Xerox says, "To heck with customers..who needs them?"

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/22/2019 - 13:13

Some years back, Xerox had outsourced all of their customer support to overseas call centers full of people who a)barely spoke English, and b)could only read from a canned script. The result was truly awful interactions if you needed to get a copier repaired or tried to order printer supplies.

But they seemed to figure that out, and for some time, if you called Xerox customer service, you got native English speakers who were delightfully helpful.

But the bean counters counter-attacked. At some point in the last couple of years, Xerox out-sourced all their copier and printer supply sales to CDW.

We have generally been happy with our Xerox printers and copiers, and have only bought Xerox supplies--pricey, but work well.

Recently, two very expensive color toner cartridges both failed within days of putting them in the printer. When we tried to return them to CDW, we were told that defective cartridges have to be returned within 30 days of purchase.

Which is ridiculous.

We always keeps spares on hand, so that if a toner cartridge runs out in the middle of an important customer print job, we have a spare. So we buy cartridges and they might sit on the shelf for two or three months before they are put into use.

So far, we have probably spent at least four hours arguing with CDW and Xerox without result. CDW's attitude is that policy is policy and it is Xerox's problem. Xerox "service" people just mindlessly repeat the policy.

So Xerox willfully sticks its customers with defective products and could care less.

SportClips and the loss of privacy

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/22/2019 - 12:58

SportClips has decided that it does not really want to cut your hair unless you give them your full name, your email address, your phone number, and your birthdate.

For a haircut.

Some months ago, they instituted an online scheduling system so that you can schedule your haircut. And of course, there's an app for that.

Technically, you can still walk in, but if you do that, you still have to sign in, and the system thoughtfully tells you that you have to get in line behind everyone that scheduled a hair cut, including people that have not even shown up yet. And so, if you walk in, you are usually told there is a very long wait.

The relentless solicitation of personal data like birth date (for a HAIRCUT!!) is not only tiring, it's an insult. Companies that do this, like SportClips, don't see us as customers anymore, they see us as data. The haircut becomes incidental to the data harvesting.

I now get my haircut at a new local establishment with wonderful service. The staff there are all former SportClips workers. They told me today that business is booming.

Laugh of the day: Telcos complain there is too much competition

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/21/2019 - 16:47

The big incumbent telcos are complaining there is "too much" competition.

...and I have some swampland I want to sell you....

If you have ever wondered what happened to RSS

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/11/2019 - 11:03

RSS, which stood for several different things, depending on who you asked (Real Simple Syndication was probably the most popular), has withered away. It was designed in the early days of the Web to make it easy to process and read news articles and blog posts from many different sites. Once you subscribed to a Web site using your RSS reader app, you could easily browse and read all the content from that site.

This article is a very detailed history of the technology. For some of us early users of the Internet, the article is a trip down memory lane.

There are many reasons why RSS has faded away, but Facebook could be primary factor. Facebook provides the same "endless news feed" that RSS does/did, and bundles all sorts of other information for you.

It is unfortunate that RSS never really took off. It gives the user much more control over what you read, unlike Facebook, which shoves all sorts of unwanted stuff into your feed. The Internet's domination by monopoly giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon has become a corporate playground where users are the product. It's not a good thing.

Is your security camera spying on you?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/11/2019 - 09:53

Companies like Amazon and Facebook are selling camera-based products that are designed to be used inside the home and outside the home (e.g. the Ring doorbell).

The problem is that we don't really know what these companies are doing with the video pictures and data that are being collected and processed by these devices. Here is a news article that suggests that the images collected by Amazon Ring devices (doorbell, inside cameras) are easily accessible to Amazon employees and third parties..one of which is in the Ukraine.

So personal data is being distributed worldwide without our knowledge or permission. This will not end well.

Will 5G deliver the promises?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/26/2018 - 14:55

This article from PC Mag takes a sober look at the 5G promises. Both the 5G vendors and the big cellular providers want us to believe that "5G" is going to solve all our broadband problems, but like every previous wireless "breakthrough," which typically arrive about every 6-8 years, the promises rarely materialize.

This discusses what 5G might offer for rural areas, and the so-called "rural solution" is actually fiber! The article agrees with what we have been saying for several years--that running fiber down rural roads and then using wireless to connect to homes that may be set well back from the road might be worth looking at.

And we have been studying that in detail. The last time we ran cost estimates to compare fiber drops from the road to the home with wireless from the road to the home, the fiber drops were cheaper. The idea that 5G is ideal for short runs between a fiber cable at the road side and a home set back from the road is almost laughable, since you could do that with existing off the shelf wireless gear for a lot less--probably by an order of magnitude.

Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, our sister company, are not equipment resellers or VARs, so we are free to design networks that meet local conditions and budgets, using the most cost effective equipment.

What is eating all our bandwidth?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/20/2018 - 10:58

Here is a Cisco study that shows, no surprise, that video is eating the Internet star.

Average broadband speeds are set to double in the next two years, from around 25 Mbps (download) to 53 Mbps.

Much of the demand is from the increasing use of 4K video content. As more and more households cut the cord and start streaming high definition over the Internet, bandwidth use increases dramatically.

And the steadily increasing use of video in ads is contributing. There are few commercial Web sites (at least the ones I visit) that don't have pop up or embedded video ads. You can usually close them or turn them off, but it is incredibly annoying. One news site I visit has two pop up video ads on every page, so you can't really start reading the news until you change focus and close the ads.

And there are other bandwidth hogs. The Nest video doorbell sends video constantly to the Nest cloud servers. They keep it there for a certain period of time so you can go back and review it. On the "medium bandwidth" setting, the doorbell uses about 400 Gig a month. That's the equivalent of somewhere north of twenty-eight 4K HD movies a month....for your doorbell! If you put the doorbell in high resolution mode, the data increases to something around 600 Gig a month...for your door bell!!

Copper based cable networks, no matter what numbers they advertise, are going to be struggling as 4K HD TV and video doorbells become more common.

Fiber is still the future.

Death of TV: Part LXXXI: Cord cutting continues to increase

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/05/2018 - 13:58

Fed up customers are continuing to "cut the cord" to their cable and satellite TV providers. The article I have linked to says that 23% of households with wireline broadband have ditched their traditional TV package. As improved fixed wireless broadband continues to become more widely available in rural areas (i.e. no bandwidth caps, more bandwidth), the trend will accelerate even more.

Our studies show that the average household can save at least $35-$55 per month by getting rid of cable/satellite service and just paying for some over the top (OTT) services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.

Fragility of the iGen

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/13/2018 - 09:10

The "iGen" is defined as those people born after 1995, which means they are the first generation to have grown up with the Internet widely available. By their teens, iGen kids had access to smartphones, and the results have been sobering.

Depression among young people has increased 60% in five years, and self harm has increased sharply among young women.

Cause and effect is under debate, but there is increased evidence that children and teen access to smartphones, tablets, and the Internet should be managed carefully by parents.

Death of TV: Part LXXX: Who cares anymore?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/12/2018 - 10:10

This recent article from USA Today says that cord cutting is accelerating.

Customers are looking at the incredible variety of content available from OTT (Over The Top) services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, and deciding that they can save money by just paying for Internet and a few OTT subscriptions.

Our internal calculation suggest that this approach can shave between $35 and $55 per month off your telecom bill. The range can be highly variable because it depends on the kind of cable/satellite TV package you have. Customers with several premium services (e.g HBO, Starz) may save more.

We've been surveying tens of thousands of Internet users for the past several years, and the most common complaint is that their cable TV service does not support business class needs like videoconferencing and corporate VPN access. As the way people access content and services, fiber connections can deliver both the bandwidth and the symmetric connectivity (equal upload and download speeds needed for business).

Alexa, please open the door

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/15/2018 - 10:01

More than twenty years ago, as the Internet became more common, some prognosticators began talking about the "smart house," where lots of household devices would be interconnected and make our lives one of ease.

At that time, I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek article for a professional newsletter about a "smart house" gone wild, somewhat in the fashion of the Hall 9000 problem in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At the time, the few smart house attempts did not catch on, because the technology was immature and expensive. But now we find the Internet of Things is exploding, because the chips and software needed to put so-called "intelligent" into common household appliances is just a couple of dollars.

This article provides a good summary of the issues, and one example cited is a microwave that can be controlled by Amazon's Alexa. I've never had any issues "controlling" my microwave simply by punching a couple of buttons, and the idea that it is somehow "better" to have Alexa get involved strikes me as bizarre.

The core problem for me is that devices like the Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google's Home Hub, and Apple's Home Pod (Siri) are constantly listening to everything that goes on in your home and sending that information back to an unaccountable multi-national company that is monetizing that information, although Apple says they are not doing that...but they still have the data.

A secondary problem is that many "smart" home devices that use WiFi lack any meaningful security, so malicious hackers thousands of miles away can do things like use your security cameras to spy on you, turn household devices on and off, and could conceivably use video recorded on your own cameras to gain information on what you are doing for purposes of blackmail.

Many homes already have these always-listening devices installed, but there won't ever be one in my home.

Amazon and remote work driving Millenials to the Rust Belt

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/25/2018 - 08:25

This is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time.

Millenials are moving to smaller "Rust Belt" towns and small cities to escape the high cost of living in the larger metro areas. Heavy student debt loads, combined with skyrocketing rents and home costs, are part of the appeal to live in a place where housing is affordable.

But there is also this:

"There is a community-mindedness with millennials that attracts them to the smaller Rust Belt towns," said Peter Haring, president of Haring Realty in Mansfield, Ohio.

"We are seeing an intense interest in participating in the revitalization of our towns and being a part of the community. It's palpable, and it's exciting," he added."

Millenials want affordable housing, but they also want to belong to a place, and to be involved in the life of the community....a major shift from a long trend of community disengagement in America.

Finally, there is also this:

"More and more people are now working virtually, which means they do not need to be in their office and can work from almost anywhere," said Ralph DiBugnara, senior vice president at Residential Home Funding. "So why not find somewhere to live where your city dollars can go a lot further?"

Home-based work AND the ability to shop online has diminished the need to a)Live close to your employer, and b)Live close to stores and essential shopping needs.

What ties all this together? Millenials, no matter where they live, are heavy users of the Internet and want and expect to be connected 24/7. Affordable, high performance broadband is the essential ingredient in this major shift in community and economic development.

Smaller towns and cities that do not have a strategy for ensuring that they have the necessary broadband infrastructure to attract and keep Millenials are not going to be able to benefit from this trend.

Neighborhoods are business districts

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/21/2018 - 09:53

Here is confirmation of what I have been saying for twenty years: Neighborhoods have become business districts.

This article cites a study showing that more workers telecommute than take public transportation (e.g. buses, subways) to work.

This is why fiber to the home is so important: it is an economic development imperative. Home-based workers and home-based businesses need affordably priced, business class Internet services.

5G, with data caps, speed throttling, overage charges, and security problems, is not going to be an ideal solution. And in the long term, fiber is less expensive.

For as long as there has been wireless data and broadband service, the wireless boosters have been promoting the idea that wireless is "cheaper" than fiber. But that premise is based on a false comparison of the first year cost of wireless with the forty year cost of fiber.

Wireless equipment typically has to be upgraded or replace every four or five years because of obsolescence and/or environmental deterioration. But put fiber in the ground or on utility poles and you have created, at a minimum, a forty year asset.

Take the forty year total life cycle cost of wireless and compare that to the forty year life cycle cost of fiber. Fiber is going to win...every time.

The word is starting to leak out

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/13/2018 - 16:04

When Wired magazine starts writing about small community-owned broadband, something has changed.

For twenty-plus years, the incumbents have tried their best to get everyone to believe that community-owned telecom infrastructure is a waste of time and money, and that the technology is soooooo complicated that only big multi-nationals can do the job. This while those same big companies abandon whole states and leave small towns unable to attract the businesses and jobs they need to thrive.

The Wired article mentions only a few of the more than 300 communities that have community-owned infrastructure. Some efforts are quite modest, but many of them are offering Gigabit fiber and/or high performance fixed-point wireless successfully. And in doing some, creating local jobs, driving down the cost of broadband for businesses and residents, and attracting entrepreneurs and work from home businesses and jobs.

Facebook gives up on its drones

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/28/2018 - 09:40

Facebook has given up trying to build its own drones. The idea was that the high altitude unmanned aircraft would beam Internet access down to the ground in remote areas where Internet was not available via conventional terrestrial delivery.

Facebook's drone only had two flights, and the second one incurred "substantial damage." The company indicates it will continue to work with companies like Airbus deliver Internet "to the masses...." I'm not sure if the author of the article used the term "masses" or if Facebook did, but we're not "masses" down here.

When "unlimited" does not mean what you think it means

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/18/2018 - 10:15

Gizmodo has a very detailed analysis of cellular "unlimited" plans that is a great example of why wireless broadband is never going to be a complete substitute for fiber service.

The carriers would not carry out this wordsmithed subterfuge if they did not have to, but the problem is very simple. We all keep using more bandwidth, and the bandwidth available from free space wireless in any given frequency range (e.g. 3G, 4G, 5G, LTE, etc.) is strictly limited by physics.

Fiber, on the other hand, can have its capacity upgraded easily without having to replace it.

Hat tip to Eldo Telecom.

Web site problems

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/15/2018 - 10:03

We're experiencing some malicious hack attempts to our Web site, and have had to make some changes and upgrades. Right now some graphics are not displaying correctly, but we are working to fix the problems. Thanks for your patience.

The level of effort required to keep a Web site free of malevolent hacks has been increasing steadily for years, and is really ruining the Web as an "open" communications tool. If this keeps up, many smaller businesses and especially small non-profits and community groups will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a Web site with anything but a few "flat" pages of basic information.

Content Management Systems like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal are targets of relentless and extremely sophisticated attacks, and require specialized technical expertise to keep them clean.

One solution is to revert to "flat" Web sites using only plain old HTML--back to the early days of the Web, and not really in a good way.

The myth that wireless will replace fiber

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/07/2018 - 09:25

AT&T has just announced another price increase for their cellular data services. They have increased the cost of their unlimited data plan from $40/month to $45/month.

But here is the most interesting thing in the announcement: "Consumers are using mobile data at record levels and the trend is expected to continue."

"...expected to continue" is the statement that indicates the folly of thinking homes and businesses don't need fiber and that the every distant "next generation wireless" is going to eliminate the need for fiber.

Applications and content continue to use ever-increasing amounts of data, and roughly every five years, the cellular providers have to replace all of their radios for the "next generation" just to keep up with demand. By contrast, off the shelf consumer grade Gigabit fiber equipment has massive capacity, and the fiber itself never requires an upgrade.

And all that mobile wireless access we want and need is powered by....fiber.

Why deploying broadband takes so long: Part I

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/01/2018 - 09:31

There is a huge fight looming that is already begun in many localities, which involves the deployment of 5G cellular radio equipment. Both residents and localities are wary of the dramatic increase in the number of poles and towers that are needed.

There are various numbers floating around about the spacing for 5G cellular equipment, and they range from a low of around 500 feet apart to a thousand feet apart. Compare that to the current typical separation distance of 3G/4G towers of 1-2 miles.

The 5G equipment is smaller and can be mounted on existing light and traffic signal poles, and new poles can be shorter: thirty to forty feet, because the poles are closer together. But in urban and many suburban neighborhoods, that means a 40' foot pole with a bunch of boxes and antennas hanging off in the right of way, or what most people consider their front yard.

Visually, some of the deployments are just plain ugly, and there are concerns about radiation exposure with the microwave antennas so close to homes and businesses.

The cellular providers do not want to have to go through the traditional permitting process for what could be hundreds of poles in a single locality, with special use permits, engineering studies, and public hearings for every pole.

The localities, quite correctly want some say in what goes in community right of way. Hence the looming fight. The dilemma for all parties is the insatiable thirst for more mobile bandwidth, conflicted with the proliferation of infrastructure in undesirable areas. It's not going to be easy to solve this.

As an example of the often arcane permitting process, we recently had to place an eight foot wooden post in the ground to hold a small radio. The post was proclaimed a "tower" by the local planning department, which led to more than a year of challenges to get the eight foot wooden post approved. We eventually got it installed, but the process included an inspection of "tower footers," which was just about one bag of gravel in the bottom of the hole, and then a "hole inspection," and we were never really certain what they were looking for, but we could not drop the eight foot wooden post in the hole until the hole was inspected.

Local governments need to try to meet broadband providers half way, or we are going to see a continued push for state level regulations that remove all right of way authority from local communities. Everyone, public and private, wants improved broadband access, but how we get there is going to require an openness to compromise on some issues.

The tech giants are getting creepier than ever

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/11/2018 - 07:50

Less than five minutes after I clicked on an Amazon link to look at a flashlight on sale, I got an email from Amazon saying, "...based on your recent activity, you may be interested in this other flashlight..."

Really? Is business so bad for Amazon they have to spam their customers? If they are doing this to me, they must be doing it to all their customers, so every day, they are sending out hundreds of millions of unsolicited emails.

These companies are abusing their customers, and it won't turn out well.

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