is what keeps Evil companies like Spectrum and Verizon in power. I care about that rebellious part of my brain, I don't want to just override it -- especially at this most auspicious of times. But, I also don't want to be foolish, and I can objectively recognize that me paying $100/month to instead of $50/month to Spectrum isn't really going to affect any significant change in the world.

Can the fine folx of AskMe help me unstick my brain from this ethical dilemma?
posted by =d.b= to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I could've written this question because I too have arcane networking requirements and go through the same mental gymnastics whenever I move and have to change ISPs. These days, with Net Neutrality hanging in the balance, putting your money where your mouth is (the least evil company) is even more vital. All that being said, at the end of the day, you're paying for a service and that service has to meet you needs or you're just cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I suggest choosing the cheapest option that meets your needs right now, but make sure you're on a monthly, not yearly contract. I do this with Comcast currently and the fact that there's actual competition in my area ( is expanding here) keeps my monthly very low. I also have fiber to the unit, so there's none of that shared bandwidth crap to deal with. However, if Net Neutrality is taken away, I will drop Comcast in a heartbeat no matter how much the "less evil competitor" charges or how slow the speed because I don't want to give more money to one of the main companies that helped destroy it.

Unless you work from home or something and need the faster speed, I think you should try to go with the company that's more ethical if it meets your needs. As soon as is in my neighborhood, I plan to switch to them.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:22 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Go spectrum. In a year you will have to renegotiate the price, right away you can establish do not call for spectrum solicitations. It is what I use and I am just at the point of negotiating, since I don't need TV or landline phone. But Tmobile is jumping into cable. If they can make that real I might switch to them. There is not an ethical solution in the capitalist marketplace, unless you can actually find a humanist organization. With net neutrality potentially out the window, I think the bigger players will end up the only players.
posted by Oyéah at 9:36 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

get the fast, evil internet and donate the monthly savings to some org actively working on net neutrality type issues?
posted by Lorin at 9:38 PM on December 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

What about NYC Mesh? If you've got the right line of sight, that is...
posted by clockwork at 9:59 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Lorin makes a good point about donating directly to people who are working on the things I believe in – I'm already doing that, in some small part.

To clockwork, that is a fantastic link! I didn't know that NYC Mesh existed (though I'm not surprised that we have a sneakernet in this city) – I'm going to research that some more.
posted by =d.b= at 11:05 PM on December 13, 2017

Also +++ to LuckySeven~, if I have to go with an evil company that's an excellent point – I want to be able to drop them when it matters.
posted by =d.b= at 11:07 PM on December 13, 2017

Is spending more a problem in that it's difficult to afford, or is it more just the feeling you'd be wasting it?

One thing I don't think you've mentioned is whether any of them locks you in to a contract and whether there are first-time set up costs. If it's not a big deal to switch between them, maybe that makes the decision less fraught.
posted by trig at 11:10 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

My only connection to them is as a customer, but it seems as if is what you're looking for.
posted by DanSachs at 11:41 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm all for avoiding evil ISPs, to the extent one can do that, but I personally wouldn't consider $100/mo for 6 Mbps to be an acceptable option. 6 Mbps, if they actually deliver that in full, is damn slow nowadays (the FCC considers 25 Mbps the minimum to be considered "broadband"). If you enjoy playing games, you're not going to want to wait around for an hour or more to download a few GB worth of patches. You didn't say what kind of servers you plan to run or what the upstream is, but the limited bandwidth will limit your options there as well. And you'd be paying a premium price for an unacceptable quality of service.

The morals of choosing between providers with different ethics at different price points are interesting, but the analysis has to start with the options that reasonably meet your needs. doesn't seem to.

I'd add that small cloud hosted servers are really cheap these days and will give you more bandwidth and reliability than you can reasonably get at home.
posted by zachlipton at 1:09 AM on December 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you equate consumerism to capitalism and think capitalism is a bad thing, then, then the most ethical option would be to do without Internet altogether.

Short of that, the second most ethical choice would be to look at how the ISPs that serve your neighbourhood fare in the area of social justice (or whatever) that you are most concerned about.

Otherwise, your question boils down to which ISP has the best price to service ratio..

p.s. I hesitate to say this, but I find this question to be extremely self-indulgent when presented in terms of ethics.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:04 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that smaller providers have an upstream provider, which may be the very company you despise.
posted by theora55 at 7:09 AM on December 16, 2017

These answers have been just the help I was looking for. Thanks everyone ^_^

I figure the most logical thing to do is to sign up with the easiest non-contractual option right now, while looking for more sustainable options. Special thank-you to clockwork and DanSachs for making me aware of the more sneakernet-y options in the city!
posted by =d.b= at 9:06 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

As an aside: “sneakernet” is a network where data is physically moved from one place to a another. For example: taking a disk drive and driving it to another location. The “sneaker” part of the phrase refers to that type of shoes.
posted by sideshow at 8:41 PM on December 17, 2017

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