Bellsouth – AT&T Merger

You may or may not be aware that AT&T (actually what was known as SBC Communications before SBC adopted the AT&T name) is trying to merge with Bellsouth. This merger was announced early this year and has been held up by a deadlocked FCC. The merger would put tie together the majority of former Baby Bells into a reconstituted AT&T, reversing the decades of progress that the breakup of AT&T achieved.

Thanks to AT&T’s 1984 breakup, Americans now have more phone choices than ever before. The cost of telephone calls has plummeted. Cell phones are ubiquitous. Companies actually compete for your business (to some extent, anyway). Few of any of these would have happened – or happened as quickly – if AT&T was still guarding their mostly taxpayer-funded universe. If SBC … oops, I mean AT&T succeeds in swallowing Bellsouth it will put a huge swath of American telecommunications back under near-monopoly control, leaving only Qwest and Verizon out of this new, improved Ma Bell.

The reason for the delay is the FCC. Commissioners are deadlocked, 2 to 2, on the merger. FCC Commissioner (and Tar Heel) Kevin J. Martin break the impasse/a> by bringing back commissioner Robert McDowell, who recused himself due to earlier lobbying against similar big mergers. McDowell used to be general counsel for a trade group representing small phone companies.

In spite of Martin’s desire to clear this off the FCC’s decks, I think major changes will be needed for this thing to pass. Even though I believe McDowell’s vote may torpedo the merger, I think the conflict-of-interest laws should be respected and his participation should be barred. If the merger can’t convince the two commissioners, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, to vote yes then the two companies will just have to buckle down and make a more convincing case or call it off.

AT&T To Buy Bellsouth

How can AT&T, er …I mean SBC’s purchase of Bellsouth be a good thing? Remember when there was only one phone company in town? Remember how high your phone bills were? We’re heading back to those days, thanks to a Congress that can’t say no.

Where’s Elliot Spitzer when you need him?

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Hello and Goodbye to Google Fiber

As y’all may know, I’ve been a booster of Google Fiber for a while. I signed us up for it the first day it became available. This week, I switched us back to AT&T. Let me explain why.

The server that hosts this website, my neighborhood mailing list, and other Internet stuff lives in a datacenter in Atlanta. I don’t really notice this, though, because the AT&T Fiber’s routing is excellent! I get super-low latency of 16 ms for my round-trip pings. I can’t reach many cross-town servers much faster than that. When I switched us over to Google Fiber, that round-trip time jumped to 60-100 ms. I researched whether my hosting provider’s datacenters in other cities were any better but it turns out Google Fiber is not nearly as good as AT&T’s. The city with the fastest server Google Fiber could get me to was Dallas which – as you geography buffs will note – is significantly farther from Raleigh than Atlanta. Go figure.

Please note that I’m a network nerd and my tech needs are, um, … unique. Normal people would probably not notice this stuff.

Being temporarily “dual-homed” with Google and AT&T meant I could negotiate rates. When I called to cancel AT&T, they offered me my same package at 30% off for 1 year (i.e., cheaper than Google and I can renew the deal next year). We now get for $60 what before we got for $90. Praise competition!

Google Fiber is still connected to our house (their fiber is still “lit.”) We’re not locked into AT&T with any contract so if AT&T pisses me off we can switch back without any trouble. Google just wants their WiFi Access Points back, which I didn’t use anyway.

There is also part of me that feels that a little bait-and-switch took place with Google Fiber. When Google Fiber was announced, I was under the impression that Google would devote its massive resources to making it a success. Instead, the company changed focus almost immediately, drastically putting on the brakes to its deployments. It was clear Google was not willing to make the investments necessary to make Google Fiber a healthy concern for the next fifty years. Google’s obsessively focused on its short-term stock market performance. It does not make investments the way railroads do, or like providers that expect to be relevant in 50 years, like AT&T.

Google Fiber switched to micro-trenching for its network installations. It also outsourced its installs to companies like Prime Telecom. I had multiple crews try to put in fiber, only to have me interrupt their installations because they were either bringing the fiber to the wrong side of our house or they were digging without doing utility locating. In hindsight, I suppose they usually skip the locating because it’s time-consuming and their shallow trenches rarely affect other buried utilities. They’d rather take the chance of busting something else than wait for lines to be marked. I don’t think this is a very professional game plan, personally.

Google Fiber does offer something unique, and that’s 2 Gbps service, twice as fast as our current service. This would be appealing to me but it is asymmetrical and the upload speed is still limited to 1 Gbps. I’d also have to upgrade all of our home networking gear to the new 2.5 Gbps standard. Well, technically I could use Google’s Wifi6 Access Points to go 2 Gbps but I want to use all the copper I’ve put into our house, rather than rely on WiFi. So, until Google makes the 2 Gbps service symmetrical I’ll stick with single-gigabit speeds.

All that being said, gigabit internet rocks! Saying goodbye to Spectrum forever rocks! Competition rocks! If you can get gigabit fiber, either through Google or AT&T, I recommend you do it. You will be happy you did!

Cheap Thoughts: Microcell towers

A microcell site outside of the gas station at Raleigh’s Costco.

I’d been a bit puzzled by all of the microcell sites I’ve seen popping up around town. The first I found was the one behind Adventure Landing on Capital Boulevard a few years ago. Since then, more and more have appeared at locations like Hillsborough Street near N.C. State, Cameron Village Shopping Center, Red Hat Amphitheater, St. Augustine University, outside the Subway on Creekside Drive, and the one pictured above outside of Costco on Six Forks Road near Wake Forest Road.

Many of these new towers sit almost literally in the shadow of massive, existing towers. Why were all of these micro towers going up in places that already have clearly good coverage?

Then the Eureka moment hit me. These cheap, utility-pole cell sites are poaching cellphone users away from the massive towers and collecting the connection fees!
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Broken DHCP on the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite

The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite (ERL), an amazing little networking box.

Back in October I finally squeezed gigabit speeds out of my AT&T Fiber connection by switching from my old OpenWRT-based TP-Link Archer C7 routers to an Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite (ERL). The Archer hardware could not keep up with gigabit speeds but the ERL can.

I love the ERL! It’s only about $100 but it’s a very powerful device! Previous versions of the firmware were a bit cryptic (at least in the UI area) but the latest one provides a lot of functionality (and wizards).

I had followed one such wizard to do my initial setup with the ERL back in October, after upgrading it from version 1.9.1 of EdgeOS to EdgeOSv1.9.7+hotfix.4. All seemed to work … except for it properly pulling a DHCP address from AT&T. See, I have bypassed AT&T’s PACE router in favor of my own and the ERL now does everything but the initial 802.1x authentication that opens the port on AT&T’s switch.

Why do you need to use DHCP on your AT&T link? You can put a static IP on your end of the link but AT&T offers DHCP leases of 14 days and expects you to use them. If your box (i.e., my ERL) doesn’t renew its IP near the end of those 14 days, AT&T considers the link to be dead and shuts down the connection. At this point, the only way you’ll get it going again is to reconnect the AT&T router and let it do its 802.1x authentication again. This is a pain, so avoiding it is very useful.
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Amazon kills unlimited Amazon Cloud Drive option

Recently I had a scare when our home storage server went on the fritz. Years of photographs, videos, and files were suddenly in jeopardy as they appeared to vanish. Being a resourceful geek, once I caught my breath I was able to revive everything. Still, it was enough of a scare that I accelerated my quest for a good, offsite place to back up our files.

Part of this quest was getting gigabit fiber Internet at home, which I recently did when I could no longer wait for Google Fiber and signed up with AT&T Fiber. Untangling this brave new world has kept me busy recently, not leaving much time for blogging. I will have lots to say about this in the near future but suffice to say that having a fat pipe at home makes it easier to do any kind of backup to the cloud.
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Internet everywhere

Two recent events converged in my mind. Yesterday, I attended Google’s grand opening of its Fiber Space in Raleigh, where gigabit Internet connections are the norm. And on Saturday afternoon, I was in Garner’s Southeast Regional Library to pick up Hallie and observed that all but two of the library’s Internet terminals were occupied. It made me sad that in the years since I watched a mom and her son turned away from the library when no computers were available that a shortage of Internet access is still seems to be a problem.

I hope the big-gun Internet providers like Google Fiber, AT&T, and the rest continue working to provide Internet access to the people who need it most.

Google Fiber debuts in Raleigh, opens home on Glenwood South | News & Observer

Here’s the full N&O article about the Google Fiber Space grand opening.

RALEIGH – After months of building hype for its services, Google Fiber is offering high-speed internet to its first Raleigh customers and opening a retail office in the city.The tech giant is now offering its fiber services to homes in the area around North Hills known as Midtown, mostly along Six Forks Road and the Beltline. In doing so it provides those residents a high-speed alternative to AT&T, which already offers the same speeds for the same price in Raleigh.

As part of the rollout, Google Fiber is opening its regional office in the former 518 West restaurant space at the corner of Jones Street and Glenwood Avenue in downtown Raleigh.

“This will be a place where people can come experience the future of the internet,” said Erik Garr, Google Fiber’s regional manger in the Southeastern United States.

Source: Google Fiber debuts in Raleigh, opens home on Glenwood South | News & Observer

How the FBI tracked down a Georgia woman tied to $4M in… |

It turns out that Abby Kemp, the … um, babe jewelry thief, did some modeling three years ago. I wonder what drove her to a life of crime?

In 2012, a then-22-year-old Abigail Lee Kemp posed for a professional photo shoot. Young, pretty, brunette, she wore short dresses of black and red. Her high heels were steady on the balcony of a Midtown Atlanta high-rise, skyline stalwarts like the AT&T building standing tall in the background.

She bent over to touch the water flowing from a fountain, sat in front of an outdoor fireplace and stared into the distance. She smiled while a tattooed man suggestively touched her hips.

The same woman will be a few miles away Monday, in federal court at the Richard B. Russell building downtown. The FBI believes her responsible for a string of armed jewelry store robberies across five Southeastern states, crimes they say netted watches and diamonds worth millions.

Source: How the FBI tracked down a Georgia woman tied to $4M in… |

N&O runs horrible broadband op-ed

The Google Fiber op-ed that ran in today’s N&O entitled “Google Fiber deal not in best interest of NC public” is so godawful that I don’t even know where to begin. Written by Dawson Gage, who calls himself an “IT worker, freelance writer, and aspiring law student,” it is incredibly misinformed on so many levels:

I rejoiced when my family first got broadband Internet when I was about 13, but I doubt it has made any of our lives richer or more productive. The usefulness of computers, for the most part, has little enough to do with how fast they are. No one wants delivery vans and school buses that go 20,000 mph.

Is Gage actually suggesting that life isn’t richer than in the days of dialup? Before YouTube, NetFlix, Wikipedia, Facebook, and Google? Apparently, having a mind-blowing amount of the world’s information instantly available isn’t rich or more productive enough for him. I bet he’s a big fan of the abacus.
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