Posted by: lrrp | November 9, 2004

Changing Lanes By Maryanne Murray Buechner

If you’ve got a home network, sometimes switching broadband service providers is more trouble than it’s worth.

I should have left well enough alone. For more than three years, I had enjoyed fast and reliable DSL service from Speakeasy. (As a “third-party” Internet Service Provider, Speakeasy leases a line from my local phone company, Verizon, to bring broadband to my Brooklyn apartment.) Since last spring, my husband had surfed wirelessly from his laptop without fail over our Wi-Fi home network. We were online, sometimes side-by-side. We were content.

Then, one day, trying to squeeze a few bucks out of a household budget that was stretched tighter than Cling Wrap on cantaloupe, I decided to switch to a cheaper service. Verizon was offering me DSL for $29.99 a month. Speakeasy was charging me $49.95 plus about $8 in licensing fees — almost double. Though I had always been impressed with the company’s customer service and could recall only two brief network outages in the last 40 months, I was starting to feel like a chump.

But now I feel really foolish. After installing my new Verizon modem, I tried to recreate the home network setup that I had before. And I couldn’t do it. No matter what I did, my desktop computer couldn’t get a line out through my Microsoft router. Two separate three-hour phone sessions with Microsoft tech support couldn’t fix the problem (though these guys tried, they really did; they even triumphed, both of them, but then I’d lose it again after we hung up). Then I lost patience with a Verizon woman who insisted on sticking to a script that had me jumping through hoops I had cleared three times already. (She also snickered snidely every time I referred to my router as a “base station,” which is what Microsoft happens to call its product).

After a few days I decided to cut my losses. I went back to Speakeasy, and before long, my home network was humming again.

But the experience nagged at me. I kept telling myself that every home network was a puzzle, with its own collection of computers and connected devices and its own set of conditions (how the broadband service is delivered, the quality of a household’s internal wiring), and that there are many things that can happen to stop a network cold. I shouldn’t blame myself, I thought.

Maybe I could blame Verizon! Maybe it was a mean, sneaky corporation that deliberately undermined consumers’ efforts to get high-speed access for two PCs for the price of one. Maybe you had to buy a more expensive business-grade service to do it.

Chris Amori, who owns Amori Network Solutions, a network support provider in Washington, rejected my theory. Verizon doesn’t block home networks, he said. (A Verizon spokeswoman also set me straight.) Amori explained that Verizon DSL uses point-to-point protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE), meaning you get a different Internet Protocol (IP) address (techspeak for line out to the Internet) each time you boot up. (Speakeasy had given me a static IP address, plus a dedicated phone line for my service — two luxuries that are rarely offered to residential customers these days.) It was possible that Verizon’s system was having a hard time authenticating me as a user, Amori said. Had I updated my hardware recently? Uh…no. Turns out Microsoft had released a firmware upgrade last October for the MN-700 wireless G router I was using, and I had yet to download and install it (which I have since done).

Though the Microsoft router — an up-to-date one — should’ve worked with my new Verizon service, Amori said, it does sometimes help to use gear that the ISP specifically supports — at least then your calls to tech support can’t be turned away. If you want to switch DSL providers,” Amori advised, “ask the new one if it supports the networking products you have. If it doesn’t, you have to decide whether to move forward and take your chances or buy new hardware. My advice would be to go ahead and take your chances because most users will be able to handle it.” Now that hurts.

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