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ISSUE 18.1.F
• 2021-01-11
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The AskWoody Newsletter
FREE EDITION

In this
SPECIAL BONUS free issue

DEBUT – PUBLIC DEFENDER: Stop paying $200 a year for your Internet cable modem

CHANGES: What do you want?

CONTINUITY: Time to adapt while acknowledging the past

BEST OF THE LOUNGE: Removing Flash

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

LANGALIST: Controlling Win10’s sometimes hyperactive security apps

DEBUT – LEGAL BRIEF: Understanding Section 230

BEST UTILITIES: Freeware spotlight — 3 tiny tech tools for your flash drive

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PUBLIC DEFENDER

Stop paying $200 a year for your Internet cable modem

Brian Livingston

By Brian Livingston

If there’s anything I hate, it’s paying $15 or $20 a month for something I don’t want or need.

Now our political system — such as it is — has done something about it. A law passed by Congress went into effect just a few days ago: December 20, 2020, to be exact. ISPs (Internet service providers) are now prohibited from charging you a monthly “equipment fee” for connection devices you bought and installed yourself.

ISPs know all about this law, which is called the Television Viewer Protection Act (TVPA). It was supposed to go into effect last year on June 20, but cable and telephone companies pressured the FCC to delay its protections for six months. But now, if you own your own hardware, one call to your ISP should get the charge removed — although it should already
have disappeared from your bill.

This is a big deal. Along with some other ISPs, Frontier Communications — which sells Internet access in 25 US states — charged all its users, until recently, $10 a month for a cable modem, “whether you use it or not.”

Asked for comment, Frontier VP Javier Mendoza told me: “Customers that are charged for covered equipment may return equipment and will not have equipment charges.” Well, which
non-Frontier modems are compatible? Frontier “cannot endorse or recommend other
routers,” Mendoza responded.

Aye, there’s the rub. What to buy? Like every law that makes it out of Congress, TVPA generated several Web mentions. But do a search in Google News on tvpa fee. All the articles within the past month ended by saying, “You can save big!” while never telling you the right device that would stop the monthly fees from your ISP.

Well, let’s fix that here and now. In this week’s column, I’ll tell you how to determine which
devices are compatible with almost any ISP you might have.

Step 0: Maybe you’re actually better off just renting?

You first need to decide whether saving the fee is worth it. True, many ISPs raised their equipment charges on January 1, 2021. Comcast/Xfinity’s basic cable modem fee is $168 per year, and its xFi version is $300 per year. But for that, you do get a free replacement if
your unit goes belly-up. My wife and I bought and moved into a fixer-upper in a Comcast service area last year. For the sake of convenience — since we had a few thousand contractors to juggle — I allowed a rep to install a generic gateway (a modem/router combo). A few weeks later, I happened to move an Ethernet cable in my entertainment center to an adjacent port. That one click shouldn’t have broken anything. But my Xfinity gateway  mmediately stopped working.

After I called Comcast, a technician came to my house within two hours — surprisingly fast. The fellow spent 45 minutes testing my external signal and the gateway. Yep, the device had fried, and he gave me a new one for free. You might find this kind of insurance worthwhile.

To keep my monthly costs down, I call my various service providers once a year and ask the operator whether any new plans are available. The “customer-service reps” are really just “retention specialists,” but they’re usually authorized to knock at least a few dollars off your bill. Blogger G.E. Miller reports that with one call, he reduced a $20 monthly equipment fee to only $5.

However, buying your own hardware puts you in control. To cite just one example, Comcast silently gives away some of your wireless bandwidth to complete strangers who pay for connections to its “Xfinity WiFi Home Hotspots.” Yes, you can disable this, though some people say the routers mysteriously re-enable themselves. But with your very own cable modem, sharing doesn’t happen — you don’t lose any of the bandwidth you’ve paid for!

Step 1: Which type of hardware do you need?

Not every device works with every ISP technology. I’m oversimplifying here, but there are three main types:

  • A cable modem converts data on a coaxial cable into a digital signal that an Ethernet port can pass along. A router divides an Internet signal among two or more wired or wireless computing devices. A gateway is a combined modem and router. A gateway typically has one coax port, four or more Ethernet ports, and possibly a Wi-Fi router as well.
  • A DSL modem converts a telephone line’s Internet signal into an Ethernet signal.
  • Fiber-optic Internet, such as Verizon FiOS, requires an ONT (optical network terminal), not a cable modem.

The remainder of this article focuses on cable modems, since most fixed-broadband customers in the US use a cable company for Internet access.

Step 2: Do you need a phone-capable cable modem?

If you’re currently getting landline service from a cable company — or you want to someday
get your dial tone that way — the cable modem or gateway you purchase must include one or more modular jacks (RJ-11 ports).

As long as you’re changing your cable modem, however, you might want to also ditch your ISP’s voice service. Get a highly rated, independent VoIP provider such as RingCentral or Ooma Office.

Step 3: Do you need 25Mbps, 100Mbps, or 1Gbps?

ISPs constantly promote fantastical speeds. “Watch videos faster” is a common advertising claim. Most of these promises are baloney.

To test this, University of Chicago computer science professor Nick Feamster developed software called Net Microscope. After analyzing tens of thousands of streaming videos across the Internet, he announced in a 2019 white paper that “higher access speeds provide only marginal improvements to video quality.”

This study received a lot of play in the mainstream media, including a front-page Wall Street Journal article. Testers with 100Mbps service who launched seven video streams at once used only about 7.1 Mbps — far below their hardware’s capacity. “It’s not worth it,” the
Journal concluded about 100Mbps service or higher.

Even Netflix states that its most-demanding streaming-video formats — a 4K TV picture with Dolby Vision or HDR10 audio — require you to have an Internet service tier of no more than 25Mbps. For commonplace high-def 1080p videos, just 5Mbps is the minimum recommendation.

Most websites will never feed you anywhere near that much data per second. Don’t pay more for a 100Mbps or 1Gbps tier unless you have some specialized need.

Now that we’ve gone over the services you want and need, next week my column will take you step by step to the exact device that’s best for your specific ISP.

Do you know a secret that we all should know? Tell me about it! I’ll keep your identify totally confidential or give you credit as you prefer.Send your story via the 
Public Defender tips page
..
Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

The PUBLIC DEFENDER column is Brian Livingston’s campaign to give you consumer protection from tech. If something is irritating you, and it has an “on” switch, he’ll take the case! Brian is a successful dot-com entrepreneur, co-author of 11 Windows Secrets books, and author of the new book Muscular Portfolios.


CHANGE

What do you want?

Susan BradleyBy Susan Bradley

Nice to meet you, how do you do?

Thank you. To the over 4,000 AskWoody newsletter readers
who answered our first-ever survey, thank you for taking the time to let us know what you want and don’t want. We were surprised and enormously grateful for the tremendous response.

The survey is now closed, giving me the opportunity to share some of the results with you.

Your use of Microsoft operating systems is in line with what the larger Microsoft ecosystem is using. In the larger Microsoft population, nearly 90% are using Windows 10. So, too, are AskWoody readers (91 percent are using Windows 10). The AskWoody readership represents a slightly greater number of users of Windows 7 (12.9 percent) versus the larger population (8.5 percent). Windows 8/8.1 users are in the distinct minority with approximately 3 percent in both the larger Microsoft user base and the AskWoody readership.

Most of you (75 percent) want to know more about Windows 10. I found it notable that our audience is very interested in the Android platform. The level of interest is about the same as the combined interest in iPad and iPhone. It showcases to me that many people use a Windows desktop and a phone of another operating system and want to know how to get everything working together better. That said, you are also interested in finding out more about Linux, Ubuntu, and other non-Windows operating systems. We’re already in the process of developing content for those discontented Windows users, especially those still holding on to the now unsupported Windows 7.

Don’t worry! We are not about to abandon our core readership by suddenly becoming the “AskApple” or “AskLinux” newsletter. It’s just clear that our readership is multi-device these days, as opposed to that one desktop we all had 18 years ago. One of my friends even hired a local computer consultant to help her manage the integration with her phone and her laptop, to ensure that data and information were synched between the multiple devices. It’s an issue for many of you: trying to tame the technology beast can be a daunting process. My goal is to ensure that we have articles on how to get your phone working better with your desktop and what software you might need to make that happen.

It’s clear to us that Fred Langa is one of the key reasons you read this newsletter. The good news is that he’s very much a part of our journey and will be coming to you each issue this year. We are also pleased and excited to be adding Brian Livingston back to the newsletter
as your “Public Defender,” beginning in this issue. One concern many of you have is the amount of intrusion and … well … for lack of a better word … spying that technology does on us on a regular basis.Talk to anyone under 50, and they don’t care that there are beacons and trackers that track their every move. Talk to anyone over 50, and they are not so sure they like the fact that this new technology can track our every movement. As Brian put it best: “My focus is technology, not the entire field of consumer protection. I won’t be reviewing toaster ovens or publishing any recipes. But if your laptop’s camera is spying on you, I think you ought to know.” We agree and are looking forward to his insights and investigations.

I’m also really excited to be adding additional topics on legal issues and technology. We are introducing a new regular contributor, Max Stul Oppenheimer, with decades of experience in technology law. Anyone who, back in 2006, wrote an article about Internet cookies and whether permissions by a computer program can constitute consent by the user knows his way around the topic. The last few years have showcased that technology keeps pushing the boundaries; is it time for us to push back a bit?

What are my goals for the newsletter?

We’re going to continue with four newsletters a month sent via email. We are also going to continue sending you the full newsletter in your inbox and not sending you merely links. Many of you didn’t like having to have to click through to continue to read an article. My goal is to provide more step-by-step articles to ensure that you have a trusted resource for clear information that isn’t designed for clickbait headlines or for bashing any one vendor over another. It’s why the readership donation model is so important to the platform. We aren’t bound by advertising on the paid newsletter for a reason:we don’t want that to influence our articles or our readers. I see this as a site that will be a resource for your technology needs in your daily life, not just a platform to get you to click on a link. We’re going to keep up with the Utilities reviews as well, because that’s another area that you enjoy and like to read about.

For me personally, I’m not stopping or changing the Patch Watch spreadsheets and lists for those that want them. But I’m going to make a concerted effort to give you more of a bullet-point view up front to give you actions to take on patching. My goal is to make this more concise. The MS-DEFCON ranking will also stay as is, giving you a quick and easy way to know when to install updates and when to hold back. While businesses have many options to control the timing and release of Microsoft patches, consumers with standalone computers have less-obvious controls.

Note that I didn’t say you have no control — just that you have to roll up your sleeves, purchase a Windows 10 Professional license and, get a little bit comfortable with local group policy or registry keys. Don’t worry — we will keep you safe! And if there is a patch that I do want you to install immediately, I’ll let you know (and will be doing the same to my computers). I always try to balance a “sweet spot” of timing to ensure that the risk of side effects from updating is balanced with the risk of attack.

We are always trying to determine whether the side effects of patching are widespread or are limited in scope. There is a big difference between SOME people having issues and ALL of us having issues. Those seeking headlines can too readily give the impression that the sky is falling. We’re interested in honest evaluations of the patching prognosis and not a social-media, clickbait-tainted version of reality. You have my word that we will never do that.

Last but not least

I was right in my thoughts. The vast majority of the readership is about my age or older. Old enough to remember even punch cards, Windows 3.1, the BASIC programming language, Lotus 123, pfs:Write and WordPerfect. In college, my first computer project was writing a program on punch cards for COBOL. I cannot remember a thing about that language now, but it gave me the foundation of technology that I still use today.

After torture by IBM Model 029 keypunch machines, I moved to terminals and cut my teeth on XEDIT and Edlin. I’ve come a long way since then. Many of you are retired and, though you were quite involved with technology in your professional past, no longer must worry about that going forward. Many friends and co-workers have decided to retire within the next two years. I predict that many more of the readership will be making the transition to different ways of using technology. My own 92-year-old dad now regularly uses an iPad and iPhone much more than he uses his desktop computer.

Thank you very much for taking the time to give your feedback, and thank you for being a reader! I am very much looking forward to starting this journey with you in 2021!

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

In real life, Susan Bradley is a Microsoft Security MVP and IT wrangler at a California accounting firm, where she manages a fleet of servers, virtual machines, a cloud or two, workstations, iPhones, and other digital devices. She also does forensic investigations of computer systems for the firm.


CONTINUITY

Time to adapt while acknowledging the past

Will Fastie

By Will Fastie, Editor

I’m excited. I’m flattered. I’m honored.

I have been a subscriber to this newsletter since the beginning, 18 years ago. Last fall I contributed a few articles, then was flattered to be considered for this post. I was honored when I was chosen and am excited to get going. This newsletter has always been a great resource and both Susan and I are committed to making it even better.

As a long-time subscriber, I deeply understand the importance of continuity. I surely would not
have read the newsletter for so long without its steady pace and dependable content. That is a past we must acknowledge; the incredible response to our survey makes that plain. Every minute of our planning has respected our loyal audience. You will not be abandoned.

We must adapt at the same time. The iPhone did not exist when Brian Livingston launched the Windows Secrets Newsletter so long ago, but today smartphones are ubiquitous. Just as you
cannot ignore that, neither can we. The Internet of Things (IoT) is upon us with a bewildering array of devices and technologies that present great challenges and pose many new questions. We can’t ignore that, either.

Nor can we ignore that Windows itself is evolving. Here’s an interesting question: When was the last time you paid for Windows? Not recently, I’ll bet. How about Office? Probably last month. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has done a brilliant job of spreading Office to virtually every platform and generating piles of recurring revenue — in the process, becoming one of the world’s most valuable companies.. Our continuing Windows and Microsoft coverage will explore these changes and offer the best advice we can about how to adapt.

Not that I think Windows is going away — far from it. Except for those who live exclusively in the arts, any heavy lifting is still going to be Windows’ strong suit. As much as I would find it
fun to dabble in other platforms, I am still very tied to Windows and its enormous ecosystem. I’m not alone. But that might not be everyone’s situation, so we will explore alternatives to help you make better decisions in the future.

Everything above screams change. Where is the continuity?

Simply stated: quality, excellence, experience, dependability, and trustworthiness. That is what you have always expected from us and that is what we intend to continue providing.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Will Fastie is the editor in chief of the AskWoody Plus newsletter. Trained in computer science at Johns Hopkins University, he has held positions as a transaction-processing systems programmer, magazine editor, newsletter publisher, Wall Street analyst, CTO, and systems consultant. He continues to develop self-service websites for very small businesses.


Best of the Lounge

Removing Flash

Da Boss Susan Bradley posted her regular Tasks for the weekend note about dealing with the
forthcoming removal of Adobe Flash from Windows systems.


FORUM CHANGES

We’ve tweaked some of the buttons and positions of those buttons in the Lounge/Forum. Let us know with feedback if you like the changes!


windows

Forum user Jorge indicated that he had issues with the build in Windows 10 backup after December updates and Microfix points to a solution.


windows update

Marc indicates that after unpausing updates he’s being offered 2004 and asks what to do.


OUTLOOK

WSSorahl asks if Outlook can do a single inbox like it does on his Android?


ADOBE FLASH

Trying to get rid of flash on your computer? This is a very hot topic.


If you’re not already a Lounge member, use the quick registration form to sign up for free.

Stories in this week’s PAID AskWoody Plus Newsletter
Become an ASKWOODY PLUS member today!
Fred Langa

LANGALIST

Controlling Win10’s sometimes hyperactive security apps

By Fred Langa

Win10’s built-in security tools offer excellent protection but can be annoying with frequent update cycles and tons of notifications.

In fact, the amount of activity made one reader wonder whether his security setup was actually broken! Here’s how to tell, and how to make it behave better.

Plus: More on Win10’s 30 built-in Troubleshooters.


Max Oppenheimer

LEGAL BRIEF

Understanding Section 230

By Max Stul Oppenheimer, Esq.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, over two decades old, is top-of-mind once again.

In order to understand the current debate over limiting or repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, it is necessary to take a brief detour back to high-school civics and the Constitution — specifically, the First Amendment.


Deanna McElveen

best
utilities

Freeware spotlight — 3 tiny tech tools for your flash drive

By Deanna McElveen

Today’s computer service toolbox is less about screwdrivers and wrenches and more about handy software utilities tucked into a flash drive.

Back in the day, I carried a zippered CD holder for all of my tools on service calls . I also had a box of floppy disks, Zip disks, and even SuperDisks (who remembers those?) with tools on them. Today, it’s all about flash drives for computer techs, so I’m going to share a few simple tools to keep on your flash drive — tools that will make your geek life a little easier.


You’re welcome to share! Do you know someone who would benefit from the information in this newsletter? Feel free to forward it to them. And encourage them to subscribe via our online signup form — it’s completely free!



Publisher: AskWoody
Tech LLC (sb@askwoody.com); editor: Will Fastie (editor@askwoody.com).

Trademarks: Microsoft and Windows are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. AskWoody, Windows Secrets Newsletter, WindowsSecrets.com, WinFind, Windows Gizmos, Security Baseline, Perimeter Scan, Wacky Web Week, the Windows Secrets Logo Design (W, S or road, and Star), and the slogan Everything Microsoft Forgot to Mention all are trademarks and service marks of AskWoody
Tech LLC. All other marks are the trademarks or service marks of their respective owners.

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