Saturday, May 13, 2006

When Cheap Broadband Becomes Too Expensive

For over a week now, about half a million cable broadband subscribers have been intermittently or completely without service as Insight Communications re-engineers their network. What was originally billed as an overnight switchover has turned into a seemingly endless nightmare for users in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Not only has the Internet connection been broken to PCs and routers, there has been no way to call for technical support. The support phone lines themselves are so jammed they won't connect. For those using VoIP phone, that hardly matters. Without broadband, they have no telephone service.

Anyone who's heavily involved with technology knows that Murphy's law usually rears its ugly head to make a mockery of your carefully planned installations and upgrades. Insight's debacle has unfortunately turned into a "Katrina" level disaster. Customers are going from upset to irate to livid as the company can't even give them a schedule when full service will be restored. It's a major lifestyle inconvenience for students, gamers, music downloaders, and casual web surfers. But beyond that there's a potential financial disaster looming not just for Insight, but for thousands of businesses that came to depend on a data connection that was never promised to be dependable.

What? You mean you pay your $35 or $45 a month for "always on" broadband service and it's not guaranteed to be on ALL the time? I afraid so. In most cases, DSL and Cable Internet are considered to be "information services" and not regulated telecommunications services. They are also called "best effort" services. That means that the company promises to make its best effort to provide you with a reasonable service level, but no guarantees. That means no guarantees as to bandwidth, which often varies from day to day and even during the day if there are many users.

It also means no guarantees as to availability. You may or may not be able to get installation. If you do, you may or may not have continuous service. In fact, it is highly likely there will be short outages for maintenance, especially between midnight and 6 AM. There may be other outages due to inadvertent breaks in the line or equipment failures either with your modem or servers back at the home office. When things go wrong the company will make its best effort with whatever resources they have available to get your service working again once you report the outage. But, if thousands or hundreds of thousands of people lose service at once... Well, best efforts are likely to seem like not much help at all.

The television and newspaper reports are filled with stories of people who run businesses out of their homes or small offices, including travel agents, technical professionals, consultants, sales representatives and so on. Some report hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lost business. Some may be able to limp along with dial-up connections. Others might be able to relocate with laptop computers and cell phones to WiFi hotspots. But many will be in the same fix as if the power went off. Nothing to do but watch the money run the down the drain while they wait for service restoration.

For those whose fast Internet connection means a flow of dollars as well as bits, this is a foreseeable and largely avoidable situation. Foreseeable because a data service without a service level agreement is like a warning sign flashing "your service will be lost when you least expect it." Sure, it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when you experience hardly a glitch in a given month. It's also a reasonable risk to accept when you are bootstrapping yourself into business and an ISP bill larger than $50 a month means the difference between staying in business or searching the Want Ads for a job. But if your business is now generating hundreds or thousands of dollars a day in income that stops dead when the line breaks, it's really time to get beyond services intended for consumers and move up to professional grade.

The professional Internet service you want, regardless of whether your office is a spare bedroom or a storefront, is called T1 Internet or Dedicated Internet. It is provisioned as a T1 service on telephone cable and can be installed just about anywhere you can get regular phone service. It's also a regulated telecommunications service that comes with a service level agreement also called an SLA. That agreement spells out what happens when your line goes down and how you'll be compensated. No, it's not a hard and fast guarantee that you'll never lose service. But if that happens, you'll get almost immediate attention. Typically, T1 lines are restored in minutes or hours, not days or weeks.

Dedicated also means that you are the sole user of the T1 line. DSL and Cable services are shared among hundreds or thousands of users to spread the cost. Your T1 bandwidth remains at a steady 1.5 Mbps both upload and download. That may sound like less than the consumer providers are offering, but you have this 1.5 Mbps all to yourself. Unless you have some high bandwidth service that won't work without 3 to 12 Mbps, a T1 should be all you need. If your bandwidth needs increase as your business grows, you can always bond in more T1 lines to add bandwidth.

You probably expect that dedicated T1 Internet service is beyond your means. That's not necessarily so. T1 is priced by exact location, but a typical T1 service runs around $500 or so. In larger cities, prices are lower. Out in the boonies, the cost is higher. If you don't need so much bandwidth, fractional T1 lines are available for less. Even so, as someone who may have eaten a lot of hot dogs while building a business, that cheap residential broadband service still looks inviting. All I can say is to value the worth of a reliable T1 line based on the level of business it supports. If you lose even a day of cheap DSL or Cable Internet, that inexpensive $50 service may well have cost you more in lost business in a given month than you would pay for a $500 T1 line.

Don't become the next victim of seemingly cheap broadband service. Let us get you a quick quote for dedicated T1 Internet or integrated Internet and phone service. Just fill out the short form at T1 Rex and our friendly T1 consultant will be happy to share what services are available to you and how fast they can be installed. There's also a toll free number to call if you prefer.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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