Category: ISP

ISP Data Collection

I hear from many people who are grumpy about all the personal information that Google and Microsoft are collecting. And I won’t deny that those companies are making money off of your web searches and use of their software. But I want to challenge you to think in a different direction. Did you know that your ISP is doing the same thing?

The company selling you your internet connection (Shentel, Xfinity, Verizon, Spectrum and more) collects data about you. Everything you do over their internet connection is fair game. And while they are sworn to protect your privacy, they are also allowed to use their collected data to advertise to you, or sell your data to 3rd-party companies.

The FCC made an attempt to limit this practice in 2017, but did not succeed. The FTC has been studying ISP Data Collection Practices, but it remains to be seen what good will come of their reports.

So what can you do about this? I don’t have a perfect answer or silver bullet for you, but here are some ideas:

Contact your ISP and use any tool they offer to opt-out of their data collection practices. While the law allows them to hoover up your data and make money off of it, they are also legally obligated to give you a way to opt-out!

You could use a VPN. Or Private Browsing mode. Or the Tor browser. But none of those are great solutions, and I don’t recommend them. ISPs may still gather info about you, despite your use of these tools, and they’ll cost you money or time as you try them. The root of the problem (the law) is not addressed by these tactics.

Communicate with your state legislators, and ask them to promote laws that deal with this issue. Some states have legislation in the works that may clamp down on ISP Data Collection. Let your government know how you feel about your personal information and what ISPs are allowed to do with it!

ISP Equipment: Rent Vs. Own

If your ISP requires you to have a modem, then you may have an important choice to make. It’s worth thinking about!

Some people rent or buy their equipment (modem, WiFi router or combo device) from the ISP. Others go out to a store to buy something they like. There are pros and cons to each of these. You should choose, based on two topics: your tech-ability and what your ISP allows.

ISP Allowances

Every ISP has different rules about their internet equipment, so you may have many options, or be very restricted. You’ll want to call them or check their website for their rules. They may have a list of specific modems that are allowed or prohibited for use with their service. They may offer to sell you a modem, or tell you that they only rent their modems, for a monthly fee.

You’ll want to study the associated prices, to make an informed decision. Ask about the rental prices vs. the purchase price for a modem, and you may find that one way saves you money over another. The Amazon price of a modem could be half of what the ISP charges for the same model.

Computer Skill Level

Are you skilled with technology? Can you fix your own computer problems? When your internet goes out, how comfortable are you at troubleshooting your own problems? Do you have someone in your household that takes care of that for you?

If you don’t have a comfort level for fixing computer problems, or if you don’t have tech-help close at hand, then you should strongly consider using the modem that your ISP provides. If they won’t sell it to you, then consider renting it. Using the ISP-provided equipment will make it easier for them to resolve your future internet issues. Consider this scenario:

Becky gets her internet service from Metamucil Fiber LLC, and she had the choice of renting her modem for $13/mo. But she’s thrifty and she went to buy her Piyala-brand modem from the local Malwart for $100. She patted herself on the back, because in less than a year, she was saving money by not renting her equipment.

But one day her internet goes out, and she doesn’t know what to do. She calls Metamucil, and they refuse to help her much. Why? Because she’s not using their modem, and they only train their reps on how to fix their equipment. They tell her to call Piyala for tech support.

She calls Piyala, and they aren’t much help, either. Why? Because they aren’t familiar with Metamucil Fiber. They ask Becky questions like Is their DSL PPPoE? and What’s their DNS server names? Piyala needs more info from Becky before they can do much. She doesn’t know what to tell them and feels overwhelmed.

In this scenario, Becky can struggle, going back and forth between two helplines, but the struggle is real. As in: really aggravating. She can also call in a professional tech, like yours truly, but that can result in a significant bill that may wipe out what money she saved by buying her Piyala modem. In the end, Becky may come to regret buying her modem from Malwart. If she had rented and paid the ISP’s monthly fee, then Metamucil wouldn’t’ve passed her off so quickly. They would’ve had to support her 100% with her problem!

The TLDR Point

I apologize for so many words, but the end point is this: If you can’t fix your own tech, then you should get your ISP modem from your ISP. This puts the ISP “on the hook” for supporting you in times of trouble. If you buy someone else’s modem, then the ISP might refuse to help you later on.

Shentel Email Best Security Practices

Many of my clientele are in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the home territory of an ISP named Shentel. And like many ISPs, Shentel provides free, courtesy email addresses to its subscribers. It’s like a mint on your pillow, except this mint needs some extra warnings on its wrapper and may give you some indigestion…

I can level a variety of criticisms against any ISP-provided email another time. For this post, I need to write on how Shentel customers can keep their email more secure. There are frequent scams targeting Shentel email addresses, and I want to help as many people as I can to tighten their defenses.

If you don’t have a Shentel email address, this post will not directly apply to you, but the overall security recommendations do. So please consider these points, and implement anything you are comfortable with!

Password Strength

I’ve helped with Shentel email users for almost 20 years now, and from the beginning, I’ve noticed Shentel doling out really weak passwords to their email addresses. In 2002, it was common for a brand-new Shentel email address to come with a 6-digit password. It was typically 3 letters (part of the person’s name), and 3 numbers (often the phone exchange of the user). To this day, I still encounter Shentel email addresses with these old, short passwords, like “abc465” and “joe933”.

If your email password is this short and simple, please change it now. Email thieves can determine such short passwords quickly, without hacking you or tricking you. There are password-guessing programs readily available on the dark web that anyone buy and use for this. And once they guess your password, they can use your email to start scamming your friends and family, or worse.

Changing your Shentel email password is easy, especially if you know your current password.

  • Go to the Shentel Webmail website and login with your email credentials.
  • Click the cogwheel icon to the upper-right.
  • When the Settings screen appears, click Password.
  • Type in your old password and then enter a new password on the next two fields.
  • Click Save and you are done!

Try to choose a password that is 8 or more characters long, and use a capital letter, a number and a special symbol. An example of a strong password is: Maverick20#21 .

If you do not remember your Shentel password, call Shentel at 1-800-SHENTEL and ask their tech support to change your password over the phone.

Recovery Options

If your password is strong enough, you should still visit Shentel’s Webmail website. Shentel is starting to implement Password Recovery Options for its email users, but you won’t see these if you use Outlook, Thunderbird or a Mail app to see your messages. You must go to their Webmail site!

When you visit that site nowadays, you will be prompted to set a recovery email and recovery phone number. Fill out and satisfy these items as best you can, and call Shentel for assistance if there’s any difficulty. These are important to do! If some bad actor invades your email next month, these will help you more quickly to regain control of your account.

Request 2FA to Be Implemented

The best security tool to prevent email abuse is 2FA. This stands for two-factor authentication, and adds an extra layer to the login process for an account. When you use 2FA, you first login using your password, and next have to enter a token or code sent to your mobile number or other security device. If someone steals your email password, the second step will block them from accessing your account.

Shentel does not offer 2FA on their email accounts and has a hard time answering my most basic questions about it. But many other email providers do offer 2FA. If you are going to stick with your Shentel email address, you might reach out to Shentel to ask them to consider adding this security feature. It would greatly reduce the number of hacked Shentel email accounts!

When In Doubt, Pick Up the Phone

If you receive an email, and something doesn’t seem right, take your hand off the mouse. Take a moment to think about what isn’t sitting right with you, and contact someone without using that email in front of you.

That means: if you want to contact Shentel, dial 1-800-SHENTEL or any support number that is printed on their bills. Do not use any number in the fishy email! Contact info showing in a suspicious email will often put you in touch with criminals. And those guys will be all too happy to pretend that they are with whatever company you say you’re trying to reach.

If you can’t reach the company for advice, call someone else. Talk to a trusted friend, police officer, church pastor or relative. Or drop me a line for a second opinion, I am happy to sound off on all things, legitimate and scammy! You’re even welcome to forward odd emails to me, and I will quickly write you back with my verdict of them.

Naked DSL

In past decades, Internet Service Providers would sell DSL service with the requirement that you also purchase phone service. One service was linked to the other, and you were required to buy phone service if you wanted DSL.

Nowadays, ISPs usually do not have that requirement. You may now buy “Naked DSL” from your ISP and abstain from paying for traditional phone service.

Specifically, I can mention that a local ISP (Shentel) started offering Naked DSL in October 2015. They sent out a letter about it, but it was worded in a confusing and discouraging format. So this is your heads-up: Shentel customers do not need telephone service in order to have DSL internet service. You may discontinue your landline number, save some $$$ and still keep your DSL!

If you have DSL internet service with another provider, you can always contact their customer service folks to ask if they, too, allow for Naked DSL. Although, not everybody is comfy with that term, so you might instead call it Standalone DSL or “DSL without landline phone service.”

The Emergency Broadband Benefit

Our government is about to launch “The Emergency Broadband Benefit” to help struggling families afford internet access. On May 12, 2021, people who qualify for this program can apply to receive up to $50/mo off of their internet expenses. And eligible households may also get a $100 discount towards the purchase of a new computer!

There’s a lot to learn to this program, more than I can go over here. But here are a few links and extra details:

The basic program announcement and info is shown on this FCC website. Further info, such as who qualifies for this program, is better detailed on this page and on this FAQ.

A list of participating ISPs is now available at this site. Regardless of whether you can get an ISP benefit, the $100 device benefit is available to all eligible households.

The FCC Wants to Hear from You!

The Federal Communications Commission offers a broadband map website, where you can research internet offerings in your region. But there’s a problem with it. It’s based only on self-reported ISP data. This government tool is only as good as what the ISPs tell the feds about themselves.

To improve the situation, the FCC has just announced that they want public input on internet availability and quality. After collecting info from us regular folk, they will update their map-search-tool and decide better where government funding may be used to help expand internet access.

Please consider using this website to submit comments on your broadband experience. Be as detailed as you can be when naming companies or describing internet speeds/choices. Your commentary may eventually help improve the broadband map website and bring internet subsidies to areas that need it!

T-Mobile Home Internet Service

T-Mobile now offers internet service throughout the USA. And it appears to be a viable and solid option for getting broadband internet in your home.

The Basics:

T-Mobile Home Internet Service works wherever the T-Mobile/Sprint Cellular network reaches. Anyone can sign up, and it does not matter if you have cellphone service with another provider.

TMHIS is simple to use. When you enroll, they send you a Wi-Fi router/femtocell. You plug in its power cord, install their app on your smartphone, and run through a few simple setup questions. Then you’re done, and you have wireless internet throughout your home.

And it is fast. They make no speed promises (so far), but users report getting between 25-50Mbps through this service. The cost for their service? $60/mo, flat rate, all equipment included.

Other Winning Details:
  • Contract-free, pay month to month, cancel anytime with no penalty
  • Unlimited data! No data caps, no throttling speed after high data usage
  • No equipment fees or rental charges
  • All taxes and other fees are included in your flat monthly rate
  • Low latency, works well with online gaming and streaming
  • No installer needs to visit for setup, no drilling holes, no running cables through tight spaces
For More Info:

Check out the TMHIS website for more options and an order form. Or consider this other T-Mobile website.

TMHIS will bring affordable broadband to areas that have never had ISP options before, so I expect this program to become extremely popular. T-Mobile is already having to pace their new customer sign-ups, to make sure their network can handle the demand. If the TMHIS website won’t let you immediately sign up, just get on their waiting list!

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