DSL is impossible, T1 is expensive. Is there another option?
September 29, 2006 7:09 PM   Subscribe

How can I get internet access for less than $400 a month?

The problem: I just moved into a new office in Los Angeles. My officemate pays $400 semolians for a T1 line that is slower than DSL -- indeed, it rivals dial-up in its pokiness. And he wants me to contribute 200 bucks a month.

Why don't we get DSL? Because our building is 13,580 feet from the AT&T node, and the DSL limit is 14,000 feet. AT&T claims it should be possible to get DSL; but officemate insists that multiple techs have already come out, tested the line condition, and declared DSL impossible. (Yet, before the Yahoo merger, there was DSL thruout the building; now everyone pays for the shitty, expensive T1 -- that's $400 for each office, kids.)

Help me stop the insanity. It will make me physically ill to write this guy a check for $200 every month for the privilege of watching the NYT home page crank up like a Model T. (Yes, I know I shoulda asked about internet access before signing the lease -- but it's a great office. Free coffee, dog-friendly. And no, I can't just mooch off of some other office -- I'm the new guy. Also, the solution has to be good for both of us -- I could buy a PC card and get semi-slow internet directly from the sky, but I'd still have to pay the man his 200 bucks.) Thanks!
posted by turducken to Computers & Internet (29 answers total)
Is your office wired for cable?
posted by brain cloud at 7:10 PM on September 29, 2006

What about EVDO?
posted by nathan_teske at 7:14 PM on September 29, 2006

Give the folks at DSLExtreme a call and see if they can hook you up. They're an excellent LA based ISP with topnotch service.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:28 PM on September 29, 2006

Look up your address on Speakeasy's website, and also find out if FIOS is available in your area. EVDO is another great option; if you have cellphone reception, you can get DSL-ish speeds.
posted by evariste at 7:35 PM on September 29, 2006

Also, is there any reason you're ruling out cable internet?
posted by evariste at 7:35 PM on September 29, 2006

Are you near a window? Check out Color Broadband, or other local area wireless ISPs. Although somewhat more expensive, they are typically much cheaper than $400/month and equal or faster speed.
posted by patr1ck at 7:45 PM on September 29, 2006

Very few "T1" lines are actually provisioned as T1 signalling anymore. It's mostly (hope this is no surprise) SDSL, supposedly provisioned at "T1 rates." You could mosey over to the demark room or panel, pick up a circuit number, and call the provider for loop provisioning, if you're curious. But a T1 is 1.54 mbits per second; it's not going to be impressive compared to home cable at 6 mbps for download speed, any more, especially if shared. It should be more reliable, however, and has symmetric 1.54 mbps uplink, if you have any plan to run servers there.

Burstable connections at fractional T3 rates go for not much more than $400 a month, but you have some peak bandwidth cost exposure. And initial facilities costs can be significant, if you are really out in the boonies. But, it's a more practical shared service, in these bandwidth impressed times. And with 45 mbps peak rates, and millisecond latency, it will smoke your at work Web browsing.
posted by paulsc at 7:58 PM on September 29, 2006

Evariste is right: call your local cable operator and see if they might be able to run a coax to your office and connect a cable modem. You might have to pay a one-time connection fee, but it shouldn't run you anything like $400 per month for normal use.

I have a business account with Comcast which gives me 8 megabit downlink, 768 kilobit uplink, a permanent IP, and permission to run a server, and it only costs me $100 per month.

Home users (dynamic IP, no server) pay half that.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:16 PM on September 29, 2006

Ah yes, re: cable. I floated the idea of just calling the Time Warner guy to come out and hook us up with a gushing tube of internet, but apparently it's not that simple. There's no coax in the walls, and officemate is trying to convince the building owner to shell out the $3K TW wants to wire the place up (why so expensive, I don't know -- there's some issue with physically getting the lines to the building itself).
posted by turducken at 10:59 PM on September 29, 2006

Is it in your lease that you have to pay for the building internet access? It kind of sounds like it might be, otherwise someone would have solved this problem by now.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:13 PM on September 29, 2006

I don't understand why you'd need coax in the walls. Why wouldn't you just need coax to the building, terminating at a cable modem+router? Intra-building, you'd use Cat 5e UTP cable (cheap) or WiFi (cheaper). It wouldn't take a lot of months for the access charge savings to pay TW their $3K. Hell, you could finance it on a credit card and still come out ahead inside one year.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 AM on September 30, 2006

its cheaper to pay 3k for the cable than to pay $400 a month. use a credit card, write it off as a business expense. if no one in the building wants to partake in your fat pipe, then its all yours. if they want some action, let them subsidize it.
posted by Davaal at 7:12 AM on September 30, 2006

Perhaps this is EVDO, but I know that Sprint and (I think) Cingular have wireless modems that plug into your laptop's PCMCIA slot (and presumably they have a similar adapter for desktop PC if that's what you need). I think it's like 50 bucks a month.

That aside, Sprint also has a service with some phones (using EVDO I believe) called "Phone as Modem" (I can do this with my Samsung A900). You hook a cable between your phone and PC and use the phone's internet connection. It's an additional 25 bucks a month on top of your regular cell bill, and unfortunately you can't use your cell while connected using phone-as-modem. Optionally I believe you can have your connection paused if you're getting an incoming call. Hell, getting a second phone to use solely for internet would be cheaper than $200 a month.

I have tried this out just to see how fast it is - and it is FAST. Near cable-modem speeds in my area at least. Or so it seemed. I didn't try a speed test or download any large files, but webpages loaded very quickly.
posted by MarkLark at 7:16 AM on September 30, 2006

I like Davaal's line of reasoning.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:19 AM on September 30, 2006

To match up the EVDO idea with your need to be able to share the connection with at least your officemate, look into something like this or this, both of which are routers that will bridge the cellular signal over to a LAN or standard wifi connection. There are probably similar products, search for "EVDO router" or "[cell technology] router" or similar. Just be careful that you get an appropriately unlimited data connection.
posted by whatnotever at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2006

Did you know you may not have to work with AT&T at all for your DSL?

In the Portland metro area, at least, there are a half dozen companies that laid their own lines throughout the city. Two that spring to mind: Integra Telecom, New Edge Networks.

These telecoms own the lines, so you're not just contracting out customer service but still buying DSL indirectly by the big local monopoly holder. You're getting guaranteed lines that are only available to businesses.

Have you checked with local business to business providing telecoms to see if they have fiber optics in your neighborhood?

Integra has some fibre in California -- you might check and see if they can help you. You might also try the chamber of commerce or business networking groups to try to find someone.

ALSO: It sounds like your office-mate is a dumbass. Why are you taking his word for everything, if it doesn't all make sense? Doesn't it make sense for you to call these places that he says won't work before you give up on them altogether.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2006

The folks saying that you can get DSL if you just use a different provider are most likely wrong. DSL providers all provide service over the same copper wires your local incumbent telco (in this case, AT&T) uses -- they have not laid their own copper. Each of the independents works with AT&T (or Verizon, or Qwest, depending on the area) to get the line installed for DSL, so if you're talking DSL, AT&T is part of the equation.

While different types of DSL gear can get better signalling over longer distances than others, there's still gear that AT&T may have on the line -- a DLC unit that converts a fiber run in your neighborhood to short-run copper lines (which may have been installed recently), multiple load coils, or high-gauge wire. If the independent DSL provider hits one of those issues (like AT&T already did, it seems), all that will happen is that the two companies will get in a shouting match, or one will offer you a high price to remove the offending piece of gear (which will likely be more expensive than a Time Warner install). If your suitemate is being honest and AT&T has been out multiple times, you're probably SOL with DSL.

FIOS looks like it's great, but it's a Verizon product. If you have service from AT&T, you're not going to get FIOS, as it's only in Verizon territories. I suspect that if there's fiber near your office, you (or the landlord) would already know about it.

Also, burstable DS3s do not cost $400/month. The bandwidth may cost $400 if you find a particularly cheap provider, but the actual cost of the DS3 connection itself would be almost invariably more than $400.

As has been noted above, unlimited EVDO doesn't truly exist, so if you plan on using the connection often, you're out of luck there, too. That leaves three options: cable, wireless or satellite.

With cable, there's likely to be a savings of $2-300/month over your existing service, meaning that you'll pay back the installation cost after 10-15 months, and it's gravy after that. If you're planning on sticking around for 10 months, you might as well just bite the bullet.

There'll be an installation cost for wireless as well, and wireless is rarely as cheap as cable or DSL, which means it's likely out of the running. Still, check out Towerstream or other local WISPs to see if their product will work for you.

Satellite service is less than $400/month, but latency is high, resulting in poor interactive performance. If speed doesn't matter but price does, however, you should check out Wild Blue.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 11:28 AM on September 30, 2006

I pay $80/m for Verizon Wireless. Its pokey (16k/s, though may be faster in a city), but it beats the pants off dialup, and I can take it with me.
posted by SirStan at 12:17 PM on September 30, 2006

A) get cable, have it terminate outside the building, pay $50 to get a roll of coax that'll go from the termination point to your window.

B) get cable, pay the $3k for wiring the ENTIRE building. You save $300 per month, it pays for itself in 10 months.

C) find out who really owns the DSL Copper. I thought Seattle was a verizon market (and I when I first got DSL here, I went through verizon, and they always referred to everything as "theirs"). After too many billing screw-ups, and horrible phone tech support, (and a move a short distance away), I switched to Speakeasy. Speakeasy is upfront and tells you nearly everything you could ever want to know about the service. Found out COVAD owns the copper here, though I can't see what their prices are for T1, because I don't have a phone number :-(

D) Wireless/EVDO/Satellite services mentioned elsewhere.
posted by hatsix at 2:04 PM on September 30, 2006

hatsix: Covad doesn't own any copper. They lease copper from Verizon, Qwest or AT&T, and still need to go through the incumbent carrier for an install at any given location.

When you purchase DSL from Speakeasy, the connection goes though a Verizon (or Qwest, or AT&T) loop from your location to the nearest Verizon central office, gets connected with Covad's equipment at that CO, and then either heads off to the Internet via Covad's own network or gets transferred to Speakeasy's network at one one of Covad's points of presence.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2006

Hmm... I guess I assumed that they did since it was COVAD who did the servicing on the problem with installing the DSL.

(COVAD commented: "We have received a K-17 jeopardy notification", whatever the hell that is... )

oh well, I don't know for certain, I made an assumption, here's your grain of salt:

posted by hatsix at 3:21 PM on September 30, 2006

oh, for the record, our house is 13,770 from the C.O. we can only get the lowest tier of DSL, but we can still get it.
posted by hatsix at 3:26 PM on September 30, 2006

I concur with the Cable idea. I'm not a huge fan of cable myself, but something seems fishy if the T-1 being offered is slow...in my experience a T-1 should be (so long as it's provisioned for actual t1 capacity) suitable for about 10 to 20 users. Methinks the person who is selling to you is selling to others, as well. If you're there long term, bite the bullet and do the cable install.
posted by richter_x at 3:51 PM on September 30, 2006

"... Also, burstable DS3s do not cost $400/month. The bandwidth may cost $400 if you find a particularly cheap provider, but the actual cost of the DS3 connection itself would be almost invariably more than $400. ..."
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 2:28 PM EST on September 30

Sorry to burst your bubble, I EAT TAPAS.

Some folks offering burstable T3 service say:

"Burstable Fractional T3 can be as low as a few hundred dollars."

And I've personally signed contracts for burstable T3 services, at $380/month, in packages with PRI channeled T1 comm lines, in north suburban Atlanta, as long ago as 2002. It most certianly is available, in those price ranges, in most major cities. You've got to shop, but barring major facilities problems with the telcos, it is certianly there.
posted by paulsc at 5:04 PM on September 30, 2006

To make it all the more murkier -- or perhaps clearer -- the T1 line is from Speakeasy.

Thanks, everyone, for all the awesome advice.
posted by turducken at 9:04 PM on September 30, 2006

The folks saying that you can get DSL if you just use a different provider are most likely wrong. DSL providers all provide service over the same copper wires your local incumbent telco (in this case, AT&T) uses -- they have not laid their own copper. Each of the independents works with AT&T (or Verizon, or Qwest, depending on the area) to get the line installed for DSL, so if you're talking DSL, AT&T is part of the equation.o

WRONG. This is true for residential DSL lines. It is often true for business DSL lines. But there ARE telecoms that cater to business and own their own lines.

If you've been paying attention to U.S. business news lately, you may be aware that there have been a number of regional telecom mergers and acquisitions. Why?

In the late '90s and at the start of this decade, at least a dozen or so telecom companies used venture capitol and other forms of start-up funding to spend millions to install their own high speed network lines. Most never turned a profit. The lines they laid, however, still hold a great deal of value for those who possess them. Why? Because businesses are generally willing to pay a premium for quality, reliable products -- especially if it means a level of hand-holding and customer service that the phone company is not willing to provide.

So here's the situation we have: non-phone company data lines that have never turned a profit. People willing to pay for those lines. The investors in the start-up telecoms are selling these companies for a return of pennies on the dollar. These investors get at least a small portion of their bad investment back -- and also maybe a few shares of the purchasing company. The company making the buy gets valuable data lines for less than the cost of installing them, and without the risk that goes in to installing them.

What does that mean for Joe Schmoe on the street? Nothing. Residential customers are generally not willing to pay for premium service. Even when they are willing to pay, these telecoms aren't interested. Residential customers are notoriously fickle. They have simple needs, which means they don't have to put a lot of time and resources into setting up their networks. They're generally quicker to cancel big contracts than businesses. And they move much more frequently than businesses.

Business, on the other hand, tends to place a premium on reliability and customer service. It often has complex networking and data line needs that g beyond what the phone company can easily provide. And businesses tend to be more loyal to their telecoms than individuals. Lucrative.

There's an entire world of DSL and other data line providers out there that does, in fact, own its lines -- though odds are good that we're talking fiber optics, not copper, here.

I could give you examples from the greater Portland, Ore., market, but that wouldn't do you much good in LA.

You might try looking at the local business weekly/weeklies that any respectable city is going to have, see if there are articles or ads to point you in the right direction. The Chamber of Commerce, as mentioned above, might also be able to help. Or try California's utility regulator.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:57 PM on October 1, 2006

WRONG. This is true for residential DSL lines. It is often true for business DSL lines. But there ARE telecoms that cater to business and own their own lines.

There certainly are competitive, non-incumbent telcos who lay their own lines. XO, MFN, Time Warner Telecom, plenty of others.

Those lines aren't DSL lines. Those companies are not running last-mile copper to a customer's premises. I'd love to hear any non-trivial cite of a non-incumbent provider running their own copper to a customer's premises for DSL over the last, say, 10 years. Please do give examples.

(There's a minor exception there if you're talking about providers who wire apartment complexes or office buildings with "local" DSL, where tenants have a DSL connection that doesn't leave the building down to a DSLAM connected to a high capacity connection in the basement -- but that doesn't really count here, as turducken would certainly know if that was the case.)

So, yes, we're talking about dark fiber. Problem is, high-bandwidth DSL doesn't run over fiber -- you can kludge a 144kbps DSL connection over ISDN over fiber, but that's it, and it'd certainly be too slow for turducken's needs. If turducken's office can't spend $3000 for a coax connection from the cable company, they sure aren't going to be able to afford the cost of an install of fiber-based services.

Also, paulsc wrote:

I've personally signed contracts for burstable T3 services, at $380/month, in packages with PRI channeled T1 comm lines, in north suburban Atlanta, as long ago as 2002.

Bundles aren't the same as a dedicated Internet T3. If you're buying a series of PRIs, the telco will build the cost of the T3 into the individual prices of those PRIs. They can then take any leftover bandwidth on the T3 and offer you Internet access on the cheap. If you install a T3 exclusively for Internet access, you end up paying directly for both the loop and bandwidth costs, which will exceed $400. The company's web site you linked to is vague about how much it'll truly cost, and whether they include both the loop and bandwidth (or, if it's like most independent ISPs, their pricing is just for bandwidth).

If you can actually post a genuine loop and 1.5mbps + burst bandwidth quote for a T3 for a customer 13,500+ feet from a CO that's $400 or less, regardless of location in the US, I'll eat my hat.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 6:13 PM on October 2, 2006

Thanks again to those still checking the thread. Looks like the consensus is cable or EVDO, in all their permutations (and with their respective drawbacks).

We're looking at alternative routes to get cable in the building. (All the utility lines -- but no coax -- are buried and come thru the floor, so no existing entry point for cable from the pole, and no window in the office. Oy vey.)

EVDO sounds sweet, though Mac options are few, and speed isn't great (yet) when you compare it to cable/DSL.

I favorited hatsix's comment since it concisely summed up the best advice here, and I'm a sucker for lists.
posted by turducken at 4:08 PM on October 5, 2006

Speakeasy left me hanging.
posted by subpixel at 9:09 AM on October 10, 2006

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