I love the Internet, but I hate my ISP

I live in the Computer Age and I love it here! - Randy Pausch

I have happily and willingly enslaved myself to the Internet for the rest of my existence. My life is deeply intertwined with the World Wide Web, and I wouldn't have it any other way. If given the ultimatum of choosing between losing my left arm or losing access to the Internet forever, I would choose the former. Think about it - it's not that outrageous of a statement.

The Internet gave birth to many of my most passionate hobbies, enables me to keep in touch with friends and family in ways not possible in previous generations, and is the reason that I am employed.

For how great the Internet is, isn't it kind of messed up how every person (at least in the United States) has to deal with some of the most unpleasant and debatably evil corporations in our country? I'm talking about you, cable companies and Internet Service Providers.

In the next couple of decades, the Internet might become a free utility available to anyone and everyone. Perhaps sensing the inevitable demise of their business models, cable companies seem to be determined to fleece their customers with exorbitant internet prices that perform well under the advertised speeds for as long as possible.

Wait, I said that I have enslaved myself to the Internet, not Time Warner Cable! Did I just unintentionally donate my sole to my ISP? Will my online experiences forever be throttled and mediated by the evil and oligopolistic empires that play gatekeeper to the havens of information and digital freedom?

Unfortunately, yes. As far as the foreseeable future is concerned, we are simply pawns in this cruel and unfortunate game of obtaining access to the Internet. But perhaps there are some things we can do to improve our "It's Complicated" relationships with our ISPs.

Say what? I rent my modem?

Did you know that in your monthly cable internet bill you pay an average of $5.00 a month to rent your cable modem? For those of you that are unsure of what the difference between your modem and router are, here's a diagram of a typical home network setup.

If you're like me, you've probably been aware of this seemingly negligible monthly "rental fee" and chose not to do anything about it. Do I really need to buy my own modem when I already own a router? It's only $5.00 a month! Well let me tell you - it's definitely worth it to invest in your own modem and hardware in general, and I'll give you two compelling reasons why you should make the switch.

You save money

Let's do some simple math here. I've been paying for cable internet since sophomore year of college after moving out of college dorms (2008). At $5 a month, I've been paying rent on modems for roughly 7 years at $60/year. This makes a grand total of $420 spent on modem rental for my time as a customer of cable companies. A good modem will cost you around $100 give or take, so in an ideal scenario, I'd have saved around $300 dollars after purchasing my first modem in 2008.

             Modem Rental => $5  / month
                          => $60 / year
Cable Customer of 7 years => $420

     Cost of 1 good modem => ~$100
        Potential savings => ~$300

If you want to get technical, let's assume an extremely conservative average modem lifespan of let's say... 2 years, which would result in me having spent about $400 for 8 years of functional modem service with an expected death of my current device in 2016. One may argue that this only offers a meager savings of about $10 per year, which isn't worth the hassle of constantly dealing with buying and setting up a new modem. Maybe this is a premium people are willing to pay for the convenience of a "hands-off" approach?

Well, other than the fact that setting up your own modem is less complicated than waiting for the "Cable Guy" to show up at your house (between the hours of 8am and 10pm, knock once while you're in the shower and promptly leave...), you also have the luxury of owning the latest hardware which often unlocks higher speeds and offers more stability.

You unlock the true potential of your Internet

Have you ever been upset about paying for a standard package of 15 mbps internet speed and only getting around 3 mbps or lower? Damn you, Time Warner Cable! Stop throttling me! You liars! Why is your company name 5 syllables and so inconvenient to pronounce? I hate you - I hate everything!!!1!

First, let me make this clear that I am in no way defending cable companies or suggesting that they don't take advantage of customers with rip-off packages and misleading advertisements of speeds "UP TO" 15 mbps. However, there are things that we can do to alleviate the most common Internet speed problems.

  1. Buy a great router. In April of 2015, that means a 2.4GHz/5GHz dual band Wireless-N router which will run you between $100 and $200. Get rid of that dusty old Wireless B/G Linksys or Belkin router from 2005 and buy yourself some serious hardware. I'm not talking about that $19.99 router on Amazon with a 5-star rating and 2000 reviews by Joe Guy saying that it's "easy to install, works like a charm".

When it comes to hardware, you get what you pay for. And in the case of routers, you're effectively buying what kind of Internet experience you want for the next 4 years.

  1. Buy a great modem. Now we're back on topic! The same Rules of Hardware Purchasing apply here. One of the biggest reasons that Internet speeds in actuality are so much slower than whatever package you pay for is because of your modem. A lot more people possess good routers as opposed to a good modem because (as mentioned previously) we rent our modems without thinking twice from our ISPs.

ISPs use their modems for as long as possible. They'll give you suckers from 2003 if they're still functioning. There are no regulations on what kind of modems they provide their customers, and there are no differing packages offered for renting a newer and more performant device.

If you still don't want to buy your own modem, you'd probably be better off unplugging the one you currently rent and smashing it as hard as you can onto the ground. Then at least you can complain about your hardware being broken and request a replacement. If you're lucky, you'll be getting a newer modem. But then again, you could also get that bad boy from 1998 that's going to work for another 3 months before it gives finally out.

Having trouble stomaching the costs? Can't justify the damage to your wallet because of your frugal lifestyle? That's kind of understandable. But just think about how much you're going to want to murder yourself when that sinking, desperate and desolate feeling strikes again after your Internet has died indefinitely and deserted your future self in that hellish Purgatory of digital isolation.

If that's not enough to convince you, here's the dramatic increase in my home Internet experience after upgrading both the router and modem.

Before

After

We all suffer during the downtimes of our ISPs and overpay for subpar customer service, but that's no reason to constantly live with slow and underperforming Internet speeds and connections!