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Consumer Broadband Dichotomy
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(rickatech), January 2007

Recently I helped a friend with a cable modem upgrade and myself with a DSL install. In both cases cheap powerful broadband accessories were used followed by incredible frustration attempting to set them up. So why are these consumer broadband products so damn difficult to setup?

Here's the deal. Internet providers for consumers use the cheapest possible infrastructure to stay profitable. Bandwidth for them is expensive - more expensive than technical support. It's in their best interest to place the technical burden on the consumer to make sure their equipment is connected properly.

For the cable modem install, Comcast needed to know the ethernet MAC address of the new cable modem. How the hell is a consumer supposed to know that his new fangled broadband widget requires a phone call to Comcast technical support to register it's cryptical MAC address setting?

For the DSL setup, Sonic.net's upstream infrastructure doesn't grant an IP lease to new equipment unless you call them or wait an insanely long time (couple of days) for their equipment to restrobe your connection. So although my initial computer worked, inexplicably at 2 AM one day when I tried to setup a wireless DSL router all network traffic stopped working - nothing after that would work no matter how much a changed and reconfigured things. How the hell is a consumer supposed to know the DHCP lease for his DSL link is tied to a specific device's MAC address which requires a phone call to technical support to reset?

Partly I suspect Cable and DSL broadband providers like to keep consumer equipment setup somewhat cryptic. That way only savvy Internet users will have the persistence and wherewithal to setup consumer broadband routers to 'share' their Internet links amongst many computers which will tends to dramatically increase bandwidth the provider needs to provide for. Indeed, these providers prefer to have one computer per Internet link (sort of a dumb one TV per cable hook-up model). They actually expect most of their customers to hook a single computer directly to their cable/DSL modem and use a world routable IP address. This is ridiculous, and highly insecure. It's like putting a computer right next to an evil hackers computer already on the wide open Internet and hoping nobody starts snooping around. Better to have a hardware firewall router (i.e. affordable powerful consumer broadband accessory) hiding you computer from the Internet - masking its connections as coming from the highly secure router.

The analogy here is that most people like to live in homes on a quiet neighborhood street. People walk on the side walk, cars go by at slow speed, truck and heavy equipment are the exception, ne'er-do-wells sort of stick out and can be policed effectively. That's what it is like to have a computer behind an broadband router. Instead, consider having a house where you have to parallel park you car right on the shoulder of busy US 101, then dive out of your car to your front door which is right on the freeway. That is what it is like to have your computer using a world routerable IP address plugged directly into your broadband provider's modem.

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