The Blount County Internet Situation: Part 1

I am often asked the questions, “Why is my internet so slow, who else provides internet service, and why is my current bill so high?” Over the last few days, I have even seen a petition floating around Facebook asking OTELCO to improve service or an alternative to be provided. Since I have many customers in the area, I’ve decided to write an independent take on the internet in Blount County from an IT perspective answering each of the questions in a 3 part series. Question 1. Why is my internet so slow?

There are several reasons for this, but one could be the device closest to you - your internet modem. A modem converts the signal from the provider to the wire that is plugged in to your computer or, in some cases, your Wi-Fi signal.

One diagnostic step would be to test the internet speed from the modem. To do this properly, NO ONE ELSE SHOULD BE USING THE INTERNET while the test is taking place. The reason this matters is that each person who is using the connection is taking a portion of the bandwidth that is paid for away.

The computer you’re using to test the connection should be HARD WIRED into the modem. This means you can’t use your cell phone or a laptop on wireless to perform the test. You must have a laptop or desktop computer connected directly to the modem. It might even be a good idea to reboot the modem before you start. From this directly connected device, go to speedtest.net and pick a test site in the southeast and watch the results. You will see something like the following…

After the test is completed, determine what speed is being paid for monthly. Let’s say someone’s playing Xbox, someone’s watching a movie on Netflix, and someone is streaming music. If you are paying for a 4mb DSL connection, then you’re probably not able to do these things seamlessly because that isn’t enough bandwidth to support these simultaneously streaming devices.

Speed Tiers

OTELCO offers several different speed tiers based on what type of connection you are being provided. The connection provided really depends on what area of the county you live in. The reason for this is we used to have 4 different telephone companies in one county. OTELCO bought them all but one and never merged to a single infrastructure. In Blountsville, Walnut Grove, Altoona, and Arab your connection is probably DSL. In Oneonta, Cleveland, Snead your connection is probably cable. The Hayden, Remlap, and Locust Fork areas have AT&T and I believe they provide DSL, but, I’m not very familiar with their service and it is beyond the scope of this article.

The bottom line is that DSL is offered in speeds of up to 12 megabits per second and cable is offered in speeds of up to 25 megabits per second. Upload speeds vary between packages, but, upload speed only matters in unique situations such as online gaming and voice over IP - most of which isn’t used by the public. One other thing to note is ping times: they should generally be below 100ms; if they are higher than that it should be noted as it could cause problems. Arguing about ping times with OTELCO will probably not get you far. NOTE: If you have DSL and have IP TV this will slow your internet down like someone using Netflix or some other streaming service. It is my advice to not use the IP TV service at all as better and cheaper options are available. Back to the speed test. Once everyone is off line except for your hard-wired device, run the speed test, determine what speed package is being paid for, and then conclude whether what is being paid for is what is received; document the findings and repeat the speed test in this way each day, several different times during the day, for a week or so. After a week’s worth of data has been collected, call OTELCO (800-286-4600) and provide them the documentation. It’s best to start with tech support at option 1 on the main line. If the problem persists, then start hitting option 2; this gets you to the main office. Ask to speak to a manager, and do this EVERY DAY until they correct the issue or you drive them crazy. While you might determine a small amount of variation between what is paid for and what is received is acceptable, it is also your option to contact the FTC, FCC, and the Alabama PSC in the same consistency that you are contacting the internet service provider with the same complaint about not receiving the speeds you are paying for. Contact information for these agencies are provided below. If you ARE getting the correct speeds at the modem then it’s time to look at your equipment. If the equipment is a modem/router, it was more than likely provided by OTELCO and it will probably be the very first thing they replace. If you purchased your own equipment, then you need to have it checked. Most modern routers are “dual band”, meaning that there are two signal options: a 2.4 ghz signal and a 5 ghz signal. 2.4 ghz goes through walls and obstructions much better than 5 ghz, however, it does not perform well streaming movies or for online gaming. The 2.4 ghz spectrum is also VERY crowded because everyone has a wireless router now and, if you are in an area with many signals showing up in your WiFi list, this could be an issue.