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TBTF for 1996-03-17: It Still Doesn't Network

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 17 Mar 1996 23:33:37 -0500

ISDN: one user's story

Last week I gave up on ISDN. I had been using the high-speed digital service for more than a year. Here's the long and short of it: ISDN is devilishly hard to set up, it's unexpectedly expensive, and it's not as fast as you think it's going to be. The first two problems are not exactly news, but ISDN users are curiously reluctant to admit to the third. (The phenomenon reminds me of the reticence of San Francisco natives to confess to auslanders that their city is cold in the summer.)

I've read many accounts that mirror my experience in getting ISDN service up and working. It took me a full three months from installation to trouble-free operation. (To be fair, it might have happened quicker if I had had any time other than nights and weekends to work on the problem.) The issues turned out to be a combination of (1) a bad ISDN interface box (don't call it a "modem"), replaced by a good one that was then misconfigured; (2) the vintage of my Mac operating software; and (3) the setup of the phone line. All problems were exacerbated by the inability of most of the support people I talked to to spell "ISDN." The best were the folks who made the interface box; the worst without question were the local telephone functionaries. My access supplier fell somewhere in the middle.

When I first got ISDN service -- ordered the line from NYNEX and signed up with PSI Interramp, a nationwide ISP, in December 1994 -- there were few ISPs anywhere who supported dialup ISDN. PSI did; and they supported Macintosh clients, which was rare at the time; and they offered a bundle of interface hardware and software, a painless way to get started. (The hardware, called QuickAccess Remote, was made by AccessWorks, a New Jersey company soon thereafter acquired by 3Com.)

ISDN's dirty little secret: the service promises up to 128K bits per second over two so-called B channels -- almost 9 times as fast as the 14.4K modem I had been using. (In late 1994 standard 28.8K modems were not yet available.) The actual throughput I saw was far lower for a number of reasons. First, PSI at the time supported only a single B channel -- as did the AccessWorks box -- so right away the potential bandwidth dropped to 64K. NYNEX has limitations in line quality on a sufficient number of segments that they can only offer 56K over a B channel. My Macintosh, not exactly a state-of-the-art machine any more, couldn't support above 56K out a serial port even if NYNEX could. Finally, bandwidth is only the last in a long chain of factors that determine how fast the bits pour or trickle out of my end of the wire. The fastest performance I ever saw was about 44K bits per second during a long download in the dead of night. Typical performance was just about indistinguishable from that of a 28.8K modem.

Cost was another surprise: ISDN costs vary wildly across the U.S. See [1] for a survey of costs in 23 states, in which monthly costs are estimated for two scenarios: 100 hours or usage per month, and full-time (so-called "nailed-down line") usage. A resident of Arkansas would pay $17.90 per month in either case. Someone living in Indiana would pay $315 per month for 100 hours. An Oregonian would pay an astounding $1,950 per month for a nailed-down line. See [2] for a U.S. map showing which states have fixed-rate access and which charge per minute. During most of 1995 I was online from 10 to 15 hours per month, almost all of it night and weekend time, and my monthly ISDN bill ran between $150 and $180. The per-minute charges average out to about 10 or 15 cents; the fixed per-month charge was about $60.

An addicting feature of ISDN is the speed with which one connects to the Net through an ISP. Connecting using an ordinary modem and phone line takes anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds. With ISDN the connection completed within 5 to 7 seconds of hitting the "dial" button. If you read and believe the gee-whiz coverage afforded to ISDN in the trade press, you will often see connect times of 1/2 sec. to 2 sec. cited. The degraded performance I experienced may have been due to the "virtual circuit" arrangement with which NYNEX supports my somewhat remote town. Still, I'll miss the fluidity, the sense of seamlessness between online and offline, that even this degraded connect speed imparted.

On 2/11 Microsoft unveiled a major ISDN initiative. You can visit the "Get ISDN for Microsoft Windows" Web site [3] and download software for native Windows 95 ISDN support. Through alliances with telecomm companies and hardware suppliers you can, in theory, order ISDN service and interface hardware directly from the site. (When I tried just now I got the message "Unable to view list of ISDN providers because information about ISDN service in your area is in the process of being added to our database... Please check back in a week or two..." Remember, ISDN has been available here for 17 months.)

For further education about ISDN the best starting point is Dan Kegel's <dank at alumni dot caltech dot edu> ISDN page [4]. Also check out the more salutory ISDN experiences of John Kohl <jtk at atria dot com> [5], who is fortunate to live within local-calling radius of an ISP that supports ISDN data-over-voice -- and therefore pays NYNEX no per-minute charges.

[1] <http://www.essential.org/cpt/isdn/survey.txt>
[2] <http://www.essential.org/cpt/isdn/isdnmap.gif>
[3] <http://www.microsoft.com/windows/getisdn/>
[4] <http://alumni.caltech.edu/~dank/isdn/>
[5] <http://www.atria.com/~jtk/ISDN.html>


The backlash against free speech on the Net

On 1996-02-13 Mike Godwin, Online Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, delivered a speech [6] with this title in Oakland, California. Its tone is calm, measured, and rational; it demonstrates that neither side of the Internet censorship debate has a monopoly on concern for children. I hope people on both sides read this text.

[6] <http://fight-censorship.dementia.org/fight-censorship/dl?num=1625>


Followup: Essential Tools

TBTF for 1996-02-27 [7]

This occasional TBTF feature profiles on-Net resources that I've found useful in developing Web content, or in keeping an eye on Web standards and trends. The full Essential Tools collection is profiled on the TBTF archive at [8].

[7] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-02-27.html>
[8] <http://www.tbtf.com/essential-tools.html>
[9] <http://www.vrl.com/Imaging/>
[10] <http://www.vrl.com/Imaging/others.html>
[11] <http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/~leitner/trans/english.html>
[12] <http://www.tns.lcs.mit.edu/cgi-bin/mapmaker>
[13] <http://www.eece.ksu.edu/IGR/>
[14] <http://www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/>
[15] <http://www.webcom.com/impulse/list.html>
[16] <http://www.liszt.com/>


Followup: Deadline extended for individuals to join CIEC lawsuit

TBTF for 1996-03-03 [17]

The Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act, filed on 2/26, allows individuals to join the suit (see [18]). Now the deadline for doing so has been extended by two weeks, to 3/31. If you miss the new deadline you can still sign up for the expected Supreme Court challenge late in 1996. As of 3/14, more than 25,200 individuals had added their names to the court challenge.

[17] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/03-03/-6.html>
[18] <http://www.ciec.org/>


Followup: Mark Twain Bank and DigiCash

TBTF for 1995-10-30 [19]

At the end of October I reported the first deal between DigiCash and a "meatspace" bank, MTB in St. Louis, MO, that enabled the conversion of ecash to and from U.S. dollars or other currencies. MTB has since engaged in activities that some the ecash mailing list (maintained by DigiCash) have characterized as censorship. On 3/7 an outfit calling itself The World's Largest Cybershop [20] closed its virtual doors after the MTB withdrew its ecash facilities, presumably because the Cybershop dealt in adult materials. Several other posters have expressed the opinion that the Mark Twain Bank has either closed or refused to open accounts with them due to MTB's estimation of the business to which the applicants intended to apply ecash. MTB has been silent in this forum despite repeated pleas to them to post some explanation of their actions -- including one from a DigiCash official, who distanced the ecash company from any censorious actions taken by MTB.

[19] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1995-10-30.html>
[20] <>


Threads Java and JavaScript security
See also TBTF for
1997-09-15, 08-11, 07-21, 07-14, 1996-03-17, 03-10, 02-27, 02-19

Followup: Java and JavaScript security concerns escalate

On 3/5 the Computer Emergency Response Team issued security advisory CA-96.05 [22] regarding the vulnerabilities in Java [7] and Javascript [21] discussed in previous issues. On 3/7 the office of IS Security for the Naval Research Laboratory advised U.S. military personnel not to use Netscape 2.0 until the problems were fixed. Note that Sun had already issued a patch for the Java vulnerability; while Netscape has promised a version 2.01 of Netscape that addresses the JavaScript vulnerabilities it is not available at this writing.

[21] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-03-10.html>
[22] <http://ww2 dot altavista dot digital dot com/cgi-bin/news?msg@16@comp%2esecurity%2eannounce>


I will be at the Software Development conference in Moscone Center, San Francisco, during the week of 3/25 -- it runs concurrently with Web Design and Development. If you're in town stop by the Atria Software booth and say hello.


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Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.


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Most recently updated 1999-06-02