November 09, 2010 |
These days it’s really hard to find a person who would not agree that internet has truly turned the world into a global and tightly connected place where everyone can easily talk to everyone without tons of efforts or financial investments. But I have frequently written here on Profy how different things can be about tons of tech aspects when one happens to live in Russia. Unfortunately I can’t say that these distinctions actually make Russia look any good at all – and recently I’ve had quite a number of personal experiences with internet usage here that I wanted to share, especially since I tend to suspect that the people who live in the countries that are better off (where the majority of my readers live) hardly have any idea of how things work in the countries that can’t be proud of any equal wellbeing and might find it interesting or at least feel better about what they already have if there’s something they are not totally happy about.
Honestly, recently I have had enough experiences with the internet to want to live elsewhere – despite of the fact that throughout my life I’ve always thought that I should stay and live where I was born (idea supported by the fact that my husband runs a business here that can hardly – if ever – be run from abroad). And I actually live in a country where we don’t have any censorship (visible at least) so I can easily use Wikipedia or Google or whatever other source of information I may need. That is, provided that I have enough internet and the speed allowed by my ISP will ever let me in.
The problem is that I spent at least 4 hours (!!!) over the last couple of weeks on the phone talking to support of my ISP about a peculiar issue I’m having – and still have not managed to fix it. I have changed 3 ISPs over the last year looking for a company that would actually allow me to access the World Wide Web at the speed they promise in their marketing materials – even if it will be more expensive than everything their competitors have to offer. As it’s probably clear to you already, my quest has not helped me find my perfect provider – hopefully yet.
The most usual problem with the ISPs here is that they stubbornly don’t want to maintain the speed you pay for. Say, I pay about $30 for 10MBPS a month (an average price for where I live). And do you think I get the promised 10? No, I actually get 12 and even more – but only for the first two weeks after I plug the cable of this specific ISP into my router. Now I know that all the ISPs have some thresholds that are rarely spoken about but will cut your speed until the end of the month once you reach this limit – but I do pay attention to these details and I am no heavy torrent user to even dream of reaching any such limit. Yet my speed drops after a few weeks and is never restored in the next month – so it definitely has nothing to do with me overusing their services. And sometimes it is as slow as .01MBPS which is virtually nothing for someone who works out of one’s home office, has a habit of buying music and movies online and sometimes wants to voice chat on Skype!
But I’m not exactly totally honest here: the speed can actually be restored. With some ISPs it takes a phone call to their support service and a few minutes explaining them you know how they have a habit of cutting channels and how you don’t pay for the best speed they can offer to never even get one tenth of what you pay for. The support agent will try to persuade you that they have nothing to do with the problem and the reason is most certainly your router (Wi-Fi arrangements at home are not very common here so they just love it when I mention that I have one because the router instantly turns into the only possible reason of the problem). And the very next day a real miracle happens and all of a sudden the promised speed returns – again for a few weeks when they think you won’t notice and cut your channel once again.
At some point it just gets too tiresome to handle and you switch the ISP to a new one – and after a while the story repeats again with the new ISP. The company I am subscribed to now has a long history in communications from the state-owned soviet past – and their practices has not changed much despite of the fact that they now provide a whole new range of services. Like the crazy thing they call internet access. And with them it is really totally crazy!
So after I got their cable into my router (it is to blame again, of course – or so their support agent is still trying to persuade me) I noticed an interesting thing: this time whenever I measure the speed, everything is absolutely fine and I get exactly what I pay for. So browsing is a real breeze and my emails arrive in no time and everything. With one huge exception: whenever I try to connect to some extremely busy server and grab a file of any significant size, my download will just freeze and never complete no matter how long I choose to wait for it to finish. And it happens to some things that I actually use quite a lot, like Windows Update (you know how Microsoft pushes out all those updates for Vista?) or Apple Store so buying a movie there is just out of question. In fact, I spent a whole day looking for an alternative source to download update to iOS4 from the previous version because the file just refused to be downloaded in iTunes.
First I thought about some temporary glitch or a problem in my system so I tried it in an office – and everything worked fine so I have come to the conclusion it is the ISP after all. I spent hours with them on the phone explaining the problem to one specialist after another and always getting a promise that they would call me back and never getting the promised call. And then I talked to an engineer who works in my husband’s company (that happens to be dealing with local ISPs a lot as they develop some software for them) and he explained that this specific ISP has a very interesting approach to speed: whenever they see huge amounts of traffic to some specific server, they just cut the capacity not to overload the link – and the subscribers will have to deal with the same problem that I have. So no matter how much you may want to keep your Vista safer by downloading constant security updates, chances are the ISP will never even let you do so!
Another situation that made me realize again that writing about internet from Russia and knowing exactly how it works in the US might be a little disappointing because you will hardly get what you expect here. We were spending a weekend at the countryside and had absolutely nothing to do so I decided to get some games from the App Store for my iPhone that we could play in pairs – like domino or monopoly or whatever.
When it comes to countryside somewhere in California, I suspect things must be different but in our case we spent another two hours browsing the store for the available games and buying them only to find out that the download would take me hours upon hours on my connection. Now don’t get me wrong, we do know what 3G is and it is available in many districts of the city of Novosibirsk where I live – but it is not something one should expect to find if you drive some 40 minutes from the downtown. And the available connection made me spend hours downloading the app I wanted.
Now this is hardly the worst thing to have – no one died because of my inability to download the apps any faster. But I quickly realized that for some countries it would have really been great if Apple added a simple feature to the App Store to indicate application size when you browse it from a mobile device so that users could realistically understand if they will be able to download it before they get to a Wi-Fi point. I know that Apple engineers in Cupertino simply don’t realize some users might need it but we actually do – because Internet is just not created equal in all the countries of the world!