With the high cost of cable or dish services, more people are watching their favorite television shows and movies through online service providers for a nominal monthly fee or for free. Many of the best content providers, like Comedy Central, are offering their programming for free online with minimal commercial interruption. Combined with a public library card, a person can get many hours of programming beyond the time they have available to enjoy it.
Two Choices: Mediacom and CenturyLink
In the Iowa City area, we have two primary service providers for Internet: Mediacom and CenturyLink. Others exist, but their cost, speed, quality, and reliability make them less attractive unless you live in a rural area. The extreme minimalists might consider using a tablet device for all Internet browsing and video viewing, with service provided from a wireless carrier such as AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint.
Cost and Special Offers
You can get deals like $19 a month for one year, or possibly a longer contract. However, once the deal is over, you might pay $49 or more for the same service from either provider. That might be the time to switch to another provider. It’s possible that when you call your company and indicate your interest in canceling service, they will offer you a deal to keep you as a customer.
Internet Quality and Customer Service
For those wanting a faster hard-wired connection, Mediacom and CenturyLink are your best choices. You’ll hear varied and strong opinions about both of these providers. Some people are very pleased with one or the other, while other people have had very bad experiences with one or the other. This varies depending on personal experience, where you live, the equipment you may have been using, and the randomness of what customer service person you got on a given day.
I know of one person using CenturyLink who is paying for 3 Mbps service but is getting less than 1Mbps. They are told that’s the best the company can offer in their area and that the 3 Mb per second guarantee is only a promise of what the best outcome might be for that service package. I’ve heard similar stories from Mediacom customers. It’s not too difficult to switch from one service provider to another, and in fact it may get you special deals that are half-price or below what you been paying. Make sure you’re not breaking any contracts or losing out on a special grandfathered pricing package.
Traditionally phone service providers like CenturyLink seemed more compelled to keep services running since the hard wired landline phones are linked to 911 emergency services. Providers like Mediacom understandably don’t have the same sense of urgency and timeliness when fixing a television signal or Internet connection. However, this is changing since more people are getting their phones and other important systems onto Internet connections.
Choose an Independent Email Provider
If you’ve not done so already I would suggest not having your email account dependent upon a specific ISP (Internet service provider). Instead, use something like Google Gmail, Microsoft Outlook (their new free online email accounts), Yahoo, or other service. That way, you can switch around your Internet service provider without having it impact your email workflow. In other words, don’t become dependent upon an MCHSI.com, or Q.com, email address.
Pay for Higher Speed / Bandwidth
One mistake people make is paying for less speed/bandwidth than they really need. Most providers don’t guarantee an actual speed, they just promise that your performance should be close or up to a certain speed, and usually is is, but sometimes it can drop. With Mediacom, if you pay for the 50Mbps service, the equipment used in your home and connecting into their grid is on a different network than the lower speed service. So, this can help get you a more reliable fast connection. In some areas, CenturyLink doesn’t offer the higher speeds that Mediacom offers (such as 50 or 100 Mbps). If you have several devices in your home using the Internet, and if they are installing automatic updates, or there are multiple people watching videos, this can place a load on the service.
Virus Impact on Speed / Bandwidth
With a slow Internet connection, services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Vimeo won’t work as well. If you’ve noticed a recent increase in problems in your video playback quality (on the computer) for such services, it could be a virus. I recently worked on someone’s computer and they told me that Mediacom warned them about being over the limit on downloads. We went to the user’s Mediacom Usage Meter account page and their accumulated download usage was maxed out. Turns out that a virus had turned their computer into a server and Mediacom had reduced their speed as a result. There are other things to check as well that might be causing a problem (such as unnecessary programs, malware, spyware, adware, etc.). Below is an example of a healthy Mediacom Usage Meter report. Click the image for a larger view.
Wireless Impact on Speed
When you’re farther away from your wireless router, the signal strength and quality typically diminish. This will cause the speed to drop considerably. Even when you have a strong signal, if the quality of that strong signal is poor, the Internet speed will be poor. Things that cause poor signal quality could be walls, wires, or other obstacles (particularly metal). Some electronics and certainly other wireless networks in the area can compete with your wireless signal. Software like WiFi Explorer for $2.99 (on Apple Mac computers) can help test your area for possible interference. The screen shot below shows how the software can identify all the wireless networks in your area, and also show the channel they are on (which can cause the overlap and interference). Click the image for a larger view.
Check Your Internet Speed
Some people are paying for a certain level of Internet speed, but not getting it. This may be because of an equipment or calibration issue which is the responsibility of the provider. Sometimes just restarting your router can fix speed problems. It could also be a result of inside wiring issues (see below).
Weather Can Impact Service Quality
If you’ve had a thunderstorm, lots of rain, or lots of rain, or very cold weather, at least with Mediacom, these conditions can impact signal quality and Internet speed. Sometimes problems go away after a simple reboot of the router. In other cases, a technician may need to be called out.
Check Your Inside Wiring
Cabling and y-adapters (splitters) that once worked well can be compromised for a variety of reasons such as an electrical surge or just general wear. Having a provider technician come out and test your signal strength and quality is essential.
You may be paying for, and receiving, high-quality/high-speed Internet delivered to your home, but may have some internal cable or splitter that has gone bad. That happened to us. The signal out of the wall was degraded. We replaced the splitter in the wall that had previously worked fine with a new one and the problem was solved. For those wondering, a splitter in the wall is often used when a cable jack is on either side of the wall serving two adjacent rooms.
Use the Provider’s Equipment
It never fails. You’ll call your service provider to complain about a speed problem or other issue, and they will tell you that the problem is being caused by your equipment and there’s nothing they can do about it. If you’re using your own cable or DSL modem, and/or a separate router, then you may be on your own with regard to diagnostics. However, if you pay the nominal $5 to $8 per month fee to rent the provider’s equipment, then they can diagnose equipment problems remotely all the way to and through your router. This alone is worth it.
Internet Issues That Impact Video Quality
I was helping someone recently who lives north of Iowa City and has Southslope. They could get to the Internet just fine and when I used SpeedTest it seemed their bandwidth was quite good. However, for some reason, Apple FaceTime video would not work properly. After some diagnosing and getting the people at Southslope involved it was discovered that the problem related to timing and how their equipment was configured to deliver the service. What was happening is that packets of data were delivered very quickly. However, there might be gaps of time when packets weren’t being delivered. So, the problem was not noticeable with software updates/downloads, checking email, or browsing the web. I think partly it depends on where you live and what equipment is delivering the service. In the above situation, I believe there were some microwave towers involved in getting the signal to their rural location.
Change Your Viewing Habits
For your “television viewing,” if you can switch your viewing habits to content that’s available through other sources than cable or dish you can save a lot of money. Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon prime would collectively cost you about $30-$40 a month and you would have a wide array of on-demand movies and TV shows. There’s also a lot of good content for free on YouTube and Vimeo. A small investment in a television antenna would get you many of the local stations for local news. I don’t know what the cost is for basic cable these days but switching to that might be a big cost savings.