I see you all have some questions about your “cable modems”

After I filed my latest USA Today column–a reminder that it’s still generally a waste of money to rent a cable modem–one of my editors said they would play up the post. He and his colleagues may have used some sort of cheat code, as the column has drawn more feedback than almost anything else I’ve written for USAT since starting this column at the end of 2011.

Old coax cable close-upAmong the 100-plus comments and 40 or so e-mails I’ve received since this piece went up Monday morning, the most common queries addressed Internet services that don’t involve any cable-television infrastructure.

AT&T’s U-verse was the most frequent subject of readers’ curiosity, followed by Verizon’s Fios and then CenturyLink’s digital-subscriber-line offering. I didn’t cover them in my cable-modem column because they all branch off the telephone evolutionary tree–AT&T and Verizon use fiber-optic lines built on top of their phone networks, while CenturyLink’s DSL relies on traditional copper phone lines. None depend on the local cable plant; all compete with it at some level.

Am I going to write back to all of these readers to explain that they’ll see my column is properly framed once they understand some first principles about telecom? No.

Many normal people just don’t classify their home Internet service by which regulated local monopoly began building out its infrastructure decades ago or how how high its wires go on a utility pole. The problem isn’t that some think of their phone and cable companies as functional equivalents, it’s that too many others can’t because only their cable operator delivers both television and high-speed broadband.

Besides, AT&T’s policies about U-verse hardware are interesting enough–especially compared to Verizon’s–to justify a follow-up column. Look for that this weekend.

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Weekly output: SXSW, cable modems

Spending the first half of the week out of town for SXSW put more of a dent in my schedule than I realized–as you can see from the unusually late time I’m posting this. Seriously, where did the second half of the week go?

Yahoo Tech SXSW post3/10/2014: The News from SXSW: Technology Will Liberate Us! Unless It Enslaves Us First., Yahoo Tech

I pretty much had to focus my writeup of the conference on the remote interviews of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden–both outspoken critics of the surveillance state, both beset by glitches with their Internet-video links. It’s crazy to think that a year ago, almost nobody at SXSW had any idea of what the NSA had been up to; the mood in Austin seemed a lot cheerier about the prospects of technology back then.

3/16/2014: Buyer beware: ‘Gray market’ cable modem can trip you up, USA Today

A reader had bought a cable modem after reading my recommendation to do so last August. Then Comcast said she couldn’t use her purchase. And things got really weird. A reader has since complained that the column left him “totally confused” about whether he can buy a modem on Comcast’s approved-devices list and have it work; I’m going to have to tell him he has correctly read a confusing situation.

Weekly output: app stores, NEC Terrain, HTC 8XT, ride-sharing, cable modems, guest WiFi

I spent three days in a row working outside of my home without actually leaving town, courtesy of the Usenix Security Symposium taking place in Washington. That was a little confusing.

8/13/2013: Mobile App Certification, IDG Enterprise

Another enterprise-focused Twitter chat I helped host. This week’s looked at company-specific app stores and other ways a business might try to regulate what mobile software runs on its network.

PCMag NEC Terrain review

8/15/2013: NEC Terrain (AT&T), PCMag.com

My first review for this new client covered NEC’s ruggedized Android phone, one of the last acts of a company leaving the smartphone business. I appreciated its sturdiness, but not its tiny screen or the high odds of future Android apps not running on the Terrain.

8/16/2013: HTC 8XT (Sprint), PCMag.com

My second covered a successor of sorts to a Windows Phone device I tried out earlier this year but wound up not reviewing for anybody. I can’t say the 8XT represents an upgrade over the 8X.

8/16/2013: Ride-Sharing Revs Up Around D.C., And Regulators May Not Even Freak Out Over It, Disruptive Competition Project

I returned to a topic I covered this spring–car- and ride-sharing services that can make private auto ownership more efficient by making private auto use more widely distributed–to note what seems to be a change in attitude among regulatory agencies in the District and elsewhere.

8/18/2013: Should you buy your own cable modem?, USA Today

This Q&A item about Time Warner Cable’s recent increase in its modem rental fee has really blown up–it’s picked up more comments than, maybe, anything I’ve written for USAT. There’s also a tip at the end about setting up a guest WiFi network and, should you desire, naming it “openwireless.org” to make it clear to passerby that they’re welcome to use it.

At Sulia, I relayed an avid D-SLR photographer’s assessment of the Nokia 1020, complained about “captive portal” WiFi networks that have names generic enough for my phone to have remembered them from other sites, noted a couple of presentations from the Usenix conference (one on a study of the effectiveness of browser-security warnings, another on Windows 8’s security upgrades), and shared reader feedback over the cable-modem item.

Updated 8/24 to add the IDG Twitter chat I’d left out. And updated again 9/29 with a better link to that.