The Best Internet Service Provider in Lawrence?

Internet

As one of the leading people doing computer repair in Lawrence, KS and not being associated with (or receiving commissions from) any broadband provider, I remain staunchly independent. Given our broad range of experience with every internet service provider in the community, I can give you unbiased, well-researched suggestions.

Many people (including my team) have been disappointed with recent problems with Knology (formerly Sunflower Broadband). During the last weekend of April, and around the same time of the announcement of WoW!’s buyout, many changes were made to the Knology network here in Lawrence. From what support and clients told us, this was about integrating Sunflower’s old systems into Knology’s “big-picture” systems. No big project goes 100% as expected and glitches occur. I was profoundly disappointed customers weren’t properly notified about these upgrades and the unexpected, yet foreseeable problems. Moreover, customers in Lawrence who called the Knology central call center (not located in Lawrence anymore!, were given inconsistent answers about Knology’s problems and the potential solutions. Such issues are common with any large company. Oh, and the fact that they also announced price increases at the same time annoyed people to no end! Many are reevaluating their options.

Generally, within Lawrence we have 3 basic choices for Internet Service Providers each with pros and cons, recommendations and caveats. Again, I have no direct affiliation with any of these providers and I’m currently a customer of all three companies:

Lawrence Freenet:

When possible, this is my first choice. Their business model has evolved over time and can be a bit confusing. This is partly due to having to compete with”the big guns” in town. A portion of the fees paid for your Internet go to subsidize low-income families. Right now there are a few different ways to connect to Freenet.

For some customers, such as my office, they’ll bring the connection to your building. Same goes for many fraternity and sorority houses. This avoids the need to use wireless. I just plug in and go! The speeds are simply awesome.

Most customers will connect wirelessly. Just like ever other wireless device (including your mobile phone) the ability to connect is location dependent and Freenet has a map of coverage. Your ability to connect depends on where you’ll be using your computer and any devices that could interfere. Frequently you’ll need a booster device from Freenet. What’s nice about your Freenet connection is you can take it with you around town. If you’ve got it at home and decide to go to the local coffee shop and their wireless is dog slow because of all the students, you can use your Freenet connection.

Support is 100% local and very responsive. It’s not 24/7 (I’ve only had to call it once), but I do see they answer twitter @lawfreenet after hours so that might be an option too. I also like the fact they don’t have bandwidth caps which makes cutting the cord from cable TV very easy.

Best of all, you can try Freenet for just a day to see if you like it by buying a day pass (especially if your main provider is down).

Knology:

When I first moved to Lawrence, I ran Geeks on Wheels, which was a sister company to Sunflower Cable and was called “Datavision” at the time. Internet over cable systems was relatively new and Sunflower was a national leader with the product. Most people were on dial up back then. The cable boxes were these huge big Zenith boxes with an annoying array of red lights.

First to market means you don’t always benefit from the lessons of those before you, and other Internet Service Providers in other communities weren’t starting from scratch. As time moved on Sunflower’s network aged and, in my opinion, congested. Cable runs over a shared connection much like water in a hotel. Enough people turn on their shows and you don’t have hot water. A significant number of clients reported slowdowns during “peak hours” due to usage by others in their neighborhood. Knology has been working hard to restructure their network to accommodate for this.

These network changes cause periodic outages and were one of the reasons I switched my home from Knology. Micro outages that maybe lasted only a few minutes caused annoying interruptions to my productivity. While some customers perceive these problems as having started with Knology, in reality they were there when Sunflower was the name of the company, people just tolerated it from the locals more.

That being said, in reality, I still consider Knology a great choice for most people. Setup is relatively painless and pretty much everyone can get it within the city. The equipment can be purchased anywhere and you actually own it. While I am generally opposed to bandwidth caps, for most people these caps are reasonable. The exception is the bronze service, which is better than dial up, but not much better. For very light users that is fine. Outages are generally dealt with quickly and don’t linger for days.

Support could be better, but the fact is it’s pretty darn good, even after the closure of the local call center. It is currently not outsourced so the people you talk to actually work for your ISP and care about your needs 24/7 (and are based in the US) with another great twitter support account @knologykansas. Local cable technicians happily come to your home to help when you have a problem and in my experience, are much less likely to blame the customer. I recommend Knology in spite of the fact a division of theirs, Geeks on Wheels, directly competes with my business and Knology generally will recommend their own division for local support rather than refer it to local independent technicians.

AT&T ADSL (it may be called Uverse in your area now or as I like to say Faux-verse)

Avoid this. It’s older technology that tends to be quite slow. I’d absolutely choose Knology cable Internet over ADSL. ADSL is very distance dependent too. Some of the connections they sell are only slightly better than dial up. I’ll talk about AT&T’s support when discussing “True” Uverse.

AT&T Uverse (VDSL)

AT&T’s version of VDSL is Uverse. It allows TV, phone and Internet all to be carried into your home on one piece of wire (just like cable TV). The system is very fast and is priced competitively with Knology’s offerings.

We’ve been Uverse customers in our home for over two years and we’ve only had 3 outages of any length after the initial setup. One of those was a planned outage that they actually called us about. One was a regional problem for all AT&T customers and one was when our Residential Gateway (RG) was acting flaky and we eventually had to reset it.

That’s the weak link for Uverse customers. You MUST use their boxes. You can’t buy this RG and you can’t easily use your own router. One box that connects everything in your house is a single point of failure. They are only made by one company and AT&T remotely upgrades it for you as they determine. This means that you don’t really have control and that annoys me.

Support is simply horrid from AT&T. The call center is outsourced and the language and cultural barriers are a real problem. They aggressively push their tech support services called “ConnectTech” and too often blame the customer in an attempt to sell these services. This is especially ironic since these service calls get sold to “OnForce” which then contracts with local providers. You pay twice as much for the same service that’s already provided locally. Your best best for support is their twitter account @attcustomercare, which is responded to by support personnel in the executive offices.

AT&T has bandwidth caps for all Uverse customers but apparently aren’t enforcing them unless the violations are egregious. The cap is 250GB, which is the same as Knology’s Gold cap.

Installation was a nightmare with Uverse and I’ve never had a client tell me installation went well. Multiple visits from multiple technicians with lots of finger pointing as to what the problem is. Internal complexities of AT&T’s breakup in the 1980 combined with Union and Non-Union workers makes for challenges to get someone to own up to a problem and provide service.

However, as stated earlier, once it is finally installed, it just works. That says a lot. I recommend AT&T Uverse to customers looking for more reliability from their ISP with the caveat that when they do have problems it will be harder to resolve. The pricing is competitive with Knology and if you’ve run into bandwidth cap problems with Knology, AT&T Uverse is an excellent choice.

For those out in the country.

If you are in an area in which you can’t get Knology or AT&T, your options are limited. Some customers choose “MiFi” style connections via their wireless phone company (such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon). These devices use mobile phone networks to carry data services. If you get good service from one of these providers, the devices can carry a data connection multiple computers. Note the bandwidth caps can be very low from these companies, so it’s important to shop around. Also test the device if possible in your home before purchase (most will let you if you ask).

If you aren’t behind a hill or have lots of trees around your home, check out Canopy style services from Knology or Kansas Broadband. These services essentially beam an Internet connection to a receiver on your home. This is a “line of sight” service meaning there has to be a clear path. You’ll need to call them to set up a test. They may charge for this service call, but many customers have been able to convince them to waive that charge.

These services tend to be relatively reliable but sometimes the wind or foliage during certain times of the year block service. Also, for obvious reasons, towers tend to get hit by lightening so outages are common after a storm. Most Canopy providers have bandwidth caps, so you’ll have to figure that in.

For the customer who has no other options, satellite such as Hughesnet is a service of last resort. It is expensive, it’s slow and it has bandwidth restrictions that would make even Knology blush. They’ll “throttle” you if you use too much Internet over a 24 hour period. One Windows or OS X update and you’ll be in bandwidth jail. It’s very frustrating for customers. Service and support are outsourced and of extremely inferior quality. The dish has to realigned at least once a year and support is done via third party resellers so pricing varies. The key advantage is you can use it anywhere. If you can see the sky, you can use Hughesnet.

Packaging

You’ll get your best price from AT&T or Knology (now WOW! and formally Sunflower) by buying multiple services from the same company (TV, phone, and Internet). However, you are not required or bound to do so. In my home, we have Knology for TV (works best with our TiVo) and AT&T Uverse for Internet and phone. Feel free to mix and match if one technology works better for you, for example, Knology for TV and phone and Freenet for Internet.

PS To Keep up with some of the nuances of Lawrence Broadband options, check out Lawrence Broadband Observer

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