Monday, April 27, 2009

Time Warner outage not a conspiracy

There are some who want to believe that the sweeping outage of Internet and Digital Phone for Time Warner customers this weekend was part of a purposeful "demonstration" of a so-called "Internet brown-out" due to overused capacity. This however, is just a conspiracy theory and holds no water.

Things break. Shit happens. Not everything Time Warner does is fully under their control and not everything they don't do -- such as put up some sort of notice about the outage on their cable TV stations such as RNews -- is necessarily attributable to malice, ignorance will suffice.

However, this weekends outage should be a wake-up call to anyone using the all-in-one Time Warner packages (Internet, Cable, Digital Phone) that perhaps a bit of diversity would be well-advised. Digital Phone subscribers were left without a phone and without access to 911 from 10 AM to approximately 1:15 PM on Sunday and I imagine a good portion of those people did not have an alternate phone line such as a cell phone or land line through another company.

I do not believe it's fair to pick on Digital Phone or Voice over IP (VoIP) in general as less reliable than a traditional phone line. Traditional phone lines have some benefits it's true. In a power-outage situation traditional phone lines are powered by generators usually and that low voltage power is carried over the phone line. Only wireless phones don't work in that situation (which is probably most people these days anyway). But land lines are susceptible to lightning strikes, trees and branches falling, switching station failures, and any number of other problems that can wipe out service to a large number of people. Additionally, during emergencies land line switching stations tend to get overwhelmed with calls and you start getting the "all circuits are busy" messages.

VoIP can often handle emergency situations slightly better because all voice traffic is just IP traffic and as long as the network has capacity (a problem for Time Warner according to them) and everyone isn't calling the same location, the problem is partially alleviated. Though at some point the VoIP service usually goes to a switching station and gets connected to a regular POTS PBX which can still be tied up.

VoIP also has many other benefits over traditional land lines. First off, it's usually cheaper (and I stress usually). Second, it often comes with many voice features for free that the phone company charges extra such as voicemail, caller ID, and call waiting. Third, the call quality usually does not change significantly between local and long distance calls. Again, this has more to do with the POTS switching stations that are involved on the far end, but on a complete digital connection, where the other party is also using VoIP, the call quality can far exceed traditional phone lines. And finally, most VoIP services now offer enhanced 911 (E911) services as part of their service which generally requires you to enter your home location information into their system since IP addresses are not tied to a geographic location as a traditional phone line is.

So, what are your VoIP options if not Time Warner? Glad you asked. Here's a list of several services available in the New York area and some nationwide:
  • Vonage - One of the first VoIP services and probably one of the more popular ones. This service provides a small device you plug into your computer network (modem or router) and your phone into the device. Does not require a computer to use.
  • Skype - Offers free computer-to-computer calls and low-cost VoIP calls to land lines and cell phones. Also sells phones and devices to use Skype without a computer.
  • MagicJack - Requires a computer, this is a USB device that plugs into your computer and your phone.
  • ViaTalk - NY-based web hosting company who provides excellent VoIP service (the author uses this company's VoIP services).
You can find many other service providers and reviews on this site: I'm not sure why ViaTalk gets such a bad rating on that site, but my experience has been quite stellar compared to my previous VoIP services (Vonage and SunRocket - now out of business). ViaTalk does charge monthly E911 and recovery fees for a couple bucks each monthly even with the yearly pre-paid plan.

I recommend comparing the features of each VoIP provider you consider with Time Warner's Digital Phone as well as just the price. For example, several providers offer a call forwarding service for free when your home network cannot be reached (because you've lost power, or because Time Warner's network is down - sometimes called Network Unavailable Forward) and will send all calls to a phone number of your choosing or to voicemail. I have calls forwarded to my cell phone so I don't miss any calls during a network or power outage. I don't believe Time Warner's Digital Phone offers such a feature.

As usual, it's not wise to put all your eggs in one basket.

1 comment:

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