Archive for January, 2011


I’ve Been FAPped!

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Before I get too far into my subject, I want to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year. I have been quite busy the past few weeks, but now I have plenty of time for writing.

Why is that? It is because I have been “FAPped” by my Internet service provider (ISP). Here is a little background:

I live just outside a small town in north Texas, and I do mean “just outside”; my north property line IS the city limits. Because I live outside the city, the local cable company, Cable One, will not provide me (or my neighbors) with any form of service. Zip, zilch, nada. Even though my house is physically less than 1/4 mile away from the city limits, they absolutely refuse to run a cable down my street. Every January for the past ten years, I have called their office to ask if they now provide service on my street, and every year the answer has been the same: “No, I’m sorry; we don’t provide service in your area, and we never plan to.” Really friendly-sounding, you think?

I have also looked into getting DSL service from the local telephone company, which happens to be AT&T. The last time I asked them about service, a technician actually came out and measured the distance from their office to my house. The technician told me they could not provide us with service because my house is 1800 feet too far away from their office. 1800 feet? That happens to be a distance of a little over 1/4 mile.

I even tried getting a wireless ISP to provide me with service. They sent several technicians out to check out my house and test their signals, and like the others they told me we could not get service from them. The reason? We live just a little too far from their nearest transmitting tower. It seems they can reach out to about the city limits, and no further.

Are we starting to notice a pattern here?

My last chance for an Internet connection that was faster than dial-up was to go with a satellite-based ISP. Because I am an AT&T customer for home and mobile telephone service, they suggested I contact AT&T WildBlue, a partnership they had established with WildBlue Communications in Colorado. They offered a 512Kb/1Mb/1.5Mb/second “high speed solution” for people who are unable to get cable or DSL service (by comparison, cable and DSL services can run at 10Mb/second and higher). After reading their literature, I decided to give them a try. I ordered the basic 512Kb service, and after buying their satellite equipment and having it installed (at least the installation was free), they turned it on and set up the connection to my computer. I was immediately amazed at how fast their service worked compared to dial-up (of course, ANYTHING is amazing when compared to dial-up). All was finally blissful and pleasant with the world.

And then about a year later I got FAPped for the first time. What I had failed to read carefully was something WildBlue calls their “Fair Access Policy”, or FAP. The FAP is a set of rules that customers agree to follow, including specific limits for downloading from and uploading to the Internet. These limits are measured over the previous 30-day period, and are constantly updated every day (they call it a “rolling 30-day period”). If they find a customer going over their limit, they are in violation of the policy; as “punishment”, they slow the customer’s connection to a crawl (just fast enough to allow e-mail and some basic web surfing) until their overall usage over the rolling 30 days drops to 70% of their limit; at that point, the higher speed is restored. The WildBlue technicians I have talked with have nicknamed this “FAPping” and someone who has violated the policy and has their connection slowed is said to have been “FAPped”.

That first FAPping took me by surprise, but I had an out: if I upgraded my service to a faster connection speed, the limit would be raised and the FAPping would be removed. So, I called WildBlue and upgraded. Since the difference between 1Mb and 1.5Mb was only $10 a month, I decided to go for it and upgraded to the limit. I thought 512K at home was fast, but 1.5Mb simply blew me away. I could actually stream music or videos and not have them pause or freeze up periodically as they were playing. Software updates were much easier to download and install, and everything seemed to be working so much better than before. Once again, all was blissful and pleasant with the world.

Over the years, my children have become very computer- and Internet-savvy, and even my wife started taking a liking to going online from time to time. I also began working from home, and when all those different users are added up it amounted to as many as five different computers being connected to the Internet at the same time. The connection was still working fairly well with all of us online, but our usage began to soar. WildBlue sends out warning messages via e-mail when the rolling 30-day usage starts to approach the limit, and I began getting those on a fairly regular basis. I got into the habit of checking our usage daily, sometimes several times during the day, to make sure we were not getting too close to the limit.

Despite all of the warnings, which I dutifully passed along to the rest of the family in the form of pleas not to push us over the limit, we were finally FAPped again a couple of days ago (funny how no one seemed to hear me then, but they are listening now). Since we are already on their most generous (and expensive) usage plan, there is no way to work around it this time – we simply have to wait for the rolling usage to drop below 70%. At the current rate it is falling each day, my guess is it will probably take another week or so for our speed to return to normal.

The slower speeds make it almost impossible to do much more than send and receive e-mails; if we attempt to go online to a web site that is even the least bit complicated (and unfortunately, most of them fall into that category these days), more often than not the browser will freeze and has to be turned off. When it does work, the pages are sometimes not loaded correctly and we see words and pictures thrown haphazardly onto the screen. My take on it is, the poor performance is a very good incentive to stay offline and let the usage come down more quickly.

But for anyone who knows me, you know that this is not the end of the story.

I have noticed that not being so closely tied to the Internet has caused all of us to do other things in the evenings that we always seem to be putting off. My daughter is reading a book or two she has had for a while, my son and I are catching up on old movies we have been wanting to see, and my wife spends more time away from her computer watching television or playing with the dogs. “Life without the Internet” is actually refreshing in a way…sort of like going on a vacation where you do things that you normally do not when you are at home.

It is hard to say whether this “revelation” will last once the service speeds are restored. One thing is certain: it will give us all a reason to pause and think about whether we really need to spend so much time, all the time, online.