09 May 2012

Supporting local business, and reliability.

I work out of my house, and so having reliable Internet service is important to me.  I don't make much money at the moment, so things being inexpensive is also a plus.  Additionally, being able to keep the dollars I spend local is a great thing - I *like* doing business with people nearby for a lot of reasons.  So, I was thrilled a while back (a year, maybe two) when I learned of a local wireless ISP who was lighting up my neighborhood - and their HQ in the Mission is about a mile from my house!

Photo by Adrian Black, on Flickr
So, I signed up.  I believe I was a relatively early customer, in that they didn't charge me a monthly fee (just an install fee for the wireless bridge on my roof) for a period of a couple of months, because their residential wireless service was in beta.  They eventually got me hooked up (they were busy at first announcement, no big shock there), and I was pleased with the speed I was getting - it was about the same, or slightly better than the speed I was getting with Astound, the number 2 local cable Internet provider, at approximately the same price per month (once billing began).  I was very happy during the beta period, getting decent service for free.  There were a few glitches, but I didn't mind - I kept my Astound service during this period, so when push came to shove, I could switch back if there were problems.   I wound up switching back two or three times during the months I was a beta customer.  No big deal.  Then, the beta came to an end and they started billing me, so I canceled my Astound Internet service after about a month, not wanting to get double-billed.  Because of Astound's bundle pricing, it winds up costing me slightly more to get my Internet service from another ISP, but when it's working well, the speed is higher.

Things were OK for a while.  I started noticing occasional glitches during the day, but I didn't think anything of it.  Then, I started paying attention to their Twitter feed (which one of the founders tweets on), and realized that they were fairly regularly doing network maintenance *during the day*.  Hm.  OK, small business, small staff - I guess I get it.  But as I paid fairly close attention during the next year, I noticed a *lot* of outages.  Most were small, but a few were 10-20 minutes.  One lasted multiple hours(!). Sometimes it was maintenance, sometimes genuine problems.  The practical upshot is that over the last year-plus, I've spent probably 15-20 hours troubleshooting (to rule out my local setup) or waiting for fixes for what eventually proved to be issues on my provider's network.  They're really nice, and very helpful, but I start to wonder:  at what point is it just not worth it to me?

Unfortunately, I think I'm reaching that point.  Luckily for me, being in San Francisco, there is at least one more local-ish provider I can choose from.  I don't like the idea of spending more cash on setup fees, but I'm also kind of fed up with problems.  I understand that I'm not paying for business service - but I also feel like network issues should be the exception, and not the norm.  It feels like hardly a week goes by without something...  What do others think?  How much should I be willing to put up with?

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