I know you use the World Wide Web.

Maybe you access the web from Cafe Kopi, or Fiesta Cafe, and never pay for access. But if you reside in Champaign-Urbana, and want access to high-speed Internet in your home, you might find the following paragraphs useful.

Competition among broadband carriers in Champaign-Urbana has driven Xfinity/Comcast to offer (thru March 21st) a $19.99/month 12-month plan with speeds up to 10 Mpbs. 

I signed up on January 28th. Hilarity ensued, but it's only funny if you have a deeply cynical sense of humor and a lot of screen caps.

If you live on a fixed income, you must avoid Comcast. The additional (hidden) charges arrive almost immediately. My first bill (after having paid the first month and one-time installation charge) has four distinct total amounts. The largest is $139.94. The smallest is $29.99. That’s the $19.99 plan, Comcast style.

I’m tech savvy, and I have a law license. If I were elderly, ignorant of the law, an immigrant/foreign student or unsophisticated about fine print, I might feel  powerless relative to a giant monopoly that controls a massive portion of the nation’s communications infrastructure.

I’ll share all the gory details in part two, coming soon. For clarification, I will be using the terms Comcast and Xfinity interchangeably, along with shitty and, perhaps the defendant corporation.

Today I’ll attempt to provide a comprehensive description of ISPs in C-U, beginning with my ex.

U-verse

For the last two years, I've been a U-verse subscriber. Before that it was AT&T DSL. Same service, really. But different modems and speeds.

Last January, when the competition  (ITV3)  arrived in my neighborhood, U-verse offered me 50% off to stay with them for a year. I spoke to a woman in Dallas affiliated with their "Loyalty Program."  She offered me a $35/month deal for 12 Mbps. I agreed.

This January, I called them to offer another year-long contract at the same rate. The first guy I spoke with said U-verse didn't have a "Loyalty Program." He transferred my call to "Customer Retention" in Charlotte. Long story long, U-verse has no competitive rates to offer this year. Their basic service costs more than ITV3, at about one-eighth the speed.

About U-verse’s 12 Mbps: speedtest.net told me I routinely achieved 17 Mbps and about 1.68 for uploads. DSL, coming through the same RJ-11 telephone jack, was about 3 Mpbs, which always seemed fast enough for surfing, watching online streams, basically anything other than downloading large files.

Comcast’s 10 Mbps provides an actual 12 Mbps and upload around 2.5, according to speedtest.net. Here’s a screen cap of a test I ran.

While talking to Sonya, the delightful woman at Charlotte's "Retention" office, I learned that I'd been paying a rental fee for the shitty 2-Wire 802.11g modem that U-verse provided when I first signed up. Wireless G was already obsolete in 2013, and the wireless function failed within the first six months anyhow. So that modem went back in its box, and in its stead, I used one of the plethora of modems that I find every third week of May, when students ditch town and toss all of their valuables in the alley, near the dumpster.

But unbeknownst to me, I continued to pay rent on that modem for another 18 months. That's $126 I paid so that modem could occupy space on a shelf in the basement.

The rental fee was never mentioned to me by the woman in Dallas, and never printed on an e-bill until the final month of our contract.

(Perhaps you heard NPR’s story last week about cable TV set-top boxes, and the outrageous amount of rent Americans pay for them. This is a similar issue, but already soluble. Read more about it here. And here’s NPR’s original story from last autumn.)

Sonya explained the proper procedure for ridding oneself of the rental modem. You pack it, and all its accessories, in its original box. You take that box to the UPS Store (near BW3, Culver's and Goodwill at Marketview and Anthony). They pack and ship it, free of charge, to AT&T. If you don’t send it back, Sonya explained, AT&T charges you $150 for the modem.

 

ITV3

ITV3 (formerly UC2B) — the company that's burying fiber optic cables and has orange/green yard signs all over town — offers plans starting at $49.99/month.  That buys 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. ITV3's top tier is $79.99 for 1000/200 Mbps. I can't personally think of a use for that kind of speed, unless we figure out how to send cars or ourselves over fiber optics.

If you stream Ultra-high-definition (4k) live sporting events, you might need this kind of weaponry. Massively multiplayer gaming needs huge server capacity, but maybe these speeds help at the player end. I wouldn't know.

ITV3 has clearly gained some subscribers. Maybe it's people who simply hate Comcast and AT&T, the parent company of U-verse.

If you want to try ITV3 for yourself, you can probably gain access to the network with a laptop and an ethernet cable. Go to west Urbana, Washington or Nevada streets especially. There you’ll find a number of buried connection portals wiring directly (and somewhat dangerously) to homes on those streets.

This behavior probably constitutes some form of theft, so I recommend it specifically to drunk students who’ve tripped over the loose cables, and only in jest.

Volo Broadband

The News-Gazette reported, a couple of years ago, that Volo sells Internet access to humans. That story features a picture of two laborers and a backhoe working near a small home. It also mentions a $150 fee for installation of service. Here’s a reddit about Volo’s services and pricing.

That’s all I could find out using modern techniques. But when I sent my first draft of this piece to SP, Fearless Publisher chimed in with some background.

Volo is just really decent people (one dude really) trying to make Broadband a reality. If there's an initial $150 fee to get that sort of service and super fast gigabit speed, fuck man — I'd pay that in a HEARTBEAT. If I could pay $150.00 to not have to deal with Comcast, I'd pay that too, knawhatImean?

Seth told me that Peter Folk is that one guy behind Volo. Folk is also the past chairman of the C-U Cable and Telecommunications Commission. That made him easy to track down.

I spoke with him Monday night.

Folk expressed discomfort with the $150 installation fee, but the fact is that connecting a buried cable to your home involves some labor. The CAT5 (ethernet) connection is not buffered by a modem, so when you plug it into the 8P8C jack on your computer, you get 400 Mbps instantly.

If you plan to live in your same C-U home for the foreseeable future, Volo may be the best option price-wise. There’s no modem to buy or rent, and the lowest tier is $30/month. Folk said that gets you about two hours of video per day. He added that video is the big data user for any residential Internet subscriber. Whether it’s a live stream (e.g. a live sporting event)  or a buffered feed like YouTube is immaterial. It’s all data that needs to get from its server to your machine.

The other pricing tiers are $40/month for medium usage, and $60/month for major users. Folk described these tiers as an honor system, adding that Volo doesn’t have a data police squad monitoring usage, but will sometimes reach out to customers to suggest they move up a tier if usage proves really high.

Volo wires apartment complexes, and offers a wireless network. But the company’s emphasis is the wired, residential consumer. Folk said Volo’s coverage map is kept fairly up-to-date.

Pavlov Media

When you're in Downtown Champaign, you've probably tried to access an open wi-fi network called "Pavlov Media Downtown Champaign". It didn’t work for me either.

Pavlov seems to be focused on wiring big apartment complexes, especially with local rental behemoth JSM Living. They don’t list pricing on their webpage. I’m reminded of Yakov Smirnoff. In Russia, pricing lists YOU!

Their website lists an email address for queries about residential service. So I queried.

RM:

Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Do you have a list of rates for Internet service in Champaign-Urbana? Fee for installation? Can I bring my own modem?

Pavlov Media

Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 5:11 PM

Hello Maam/Sir;

Thank you for contacting Pavlov Media Email Support.
We appreciate your interest in getting our service. To assist you accordingly, please provide the information below;

Full Name:
Phone Number:
Apartment Name:
Apartment's Address:
Apartment's Building/Unit/Room Number:

Should you need further assistance, please call us through our Toll Free number at 888 472 8568 or through our Live Web Chat at www.pavlovmedia.com/support or generalsupport@pavlovmedia.com.

RM:

2/10/2016 5:12 PM

Nevermind.

I copied the timestamps for a reason. I like it that Pavlov doesn’t have customer service reps sitting around a call center, waiting for stupid questions. There’s no way I’d consider subscribing, because I need to know what things cost. Instead of telling me, they ask for all my personal details.

I’m willing to accept the proposition that Pavlov, like Volo, consists of nice people who seek to do good work but simply aren’t very good at marketing or consumer relations. Perhaps rates differ between parts of town? I hope a representative of Pavlov will clarify in the comments section. (Also, please tell us what your service costs.)