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June 2003

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SBC Yahoo! DSL: It's My Turn Now

By Timothy F. Sipples© June 2003

DSL Modem with IBM ThinkPad(The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of IBM Corporation.)

Day 4: Monday, March 17, 2003

Dear Diary,

President Bush just announced he's giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Baghdad before the bombs rain down. Last night I attended my first anti-war rally, and I just pray that nobody gets killed. I have the television shut off -- too distressing. I'm worrying about silly things: When will I get my new high-speed DSL Internet connection? Do I really want all that bad news delivered faster? I feel a bit guilty worrying about such trivialities.

Orange Alert now. Maybe I need some duct tape along with that DSL.

For a couple years I've enjoyed local telephone service from RCN, a competitor to the local Bell telephone monopoly, SBC, formerly Ameritech, formerly Illinois Bell. RCN uses the same telephone wires as SBC to provide service, but I paid 15% less since RCN could pass along some of the savings they got by buying circuits in bulk. In return for opening its lines, SBC got concessions from regulators. I was proud to be part of that grand experiment, and for a while it worked.

RCN decided to raise rates, however. Now its rates are actually a touch higher than SBC's from what I can tell. Moreover, RCN only offers ordinary telephone service over SBC's lines since recent FCC decisions effectively preserve SBC's DSL monopoly. Plus RCN seems to have trouble completing my calls. I frequently have to dial twice after the first try results in a strange silence on the line. Then there's my brother, taunting me because I don't have DSL like he does.

So, unfortunately, the monopoly wins this time. It's back to SBC, just where pitchman Tommy Lee Jones says I should be. At least Tommy went to Harvard, and his roommate was Al Gore, the guy who wouldn't be invading Iraq right now. I visited the main SBC web site to see what they had. Right on the front page they invited me to "Come back to SBC." SBC says they'll waive all switching charges if I return. So, I called the 800 number, and, unlike RCN, someone answered the phone right away.

I told the SBC woman that I wanted to find out about switching my service from RCN to SBC, and I also wanted to add DSL. She immediately offered me a wonderful local phone service package for $21.95 per month with unlimited local calling plus SBC Yahoo! DSL service for another $29.95 per month, a full $5 less than the advertised price. Little did she know that I did my homework by visiting places like Fatwallet's discussion forums. "That's nice," I said, "but I'd like just basic telephone service where I pay for each call, plus DSL." You could almost hear the groans on the other end of the phone.

Welcome to the wonderful world of semi-regulated monopolies. SBC, like most local telephone companies, is obliged to sell whatever the regulators declare as the standard service at the regulated rates. In Chicago that's $5.53 per month, plus the myriad taxes and fees. (Good luck finding this plan on SBC's web site.) That level of service provides unlimited incoming calls at no extra charge, but outgoing local calls are 5 cents each or less. ("Local" means within 8 miles.) So if I make more than 328 local calls each month, the $21.95 plan is attractive. Does anyone actually make 11 calls every day, every month? I dial out to the Internet constantly, and I can't remember ever racking up 328 calls. Maybe I'll start calling a lot more, but I doubt it.

So, I ordered my $5.53/month local service plus $29.95/month DSL. I left off all the other frills, like call waiting, voice mail, caller ID, etc., although I asked the SBC woman to read through them just so I could hear all the money I was saving. I suppose I am a bit shallow that way. She didn't tell me about the 30 local call package for a mere $0.50, but I'll sign up for that on SBC's web site soon enough. I was assured there'd be no switching fee, although I did have to promise I'd be signed up for 12 months to get the $29.95 DSL, and there would be a $12.95 shipping charge for DSL equipment. (The equipment is otherwise free, though.) The DSL rate goes up to $49.95 after 12 months, although I'll cross that bridge when I get there. (The Fatwallet-ers report it's easy enough to get that down to a more reasonable rate.)

The DSL part of the order would be difficult for just about anyone. "Would you like a static IP address?" ("A what?" most people would ask.) "What operating system are you running?"

I lied. "Windows 2000," I said. I should have told her Macintosh, since that's on her list, too. I certainly didn't want to be charged the $150 "installation visit" for Linux and other "exotic" operating systems only businesses (who can afford to pay more) would run. In fact I didn't really lie, since I've got a Windows 2000 virtual hard disk for Virtual PC somewhere. She was just reading from a computer screen, so I didn't want to confuse her. Play dumb-smart and the bill comes out right.

"Do you have a desktop or laptop?" "Laptop," I said. "Oh, then I'll send you a free ethernet adapter for that." Now, that's nice! I'll be surfing over to eBay to unload that item, since she didn't want to know if my laptop already had an ethernet port. (It does.) Apparently SBC's free laptop ethernet adapter has eComStation and OS/2 Warp drivers, so there's good news all over.

I suppose I should mention that DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It's a high speed connection that works over ordinary telephone wires. Most home subscribers, like me, pick the basic DSL service that shares your line with your regular telephones. DSL is an "always on" technology, and I can make and receive regular telephone calls over the same wires at the same time. No more busy signals for callers while I'm dialed up to the Internet. has a good explanation of DSL technology.

DSL isn't offered everywhere. I have to be close enough to my local telephone exchange switching office, and some switching offices don't offer DSL. (I'm about 10,000 feet away. A few thousand feet more and I'd be ineligible.) SBC offers DSL in parts of Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin. DSL directly competes with high speed Internet service from cable television companies. My neighbor has Comcast's high speed service and seems happy with it.

In Illinois, the basic SBC service (mine) bills itself as 768 Kbps download speed, 128 Kbps upload speed. Most people report getting close to these numbers from what I could find on DSL Reports, a web site with great DSL information and tools. In fact, with that web site and SBC's own help pages, I feel really confident I'll be speed-surfing in no time. Except I'll have to wait "5 to 10 days," according to the SBC woman. These things take a little time. Like diplomacy.

Did I mention it's Orange Alert?

Day 8: Friday, March 22, 2003

Dear Diary,

Yesterday I got a letter from SBC saying that my DSL order was "in process." The letter was hand-addressed, oddly enough.

Today I got a package, but it wasn't my DSL kit. IBM sent me a keyboard I ordered for my ThinkPad. The spacebar was acting up, so I called and IBM sent a replacement under warranty. The design is brilliant. Just two screws: pop out the old one, pop in the new one, and... new keyboard. (I'm using that keyboard to type this entry.) No need to send in the machine and wait. This replacement part arrived overnight. Even though I work for IBM, I don't think this level of service is unique.

The war started. The Z! audio player does a great job with streaming MP3 audio feeds from Shoutcast/Icecast servers. Several have Iraq-related audio feeds, from all points of view. "War No More Radio" is now playing various protest songs, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, I found a "bootleg" MSNBC audio feed. Pacifica Radio has lots of anti-war coverage. Someone else is rebroadcasting the frankly cartoonish Fox News. "We've seen some wild stuff," says the Fox reporter. Super.

I mention the audio feeds because the low-fidelity versions work fine over my dial-up Internet connection, with surprisingly good quality, but some streaming audio stations have higher quality feeds. DSL provides access to those stations, without losing the ability to visit web sites and download files concurrently.

Casualty reports are coming in, on both sides. I hope no one else gets killed.

I've seen many wired and wireless "DSL/cable routers" advertised for as little as $20. These hardware devices provide firewall and PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet) capabilities, so I could plug in any device with an ethernet interface using DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). That includes Sony Playstations. A router would make my ThinkPad's setup trivial, but I'll hold off and try setting up PPPoE directly under OS/2 Warp when the time comes. SBC Yahoo! uses PPPoE for its standard residential service.

My brother asked today if I had my DSL yet. Damn him! (Just kidding.)

Day 11: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Dear Diary,

I'm getting restless. It's getting on the long side of SBC's estimate, unless the SBC lady meant business days, so I wonder what's taking so long. Maybe getting phone service switched from RCN takes some time. Strange, though, since the telephone monopoly owns the wires anyhow.

Now that I think about it more, it would be nice to have high speed Internet access wherever I roam at home. I think it would be entertaining to listen to Internet radio stations with my ThinkPad sitting on the nightstand. I did some more research on a couple options. I could get an 802.11b wireless access point. That's a box with an antenna that plugs into the DSL modem (via an ethernet cable). The box has a built-in PPPoE client and firewall, and then it shares the broadband connection through ethernet ports (for other wired devices) and wirelessly (using 802.11b protocol or its cousins like 802.11a and 802.11g, depending on the model). These boxes are often called "wireless cable/DSL routers" by their manufacturers, and the wired models are called simply "cable/DSL routers." One side benefit is that I wouldn't have to install PPPoE client software from F/X Communications or LinkGuard Solutions. I could simply configure eComStation or OS/2 Warp as an ordinary DHCP client.

Past issues of VOICE discuss using 802.11b wireless networking with eComStation and OS/2 Warp. I didn't ask for it, but my ThinkPad has a Cisco 350 wireless adapter already installed. I'll have to do some digging to see if there's a driver available.

Wireless cable/DSL routers are extremely inexpensive now, especially when on sale with a rebate or two. I've seen them selling for as little as $20 each, after discounts. Some models have a parallel printer port and act as a standard LPD-style print server. I could use that to connect my Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4L to my wireless home network, printing through the air. Examples of wireless cable/DSL routers with a parallel port and print server include the D-Link DI-714P+ and DI-713P, NetGear FM114P, SMC 7004AWBR, and Siemens SpeedStream 2623 and 2624. All these boxes have a small, built-in web server to control all configuration settings.

I will have to do a little homework to figure out wireless networking security, i.e. how to make sure some neighbor doesn't share my high speed Internet connection without my knowledge or permission. Using WEP (encryption) can help. A Google search on "wireless security" looks promising.

Home powerline networking is another option. All the rooms in my apartment have electrical outlets, including the bathroom, and Speedstream has both powerline cable/DSL routers and powerline adapters. Hook an ethernet cable from the powerline router to the DSL modem, then plug the powerline router into your home electrical outlet (as I would anyway). Hook a powerline adapter to any home electrical outlet in any room, hook my PC (via ethernet cable) to that adapter, and then my regular ethernet driver, configured with TCP/IP and DHCP, completes the connection. I can roam from room to room by taking my powerline adapter (and ethernet cable) with me, or I can put an adapter in each room. No extra wires to run through my home, and there's some basic encryption so my downstairs neighbors can't tap into the same scheme unless I want them to. (In Speedstream's products, looks like I'd get one or more 2502 powerline ethernet adapters and either the 2510 or 2524 router. The 2524 adds wireless, too. No parallel port on these routers, though.)

Most companies have service agreements that ban sharing access with neighbors unless signing up for their "business" service (at a higher price). I have a neighbor with Comcast's high speed cable modem Internet service, and I started investigating simply sharing that connection, wirelessly, until I uncovered the restriction in Comcast's contract terms. Certainly many people break those rules, but that's not something I recommend. By the way, Comcast restricts its service to specific MAC addresses. The MAC address is a hexadecimal number embedded in every network adapter, including every ethernet and Token-Ring adapter. This number is essentially a manufacturer-specific serial number, so each one is unique. When establishing service, Comcast discovers the network adapter's MAC address and then programs its routers so they only handle traffic from registered devices. So if I tried putting a cable/DSL router on the line, it wouldn't have a registered MAC address, and my neighbor would at least have to call to pretend she just got a new PC with a new network adapter. Naturally, Comcast charges a fee to make the change. Some cable/DSL routers let you change their MAC addresses, so that's another way to solve the problem, provided the computer's MAC address gets changed, too.

SBC Yahoo! doesn't do any MAC address locking as far as I know, but I'm not interested in reselling or sharing my high speed connection with anyone else.

Many high speed Internet providers' contracts include limitations on running any server, such as a web server, using residential-class service. I think SBC's terms include that limitation, although apparently it's only enforced in clear cases.

I just did my first web-delivered demonstration from the office today using the high speed connection there. It worked extremely well, and it was less expensive than getting on an airplane yet nearly as effective. Looks like I'll have many ways to use that high speed connection at home. Several web sites offer that service, usually called "web conferencing," and I won't bother to list them all here. They vary in their friendliness to eComStation and OS/2 Warp. Many use a web-delivered Java applet to view a presentation. Actually delivering the presentation with my favorite operating system might be more difficult, but I'll do some research on that when time permits. eComStation's Desktop On-Call remote control should work well over a high speed connection if I leave my ThinkPad at home. Although SBC DSL assigns a dynamic address to my home PC, there are some ways to find that address while traveling. More on that subject later.

Tough going in Iraq. Now past Israel's famous Six Day War in duration, and Donald Rumsfeld said today that we're much closer to the beginning than the end. I think that means at least two weeks of war. Silliest story of the day? Some bozo on eBay refuses to ship items he sells to Canada, Mexico, France, or Germany, because none of those countries' governments backed the Anglo-American invasion. Did he forget that Canadians housed and fed weary American travelers on transatlantic flights forced to land on 9/11? Or that German troops now help keep the peace in Afghanistan, preventing possible terrorist activity? Naturally this guy's "diplomacy" encourages Europeans and others to boycott Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, Levis, Hollywood movies, and lots of other U.S.-made products. Yes, that'll help the economy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is on in one minute. Time to go!

Day 12: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Dear Diary,

I called SBC to check on the status of my order. After a few minutes on hold, and after some scary misinformation that my service order could take up to 45 days, I was told that at least the line would be switched by Friday. I asked whether the DSL kit shipped, and there was no record of that yet. So I'm doubtful I'll be DSLing this weekend.

U.S. says it's sending 25,000 more troops to Iraq. Other reports say 5,000 Iraqi exiles returning home to fight against the Anglo-American forces. I don't like any of these reports.

Haven't found a Cisco Aironet 350 driver yet, but I'm still checking. Keeping an eye on wireless router prices.

I thought of a way to deliver remote presentations. When I connect my ThinkPad to the Internet using DSL, it will get a public IP address. If I'm running Desktop On-Call or VNC, customers can connect to that address with their web browsers to see what I'm doing on my ThinkPad, live. I can talk with customers over the regular telephone and deliver really nice presentations. I'll have to be careful about managing security, but this method avoids the steep fees charged by online web conferencing companies like WebEx. Innotek's Virtual PC provides a built-in VNC server for each guest operating system. So to allow customers to view a particular Virtual PC guest I could set up a small web server that delivers a Java applet VNC viewer such as TightVNC. Desktop On-Call encrypts its connection without any extra effort, so that's an advantage over VNC. Loads of options to consider, all free. (eComStation includes Desktop On-Call.)

I'm beginning to wonder whether I should bother hauling my ThinkPad to the office once I get DSL. I could leave it running Desktop On-Call at home, then log in from any web browser at the office. Trouble is, how would I know what dynamic address my ThinkPad got from SBC? One way to handle that problem is to use a Dynamic DNS service, such as CJB.NET or Google has a long list of Dynamic DNS providers, many of which are free. Hobbes has a bunch of Dynamic DNS client software packages, and there are many others written in Java that work fine, too. If I set up Dynamic DNS, I can always access my DSL-attached ThinkPad using the same name (for example, no matter what numeric IP address SBC assigns. That way, even if I'm not home to check what numeric IP address my ThinkPad got, I can still find it on the Internet. Some of the cable/DSL routers I mentioned before have built-in Dynamic DNS clients, so that's another possibility.

Day 16: Sunday, March 30, 2003

Dear Diary,

I have no idea if SBC switched my service this past Friday. A moot issue now since I won't be home again until Thursday night. I'm on an Amtrak train bound for St. Paul, Minnesota, where I have business meetings through Wednesday, then some more in Madison, Wisconsin, on the way back home Thursday. I haven't received a DSL kit yet nor the automated phone call promised after the switch.

That reminds me of the time I rode Amtrak with my ThinkPad, "wardriving." I managed to pick up at least 100 wireless networks between Milwaukee and Chicago, more than one per mile. It appeared that about half were wide open. I'll try not to make the same mistakes. I remember some of the security advice I found on the Internet:

  1. Change the default SSID.
  2. Configure the wireless access point so it doesn't volunteer the SSID.
  3. Turn on 128-bit WEP encryption.
  4. Use a truly random WEP encryption key.
  5. Change the key every so often.
  6. Restrict access to the network by MAC address.

But I can't remember if I'm supposed to use "shared key" or "open system" WEP authentication, so I'll have to double check what the security experts say. Even with all these configuration changes two problems remain. First, WEP encryption really isn't all that secure if the key stays the same because, given enough network traffic, somebody can break the code. But who wants to bother changing keys every day or even every week? Second, once the network traffic hits the DSL line it's in the clear unless encrypted with SSL, PGP, VPN, etc. At least the second problem is the same as any other Internet connection.

This morning I concluded that I can ask better questions than Fox News' reporters.

Nice view. Lots of corn fields outside now. The farmers should be planting soon. I usually fly over these fields, but my Mooney is waiting for a new starter relay. I hate flying the airlines: taking off my shoes, my belt, my underwear. OK, the last bit hasn't happened yet. We need more and faster trains.

Battery running low. Time to find an electrical outlet. I think there's one in the lounge car.

Day 20: Thursday, April 3, 2003

Dear Diary,

Got home tonight and there's still no DSL kit waiting for me. I heard a radio ad for SBC Yahoo! DSL on the way home. (Too bad I can't seem to get it.) However, I tried SBC's web site tonight, and the system partially recognized me. I was able to add the "Local Saver Pack 30" feature for 50 cents to my service, although I couldn't otherwise access my account.

Then I read the fine print. With the Local Saver Pack 30, all local calls after the first 30 are 10 cents each. That's an awful deal for me, so I e-mailed SBC to ask them to reverse tonight's order.

Day 22: Saturday, April 5, 2003

Dear Diary,

Phoned SBC and they now say April 10th for the switch, April 14th or 15th for DSL. Yeah, sure. "On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best, how would you rate your SBC service?"

"Incomplete," I answered.

CompUSA has a wired cable/DSL router on sale for $9.99 after rebate. That's one cheap PPPoE client! I'm bidding on a Speedstream 2624 wireless router (with printer port) listed on eBay, but I won't be sorry if I lose.

Horrible news in Chicago this week. Mayor Daley sent bulldozers in the middle of the night early Monday morning to damage the Meigs Field runway. Friends of Meigs Field is fighting this blow to public safety and common sense. Meigs Field is Flight Simulator's default home airport, making Meigs as famous as the Eiffel Tower.

Day 31: Monday, April 14, 2003

Dear Diary,

SBC's web site is slowly recognizing my existence. I was able to log on and establish an online account based on my telephone number. However, there's not much evidence that the DSL service is turned on. The order status page on the web has no idea there's an order.

That 45 day estimate is beginning to look reasonable, unfortunately. Time to work on the tax forms...

Day 34: Thursday, April 17, 2003

Dear Diary,

Just got home tonight, and there's a note from United Parcel Service left at my door. It's SBC's DSL kit! Looks like I'm staying home tomorrow to meet the delivery person.

Day 35: Friday, April 18, 2003

DSL Wall Mount FilterDear Diary,

Oh happy day! Mr. UPS brought a purple boxed SBC Yahoo! DSL kit. Inside I found a Siemens/Efficient Networks Speedstream 5100 DSL modem with power supply, lots of DSL filters (including one wall mount filter, pictured at left), some cables (ethernet, telephone line cord), a packet of instructions, a CD with some software, and a PC Card ethernet adapter (which will become my eBay reward).

I skipped the instructions, for the most part, except to check the inventory list. The Macintosh manual, which I wanted, was all sealed up with dire warnings. "Use only if you have a Macintosh. Are you sure you have a Macintosh? Macintosh is spelled M-A-C-I-N-T-O-S-H. Please confirm you have a Macintosh before reading this manual." That's what it said. Honest.

So I plugged the filters into the telephone jacks, plugged my two telephones into the filters, plugged the DSL modem into the filter port for the data line (pictured below right), hooked the ethernet cable between my Warped computer and the DSL modem, powered up the modem, and then waited to see what would happen.

I had previously installed the OS/2 Warp PPPoE client software from F/X Communications. Couldn't be simpler, really. Nice job, F/X! (The only little twist is that you can't use the MPTS setup program to change your network configuration after installing F/X's software, but that's not unlike using a Novell ODI network adapter driver. I've seen it before, and F/X Communications provides excellent documentation explaining how to briefly uninstall their driver, change your network configuration with MPTS, then reinstall. By the way, eComStation 1.1 includes PPPoE support already.) So I was ready. The Macintosh manual ("Do you honestly have a Macintosh? We're dead serious here at SBC. You must have a Macintosh.") included the "secret" user ID and password for PPPoE signon to get registered. The user ID is and the password is sbcyahooreg. It's not really secret. The SBC Yahoo! DSL help pages have the same information. Just look for the Mac OS 10.2 instructions.

However, I had trouble registering. (I hear the Linux people have the same problem.) Netscape 4.61, Mozilla 1.3, and Mozilla 1.4a all didn't work. Microsoft Internet Explorer running under a Virtual PC session got farther, but it wanted to install some Yahoo! software (spyware?) to complete the registration, and even that didn't work. (Apparently you have to install that CD that came in the box first. No thank you.)

DSL FilterThat registration web page is certainly picky. I thought about faking the user agent value so that I looked like a Macintosh ("Are you 100% positive you have a Macintosh?"), but I didn't try that. In digging around the various how-to pages on the Internet, I saw that there was a small program, DSLREG.EXE, provided for Windows users with Netscape. So I did a Google search on that filename (and SBC DSL), and I found it somewhere buried in the SBC Yahoo! DSL help pages. It's probably on the CD I haven't even looked at, too. Then I ran that program in a Virtual PC session. Bingo! That did the trick, and it was quite easy to remove that junk from the guest Windows session after I registered. Two hundred questions later, I had my account up-and-running, and I switched the F/X PPPoE configuration to my new user ID and password.

Whoa. This is impressively fast. The speed test page (search on "Test" in the SBC Yahoo! DSL help pages) shows I'm getting about 85% of 384 Kbps download, 128 Kbps upload. That's considered very good, actually.

Since my IP address is on the public Internet now, I decided to look into locking down my OS/2 Warp IP stack.

Day 38: Monday, April 21, 2003

Dear Diary,

Today the speed tests show that my service cycled up to 768 Kbps download, 128 Kbps upload. So my download speed just doubled automatically. I guess I live close enough to the telephone switching office to handle the advertised speed. Amazing how many files I "need" to download now.

Yahoo! Briefcase isn't very hot at all. I signed up for 760 MB of storage, instead of Yahoo! Games and a free online encyclopedia, and that sounded great at the time. Only trouble is that uploading is unreliable from any operating system, and when it does work the service limits me to files about 5 MB each (one or two at a time). So I can upload a whole CD worth of data, as long as I break it up into 5 MB chunks. Not hot. I'm trying to run the registration program again to switch to the free games and encyclopedia, but Yahoo! isn't making that switch easy.

I do have to be careful. I seem to be suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, since DSL indoors is so enticing. Maybe I'll take the Brompton out for a spin, though. Those pictures of spring I see in my Mozilla browser do remind me it might be worth stepping outside.

The ethernet cable that came with my DSL kit is already showing signs of wear, with both ends starting to work themselves out of the RJ-45 modular jacks. I do miss the days of indestructible Bell rotary telephones. A little bit, anyway.

I'm now starting to worry about protecting my Warped ThinkPad from intruding hackers, and fortunately I've got an operating system that's quite secure unless I do something stupid. I do run a couple commands to combat certain attacks:

inetcfg -s synattack 1 inetcfg -s syncookie 1

Both hardware and software firewalls (such as F/X's) would be a major improvement. But that's a topic for another diary.


   SBC Yahoo! DSL:
   DSL Reports:
   F/X Communications:
   LinkGuard Solutions:
   Dynamic DNS providers:
   Dynamic DNS client software packages on Hobbes:
   SBC Yahoo! DSL help pages:

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