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Issue #802: December 4-10, 2022

Q: My internet keeps going out at busy times of the day. The cable/internet company told me that when other people (my neighbors) sign onto their internets, this is knocking out my internet signal because they have a stronger piece of equipment than I do. FYI- I currently have a Motorola Wi-Fi modem that is about 5 or 6 years old.

 What pieces of equipment – router or modem or preferably, router/modem combo, can I get to improve my ability NOT to lose my internet signal when my neighbors get home from work and sign on to their systems (during heavy internet traffic times)?

 I have already tried signing on to the modem/router and selecting a specific channel for my system to sign onto versus “all” or “any” and this has not helped my situation. My system is still signing off saying “no internet” when I in the middle of something important.  Thank you so much for your help.

 – Meredith T.
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

A:  I’m going to be painfully blunt here, and say that your ISP, or at least the customer service agent you talked to, is either full of something, doesn’t know his or her job, or thinks their customers must be pretty dumb.

Let me address this whole “neighbors” thing.  There was a time, before local providers’ network backbones matured, that certain technologies were vulnerable to peak service time failures.  When kids would come home from school and adults would get off of work, it seemed like everyone hopped online to play games, surf the web, or download a day’s worth of accumulated e-mail, and with everybody competing for network resources, things could slow to a crawl.  The technology that was most vulnerable to this effect was cable, because as the cable ran farther and farther from the service hub, it was divided at each neighborhood, effectively splitting the bandwidth.  The farther away, the more it was shared.  When relatively few people were online, the service was peppy for all.  But when a large number of users were online, users far down the line would experience much slower connections.

As I said, this was a problem endemic to cable.  Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service works differently.  It uses existing twisted-pair lines, such as the telephone lines that exist in most households.  Generally, this provides a single connection all the way back to the provider’s data center, so there’s no sharing.  The trade-off is that DSL can’t even come close to achieving the maximum throughput you can get from cable.

Some of the statements you made in your question left me with the impression that you may be a little misguided on your hardware.  Let’s see if we can fix that.  A typical residential network starts with a modem.  This is the only interface between your house and the ISP.  Then there is a router, which is what allows that single Internet connection to be shared among multiple devices in the home.  Typical home routers offer both hard-wired, and wireless connectivity using a number of protocols.  The type and speed of the router should have no effect on speed and reliability issues with your ISP.  Now, I can see where one might think otherwise, because many providers offer a single unified device that has both modem and router functions built-in.

Now, let’s talk about what your ISP rep told you.  It is almost universal in this business that an ISP provides the hardware that a customer requires to connect to the service.  When a customer calls in complaining of a service issue, it would be the height of failure on the representative’s part to not try and upsell them to new hardware – especially when the customer’s hardware is “5 or 6 years old”.  That’s positively ancient in the realm of communication technology.  Let me be clear on one thing:  I don’t believe for a second that some customers have some sort of mystical devices that pulls bandwidth and capacity away from other users.  There is no such thing, and shame on the representative that fed you that story.  Further, I don’t think it’s incumbent on you to fix what is clearly the provider’s problem.  If you’re willing to continue using this provider, (I probably wouldn’t be) then I recommend that you call them again, ask the same questions, and if you get the same answers, call them out on it.  Then demand that they upgrade your hardware to something far newer.  While they’re at it, maybe they can stick in one of their magic bandwidth sucking devices so you can better compete with your neighbors.

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