Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- you asked?
how much does it cost to 'get on the net'?
- unless you have the knowledge and experience to do it all yourself, your ISP will charge you a setup fee to come out to your location, load up the connection software and check that it works
- you pay for a local telephone call (or long-distance call if your ISP is not in your area) every time you connect -- you'll be surprised how much this can add up, if you have more than one person in the house using the 'Net, and everybody is getting on and off now and then
- you pay for connection time at so much per hour, where each time you connect, you clock up some seconds or minutes or hours, which are added up at the end of the month, and then charged at the set rate per hour
- you do not have to be connected for whole minutes or whole hours: your ISP just adds up any seconds, minutes and hours of connection time to make a total, which is then charged at the hourly rate, then rounded off to the nearest 5 cents
- you shouldn't have to pay for your connection software, browser, email program, newsreader, ftp program or compression/decompression software:
- all this software is available as freeware
(pay nothing, copy from someone else or download from the Net)
(copy from someone else or download from the Net, then pay a small shareware fee)
and most if not all of it has been mentioned (with links where you get it) on other pages of the Look Here First site
- you may need to pay for upgrades to your computer (e.g. more RAM, faster CPU), and of course for a modem, so that you will be able to access the 'Net efficiently
- you will need to learn how to use your computer and your 'Net software, and how to get the best out of this new information/communication source;
it is certainly possible that you will be able to teach yourself everything necessary, by reading the manuals, information that comes with the software, and by using the information available on the 'Net;
however, you may find it easier to attend some non-threatening and relevant training courses, and you will have to pay for good training
- you will also have to pay for service calls, where you need further help and ask your computer technician to come out and deal with a problem
- see also the three-part article starting with 'Money and Speed', which is available on the Look Here First main page
How can I speed up my Internet connection?
You can save connect-time (for which you pay) by
- having a fast modem (56k bps is now available) to process the data before or after it passes through the phone line
- having a fast computer processor (CPU), to handle the data coming through the modem
- opening applications which you will need online (e.g. email, news or IRC programs, browser) before connecting, so you're ready and not taking up connect-time watching your application get itself ready
- reading and writing your email and news offline wherever possible
- setting your browser not to load images (pictures) automatically, because text takes up much less room and comes down the phone line much faster; if you then want to look at an image, you can click on it and it will load then
- connecting at times of the day when your ISP's server, or the website you want to explore, is likely to be less busy (your ISP may have information on that)
Why does my connection drop out, disconnect on me?
You get on, you're involved in what's happening, and your modem connection dies on you, the 'line drops out'.
That is SO annoying.
Some common causes:
- somebody else picked up the phone...
If you can afford it, a separate phone line for the modem saves a lot of hassle.
With only one phone line, a fax machine, another 'Net user in the house, a chatty phone user ... all these compete with your Net connection on your phone line.
We have a house rule -- before using the phone line for anything, check that nobody is online.
- you have call waiting enabled...
Disable it -- your modem can do without strange signals coming down the phone line when it's trying to do its job!
- you have a Touchfone 200
(white plastic, small and flat, with TF200 somewhere on the top)...
These phones have memory in which you can store phone numbers, and every 15-20 minutes, to keep the memory battery charged, these phones have a 'drink' of power from the telephone line, which can be enough to make the modem give up in disgust.
Unplug this phone when using the modem; better still, get another phone!
- in your connection Settings, you do not have hardware handshaking turned on...
Turn it on, so that your modem can work out any problems with the modem at the other end.
Hardware handshaking must be enabled in the modem init string (see below), in your computer Settings, and you must have a modem-to-computer cable which supports hardware handshaking (the cable which came with the modem should do this).
- in your connection Settings, your modem init string, the series of weird characters that tells your modem your preferences for its use, is incorrect...
Check the manual that came with the modem for what all those weird characters mean,
and for the advised correct init string (check with your ISP tech support for recommendations on this),
check to see if the modem manufacturer has a website,
and look there for FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), and for updated modem drivers and firmware
- your modem is too old, and can't keep up...
You need a current model modem, because the ISP, to save you time, is using the fastest modems available (currently 56k bps, 56 thousand bits per second).
- your modem is too new, and is not staying connected...
The modem at the other end may not be connecting at the same high speed,
or the phone line may not be good enough to sustain the speed:
discuss a compromise with your ISP tech support until things improve.
- you have not bought a good quality modem...
Please check before buying a modem, that you are getting value for money.
A modem has to deal with frustrating variations in phone line quality, with weather changes that affect the line, and with journeys of many 'hops' through many other connections;
it has to be fit and able, to do the job for you.
OK, all the ISPs talk about having "a fast connection to the rest of the Internet" -- how can I really test that?
It is an interesting situation.
Your ISP, like you, has to try and get the best speed by having fast modems, a proxy (hard disk for storage of popular pages etc) with plenty of room, a fast processor, and the fastest possible phone connection.
A 'fast connection' is one that has greater bandwidth.
Think of it like this: the wider the pipe is, the more stuff can be sent through it at once.
Bandwidth can be thought of as the width of the data pipe.
[Don't you hate these things that you can't actually see, but need or want to understand? Real bummer.
It does make sense, though: I find it sinks in slowly, piecing itself together with the other things you are learning, like a jigsaw.
OK. So my mind is like the inside of a 5000 piece jigsaw box, when it's been shaken up really hard!
It's my mind, and we sort things out bit by bit.][baaaaad computer pun]
So, how can your ISP help you get better bandwidth, get the data (pages, whatever) to you more quickly?
- Phone connections are expensive enough even for your ordinary phone line, which may vary a lot in quality at different times.
The maximum data rate possible when using a modem on an ordinary voice-grade telephone line is 33.6k bps (bits per second).
Data bytes are made up of the usual 8 bits (e.g. to make a keyboard character) but have 1 'start bit' and 1 'end bit' as well, so there are 10 data bits to 1 data byte.
That means that over a voice-grade telephone line, the maximum data rate you will achieve is 3.36k bytes per second.
So if your browser progress line (usually down the bottom) is loading something at 3k or more bytes per second, your basic phone line is really hummin'!
- To move the data along more quickly between the rest of the Internet and its home server (where you connect in), the ISP can put in an ISDN line.
An ISDN line is a digital connection capable of carrying much more information than an ordinary phone line.
At both ends of the special phone line, it has an encoding method which guarantees 64k bps through that line.
This might mean, for example, that although you don't have your own ISDN line, so data can only flow between you and your ISP's server at a maximum of 3.36k bytes per second, the speed limit opens up along an ISDN line to the next server upstream into the Internet.
Data being passed through an ISDN line charges along at 6.4k bytes per second.
- Remember that updating the speed of a phone connection just means that you reach that server faster - it doesn't change any of the phone connections between any of the other servers which make up the rest of the Internet.
Nor does it affect how busy those servers might be.
A phone line is just a phone line - it gets you from one place to another.
So your data might get pushed very quickly from one server to another, then have to wait for a backlog of sorting-out activity (rather like Customs at airports) before it can move on or back again.
There are several different ways to upgrade a phone connection for more bandwidth (more data down the pipe at once) but I won't try to cover them all here.
Whatis.com have an excellent table setting out all this information:
Whatis.com's data speed table
not to mention information on just about all computer terminology.
- I haven't seen this upgrade mentioned in ISP blurbs, but the T1 encoding method moves things along between servers even faster than ISDN: 1.5 Mbps, or 150k bytes per second.
and is stated to be in common use for ISP connections to the Internet.
- The next step up (that I have seen mentioned by ISPs) is paying for a fibre-optic cable to be put in, somewhere in the ISP network.
Fibre-optic cable can handle a lot of information at once.
Wherever these cables are actually put in, they raise the data rate across that stretch to several Gbps (billions of bits per second, or hundreds of thousands of bytes per second).
- And then there's frame relay.
A frame relay set up between your ISP's main server and the next server upstream, can transmit up to 1.544 Mbps, or 154k bytes per second.
- Then, with appropriate work done at both ends, your ISP can also pay for a satellite connection.
A satellite 'dish' for an ISP does not send data - you send it along the various 'hops' of its journey to a website like whatis.com, and hope that all the ISPs along the way have the fastest possible connections.
However, once contact with that website has been made, a satellite connection beams the data straight back to your ISP. No hops, stumbles or delays.
The speed will depend on how much bandwidth your ISP has bought -- I have information from the netconnect.com.au net-op who has been flapping his arms hard between here and the US recently, that riverland.net.au starts with access to 2 Mbps or 200k bytes per second, and that that would increase soon ...
definitely an advantage when you know you'll get that speed all the way, not just for one or some of the hops on a good day ;-)
What does it all add up to? Hopefully better connection speed for you.
It's not easy-peasy-lemon-squeazy (as my junior primary daughter would say) to test connection speed to the Internet, but if you're interested, it's not hard either.
What you are testing, and trying to compare, is how long it takes for a particular website on the Internet (not your local server, somewhere else in Australia or overseas) to return you a page, via your ISP.
Rather than loading whole pages, people on the 'Net test what they call "lag time" (how long it takes before you see anything!) by sending a very small amount of information (a data 'packet') to that site and return.
This is called Pinging the website.
You don't use a webpage address, you use the 'hostname',
e.g. http://www.whatis.com (no / or anything else after the basic address).
You do this in a simple Ping program, written by someone else who just wanted to find out ;-)
- for Macintosh I recommend MacTCP Watcher (which does a number of other useful things), written by Australian Peter Lewis and found at his software site:
and for Windows I recommend CyberKit (also varied and useful) in the TUCOWS software collection:
- To get a reliable comparison, Ping that 'out there' site at different times for a few days, so you get a real view of the average speed.
- 'Ping' at different times of the day, to find out when are the 'less busy' times
- You will find that friends and colleagues may use different ISPs -- ask them to Ping the same site(s) you're testing, and compare speeds.
'Ping' is the same for any ISP: connect to that ISP, then go into the Ping program and type in the Internet hostname address - and the Ping program will tell you how long it takes for that little bit of data to get there and back, from that server
You're paying for your ISP connection time, so understanding the different types of connection, and a bit of fiddling around with Ping, will give you the information to make the best choice for you.
My browser dies like a dog with its legs in the air when I'm online -- what's wrong with it?
Good software is like good engineering: it's invisible, you hardly notice it's there, because it's WORKING.
The two available browsers, Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, frequently do not work.
This causes people enormous frustration, when they are searching for information, downloading files, stepping out on the Internet...
- sometimes your browser will crash because there is some problem with the site you are trying to reach -- but you will notice this, because it only happens at the same site
- altering your Options/Preferences and trying again (turning off the Proxy or resetting it to Manual, setting the background and other colours to Let Document Override and Default, just trying alternatives) can help you get on a badly-designed site which is giving the browser trouble
- quite often you are simply having connection problems, and the connection is broken somewhere along the line, or your connection has been messed with from your end (see Problem-solving your Internet connection)
- but all too often your browser has died on you, crashed and burned, and often it messes up your system while doing that (curses!!), so:
- always restart your computer after a crash -- all sorts of things may have become buggered-up during the schemozzle!
- if your browser is still crashing, try using the other browser for a while and see if there is any difference
because one may work better than the other, on your setup, and
if you have the same problems as before, then we know it's not the individual browser (it's nice to have somewhere to start ;-)
- it's OK to leave the first browser on your disk -- for one thing, getting rid of Internet Explorer, which is glued, twisted and stapled throughout the Windows system, is damn near impossible -- you may want to go back to it; however, if you find one browser to work consistently better than the other, you can trash whatever you can find of the less useful one, to save space on your hard disk
- except, of course, your Bookmarks/Favourites preference file, which can be imported into the more effective browser if you need to change
- it does take the pressure off, if you don't try to use the browser for anything but browsing (where we have no real outside options):
there are excellent freeware/shareware programs for both Macintosh and Windows for
email, newsreading, FTP (downloading files) and IRC (live chat)... (see Starting out on the Internet)
these programs do the job without hassle, as good software does!
do you know, they used to make people PAY for either of those browsers?
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