FAQ

I get asked lots of questions -- many of them repeatedly. So here's a list of FAQs and my answers to them.

I'll keep the FAQ answers fairly brief, lol, lest this page grow to novella length. Some of the answers may link to a longer article. And you are always welcome to email with questions.

The FAQs are in no particular order. Read 'em all or use Ctrl-F on your keyboard to search for what interests you most. This is a work-in-progress. I'll be adding to this page from time to time.

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Q: Why is my internet so slow?

A: There's a lot of moving parts to this answer so I'll try to keep this brief. Your internet speed is mainly affected by two things: 1) The maximum speed that your provider can give you, and 2) Your wi-fi setup inside your home or business.

 

If your max provider speed is too slow then you may be stuck. Call your provider (CenturyLink, AT&T, Mediacom, Comcast, etc.) to ask if they have a faster option. If all you can get is slow DSL then there's not much I can do. But if your provider speed is already reasonably high (50 mbps or more) but things are still really slow, then your wi-fi may be the issue. That I can work with.

Wi-fi radio waves are weakened by distance, furniture, appliances, floors (if multi-story), and radio interference. The good news is that can be fixed! As long as your provider speed is decent then it's quite possible to bring more of that speed to the far corners of your home. TV sets and gaming consoles are the biggest data hogs. If they are connected via wi-fi and aren't right next to the wi-fi transmitter then you may suffer from buffering (TV screen freezing-up with a spinning wheel) and dropouts.

Solutions to wi-fi problems include installing a mesh network. My favorite is the EERO brand. A typical home might need three of these devices. They are all white, about 4x4 inches square and one inch tall, and have no visible antennas -- fits into any decor and are completely inoffensive to look at.

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Q: What's the difference between DSL, Cable, and Fiber internet?

A: DSL is the slowest of the three, by far. Speeds usually top out around 20 mbps or so. DSL uses your existing ancient telephone lines to bring service into your home or business. Cable internet is much faster because the thick shielded cable that brings the service into your building is capable of carrying more data. Speeds can reach 1 gig download. Most people living in a decent sized town, like Columbia, have both DSL and cable-based internet available to them. If internet speed is important and you have a choice between these two, then pick the cable-based provider.

If you are really lucky then you can get fiber internet to your home or office building. Fiber is the speed leader with speeds up to 1 gig for both upload and download. Latency (that's how fast the internet "reacts" to your input) is also very fast. Low latency is critical for twitch-gaming since that maximizes your fast human reflexes. Fiber availability is improving but it's still limited. It's pretty much by accident of your address. Either your provider has deployed fiber to your street or they haven't. Some providers, like Socket Internet, will consider deploying to your street or neighborhood if you can rally your neighbors into committing to subscribe. Get enough of them on board and you may succeed.

If you have the choice of fiber then get it, full stop. Having fiber available as an option and not getting it would be like willfully crossing the US on a Greyhound Bus when you have the option of flying instead.

 

Q: How can I really eliminate robocallers?

A: We all get them. Sometimes several such calls in a single day. The phone companies and the FCC are halfheartedly trying to fix it but aren't making much headway. And those useless "suspected spammer" or "suspicious caller" warnings that are displayed while your phone is ringing? How useless is that?

What if there was a way to really eliminate virtually all robocallers on both your land line and mobile phone? The trick is making the caller prove they are human. It's the audio equivalent of those website anti-robot things there you have to click all the pictures that include a cat or some such when signing up for something. And since virtually all telemarketers use robodialers these days to save time and money, then they'll be blocked.

Read here for more info

 

 

Q: What is (SpaceX) Starlink?

A: Starlink is the most exciting new service for rural internet users imaginable. Rural Americans have long suffered from poor or non-existent internet access. SpaceX's Starlink is a constellation of thousands of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites. But don't let the "satellite" part spook you.

 

Anyone with present-day satellite internet knows how awful satellite internet is. That's because existing satellite-based internet providers (HughesNet and ViaSat) have only a few satellites up there and they use a geosynchronous orbit, flying at an altitude of some 22,200 miles. But Starlink will have tens of thousands of satellites (estimated around 42,000 when the constellation is complete) orbiting at much lower altitude, around 340 miles. That's 65 times closer to Earth. For technical reasons that I won't go into here, that means that Starlink will offer internet service on par with today's cable-based providers like Comcast or Mediacom.

Starlink is taking pre-orders now (as of this writing, Mar 2021) from rural users. Starlink will not be available to urban customers with other high speed options.

For rural Americans this will be an absolute game changer.

 

 

Q: Is that phone call I got a scam?

A: Almost certainly yes.

At least once a month I get a panicky call from a client asking if the call they received from -- pick one: Microsoft, Norton, HP, their bank, a government office, whatever -- is legitimate or not.

It's a scammer. Always (nearly).

  • The IRS, Social Security Administration, or other government agency will never call you on the phone to discuss your finances.

  • A bailiff, other officer of the court, or law enforcement will never call you on the phone. Arrest warrants are never announced on the phone.

  • Microsoft, "Windows", McAfee, Norton, Dell, HP, Amazon, Apple, etc. will never call you on the phone.

  • Your bank or credit card company might call you if they see suspicious activity on your account. If you receive such a call from someone claiming to be your bank or credit card then hang up and call them back using a phone number that you already have. Look on the back of the credit card for the toll-free number.

All the foregoing advice applies to email as well. At most, a legitimate sender may send email alerting you that a secure message is waiting for you on on that account's web portal. But legitimate senders will never disclose any details via email itself. If they do, it's a scam. Never click on any web address given in the email itself.

When you receive such calls do not confront them, do not argue with them, and do not try to be cute with a snarky/clever reply. Just hang up. Don't give them a reason to harass you. Just hang up and "be forgettable". They'll move on to their next victim.