rich warren | Window shopping for internet connection | Scientific technology

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Imagine choosing your water supplier. Instead of being limited to Illinois American Water, you can choose from a handful of companies offering to deliver water to your home. Plus, try imagining them tearing up the streets so everyone can lay their own array in your block. Even more fascinating is to conceive that each water company essentially pumps from the same aquifer, the main difference being the pressure and price of water.

It’s a near-perfect analogy for Internet connectivity in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding areas. Not so long ago, the franchised cable or telephone company provided your only connection to the Internet. Prices were high with frustrating customer service.

A flood of federal money has recently poured into small towns and rural areas allowing new internet service providers to compete with established ISPs (in this case, literally). As a result, many residents can now choose from multiple ISPs, offering varying prices, speeds, reliability, customer service, and amount of data. It absolutely pays to shop around for your internet connection. Always read the fine print before signing on the dotted line.

Most people are finding that they no longer need the programming packages provided by cable and satellite. You can choose the internet streaming services you want or select packages from Hulu, YouTube and others. With various streaming sticks such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV as well as smart TVs, watching from the internet is just as easy and convenient as with cable or satellite.

Mediacom (now trading as Xstream) held a virtual monopoly on my block for decades, with Frontier coming a long way behind. Mediacom, not always reliable, offered the worst customer service while being ridiculously expensive. Even if you saw a broken cable, you had to face an ignorant person in India. Frontier’s internet speeds were so slow it seemed like worms could deliver data faster.

Two years ago, in a flurry of activity, CCG/Pavlov dug a fiber optic cable faster than a mole on meth, closely pursued by Volo. More recently, Mediacom and Frontier have upped their game with new coaxial and fiber cables. Fast fiber by nature provides little incentive for companies to market different speeds, so 1 gigabyte (1,000 megabits per second) has become the de facto speed for CCG and Volo. They vary depending on the amount of data you are charged for. CCG and Volo route fiber directly into your home, while Mediacom and Frontier still rely primarily on coaxial cable for the last leg. The more fiber, the better.

The most surprising thing is that wide price differences differentiate these companies. On my block, Volo charged about two-thirds of what CCG charged. CCG charged about half of what Mediacom charged for broadband connections.

While Volo doesn’t always deliver the promised 1 gigabyte speeds, its impressive reliability and customer service make up for it.

This from a reader: “I thought you might be interested in looking at this document. Champaign County is considering a broadband project for rural areas. If you remember, we had a conversation a little over a year ago about trying to get internet at my house north of Muhammad. We’ve since installed Volo, and it’s been pretty reliable. »

The report the reader is referring to (prepared by CCG) opens with: “There is a wide disparity in the county between broadband speeds in cities and speeds in rural areas. The best visual demonstration of this is the map created from the Farm Bureau’s survey which shows that broadband speeds are dropping on the outskirts of every city. To read the full report, which is quite interesting, go to tinyurl.com/mr28khrc.

Right now, the rural internet is like the old original TV show “Lassie” where they had to throw the phone by hand to make a call. There is no excuse for the lack of rural broadband in the second fifth of the 21st century.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime critic of consumer electronics. Email him at [email protected]

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