There’s a scam going around right now, promising a 50% discount on your Comcast/Xfinity bill. You might see this scam in your email, Facebook feed or even get a phone call! In any case, please know that it is not a legitimate offer.
It is too good to be true. Anyone duped into calling the offered number will reach a scammer, not an Xfinity rep. And the crook will press you to pay some advance money to qualify for the fictional discount. Once you send them any kind of payment, they’ll disappear.
I field a lot of service calls and requests for advice that center around a person’s ISP. Internet Service Providers are essential to most households, and yet, many of us have a dysfunctional relationship with our ISPs. I’m sorry to say that it may always be complicated to deal with them. Instead of going on a rant (I’ve rewritten this post a dozen times now), let me organize some tools and advice and Too Many Words™ that may help you cope with your ISP.
Most ISPs Are Tricksy
Well, the smaller, hometown ISPs may be straightforward and easy to deal with. But the big companies? Once they go corporate and expand across the country, something changes. Please read over this Washington Post article about ISPs across the country. It goes over a lot of their pricing tactics and other questionable practices. It’s not just your ISP that plays games.
Not only are they tricksy, but they frequently upsell to their customers. Many customers don’t know much about internet speed needs, and are led to pay for a premium product they don’t need. Your ISP is not your friend. You might want to get advice from other sources on what internet you should choose. More food for thought on this here.
Right now, ISPs often make it hard for you to make an informed decision on your internet speed/price. Their website may be hard to use, or may employ dark patterns to hide the lowest prices. Their sales reps may steer you to choose a pricey package, and they may outright lie to you. How can you protect yourself and your wallet?
In general, you want to do research as best you can, before you talk to the ISP. Pore over the ISP’s website for pricing info. If that doesn’t work, perhaps compare bills with your neighbors or other people using the same service. And while you’re at it, you may want to take notes on competing services in your area.
With some basic info already on hand, you can query your ISP: What are my internet options? What are the prices? If the answers are confusing or if they change the subject, you’ll have to be persistent. And you may have to ask them to simply Put It In Writing. ISPs should be able to email or postal mail you a rate card or Pricing List, when requested.
Be wary of promotional pricing. Ask what the price will be, once the intro-price has expired. If they won’t reveal that, think twice about accepting. Tell them you can’t balance a household budget on unknown prices, and that you can’t agree to a contract where you don’t know the money figures therein. Most ISPs offer no-term plans with dependable monthly rates, but they may not offer them to you at first.
Promo rates aside, ask about any other discounts that are available. You could save money if you also buy their TV service, or their landline phone service. You could knock a few more dollars off by agreeing to automatic billing each month. Going paperless might save you a bit more.
If there’s any good news about ISP prices, it’s that our government is slowly bringing improvement to the table. ISP “Nutrition Labels” will soon be mandated, and those will cut down on the confusion with your internet service.
Bad at Communication
These ISPs are often bad at communication. Which is kind of ironic, since they’re communications companies. But once you know this, you can accept it, and you can pick up the slack. It’s on you to be the superior communicator in this relationship.
This means: You have to ask the questions. It’s your responsibility to check in and ask: Am I getting the best price on my internet service? Have you changed your prices lately? Are there any new discounts?
These answers may or may not be on their website. But you might take it upon yourself to check in with your ISP once a year. Pose these questions to them. Let them know that you’re not interested in any additional service, but that you just want to make sure you didn’t miss the boat on anything.
Your ISP should confirm what speed of internet you’re signed up for. Trust, but verify. It costs you nothing to run a speed test once in a while. And it may help you catch any discrepancies or mistakes. Also go over your bill and check your charges. ISPs make billing errors all the time, but they will only correct them if you catch them!
My ISP Has a Monopoly in My Region! Don’t They?
Sometimes, this is the case, but don’t be too quick to believe that. If you desire a change of ISP, do some research to make sure you aren’t ignoring quality companies in your region. To figure out what ISPs service your region:
Check out the National Broadband Map website. It can give you some idea of the big ISPs that service your address. It is by no means complete or accurate, though, so this is merely a starting point. Smaller ISPs are probably not going to show here. And there are a lot of quality Wireless companies out there!
You can do a quick search on WISPA for Wireless Internet Service Providers in your region. But again, that is another incomplete tool. It will give you some leads, but not all WISPs are in their database.
There’s a wealth of information to be found, when you talk to people in your community. Ask around on your region’s Facebook groups, or join up with Nextdoor. See if any of the locals have good things to say about a hometown provider just up the road.
With a little bit of research and legwork, you may find that “monopoly” doesn’t quite exist!
Despite the best efforts, not all problems can be worked out. Some ISPs will do things that seem downright criminal, and getting them to make it right is not in the cards. If you feel you’ve exhausted all of your good options, then it’s time to see if the government can help you.
This article at BroadbandNow discusses how you can file a complaint about your ISP. It details the methods of reaching out to both the FCC and the FTC with your issues. Do read their advice and other minutiae carefully, as your situation may be appropriate to report to one agency but not another.
Your state or county government may also want to hear from you. You can find your locality’s Consumer Protection Office through this government site. You should consider using this tool in the case of any kind of fraudulent dealings.
When you get a new router, I recommend you use the exact same SSID (network name) and Wi-Fi password as you did in your old equipment. Now, this may sound like a no-brainer to many of you, but please hear me out and let me qualify this simple advice.
Not everyone is savvy with setting up their Wi-Fi equipment, and plenty of people have their ISP do it for them. But if your internet equipment has to change, the ISP’s installer may do a fast job of it. S/he’ll slap that thing into place, write down a generic/default network name and password and get out the door quick like a bunny. I understand why they do this. Many of these techs are contractors, paid by the job, not by the hour.
But when they do this, it causes disruption with all of your household Wi-Fi devices. Everything in your house was set to connect to ILoveMyWiFi using the password funkybeans135, but the new router is emitting Arris-L33T_5G with a password of JohnDoe540. You’ll soon be faced with an onerous task. You’ll have to touch on every device in the house and enter in those new credentials. That can be a lot of work, if you have a printer, a thermostat, a tablet, a smartTV, a video game console, and on and on….
It’s much easier if you stick with the same old network name and Wi-Fi password. You can ask your installer or technician for this! If the new equipment is programmed with the same old ILoveMyWiFi (or whatever your old network name was) and JohnDoe540, all of your devices will likely reconnect to your Wi-Fi automagically. The installer will quit the building and everything will be working just as it was before they came.
Tell your installer that you want to reuse your SSID and Wi-Fi password at the beginning of the appointment, while the old equipment is still in place. Once they decommission the old router, it may become harder for them to determine your network name and password (unless you have this written down ahead of time for them).
Network names and passwords must be kept exactly the same. These things are case-sensitive and even one different character will cause problems. MuellerWireless is different than Mueller Wireless is different from muellerwireless. Devices that connected to one of those will not connect automagically to the others.
It is possible to reuse your SSID and password when one piece of equipment replaces two. For example, let’s say you have a Comtrend DSL modem connected to a Netgear wireless router. Your ISP arrives and sets up a combo wireless modem that supplants both of your old boxes. You can ask the tech to program the new all-in-one box with NETGEAR35 and its password zestynoodle123. It doesn’t matter that the modem is a different brand; it can still broadcast a Netgear-style name.
It is possible that this tactic won’t work for you, if your existing router is extremely old. A 10-year-old Linksys router may be using an older type of Wi-Fi security (WEP) that doesn’t translate well to the new equipment’s security (WPA2). But most routers made in the last five years should work well with SSID and password reuse.
A year and a half ago, I recommended T-Mobile Home Internet Service to everyone. Regrettably, I have to rescind that recommendation. Think twice before signing up with this outfit.
TMHIS is turning out to be unreliable. Subscribers are enjoying great internet with T-MO, until their modem just stops, with an unhelpful error: “All PDN IP Connection Failure.” I’m hearing about this from folks local to me, and people further abroad.
Toms’ Hardware is a solid tech news site that has been reporting on this in detail. I recommend you check out this article and its follow-up on TMHIS troubles. But in short, it appears that T-Mobile is unable to fix these problems, unwilling to admit to it, and lying to its customers just to get them off the phone. They are not helping their affected customers; they are just hanging them out to dry.
While this is nothing new in corporate America (I once worked for a large healthcare company that engaged in these same practices), it hurts me to think that I’ve guided some of you to use TMHIS. For this, I can only apologize. I regret if T-MO has let you down. If you need recommendations for another ISP to switch to, reach out and I’ll do what I can.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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!