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WOULDN'T YOU REALLY RATHER HAVE A BUICK?

Once you have decided to take the plunge and sign up for ADSL or Cable Modem service, you will never look back at the painfully slow dialup days.  Nevertheless the whole process can be daunting to the non-techie, and even the simple questions asked at signup can be overwhelming to some people.  Now consider what happens when you get the modem in the mail.  What do you do next?  The instructions are never that obvious, unless you wrote them of course.  You have to "intuit" certain things, or already understand the technology.  Nothing seems to be easy anymore, does it?? 

If you have time, you should visit the Basic Networking Course we have instituted here at PC Citizen to help you understand all the "networking" concepts and options.  The come back....

In the case of ADSL, there can be "line issues" that can be hard to troubleshoot.  Face it, some phone lines are just not in very good shape.  Hey, if you have been in the ground or hanging from a pole for 40 or 50 years, you may not be in the best of shape either.  Hopefully you get a modem or router that actually lets you look at the "shape" of your lines.  This is the best insurance, especially if you are a "techie."  Why should the phone company be the only people who can interrogate your line to check its performance?  There are lots of ways to do this, and I will not repeat them here - there is a great BellSouth FAQ site at www.DSLreports.com.  Other ISPs have similar sites.  Basically you need to look at your SNR (signal to noise ratio) down and up. It better be greater than 6 dB.  6 dB is very marginal.  ADSL Plumbing shows the basic "plumbing" of ADSL and Cable Modem service, and introduces and identifies the constituent parts.

Cable modems do not typically have the line issues that ADSL may have, but they can have their own problems.  First and foremost, beware that your PC may be on a bridged connection with the rest of your neighbors, so you better practice some of those safe computing practices!  Newer cable modem standards make this much more secure, but there are plenty of the original setups out there.  ADSL is a true point to point connection all the way to the ISP's router.  You won't see anybody else's traffic on your line.  It is like dial-up in that respect.  Cable modem absolutely shares the network connection in your neighborhood, so it depends on how many of your neighbors are on-line at the same time.  Now the Internet is all a statistically multiplexed (you like that term....?) place, so even ADSL starts mixing all the traffic together, but it is much further upstream than happens with a cable modem.  So if you are an early cable modem subscriber in your neighborhood, your performance is probably great.  As all of your neighbors start coming on-board it will start to slow down until the cable company starts doing some partitioning at the head end.  There are ways to do this if they want to. Now cable modem service is a "captive service" mostly.  You can have ADSL and go to a LOT of ISPs.  You cannot typically have cable modem service and go to any ISP.  You are mostly just stuck with the cable modem as your ISP.   You need to think about that one...  

Bellsouth.net and most of the big ISPs expect you to run pppoE [you can look and find those that don't however].  This is a protocol that runs between you and them to initiate, validate and setup your connection.  You must enter your username and password into the router, and it passes this onto the ISP during "LCP negotiations."   Basically the end result of this process is that you are "authenticated," you have an IP address, and you are "on-line."  There are varied reasons for running pppoE, which I won't go into.  And you really don't need to understand this stuff as long as you get the router which does it all for you!  There are holy wars waged in certain newsgroups over the use of pppoE vs bridged. 

Many ISPs, including BellSouth.net, Mindspring.com, and probably every other one out there, want you to install some "extra" software on your PC when you sign up.  But I am here to tell you DON'T DO IT!  If you have a router that performs the pppoE and signs on for you, there is absolutely no need to install any additional software on that poor excuse of a PC you have.  In fact, historically there have been problems with much of this software.  It is typically "bloatware," and just keeps the name of the ISP in front of your face, sorta like branding the browser with the name of the ISP.   ....maybe it is getting better, but?  This software is typically connection monitoring software, so-called troubleshooting software, help software screens and the like.  Certainly if you are a techie, you don't need this stuff.  If you are clueless, well maybe.....  There are just TOO many things that fiddle with that TCP/IP stack on your PC.  We don't need another.

From here on, setting up ADSL looks pretty much like setting up your dial-up account.  So in case you forgot......... I'll kill another tree here.  Funny how these idioms stay with us, huh.

Mail servers, both incoming and outgoing are usually mail.isp.net (such as mail.bellsouth.net).  Incoming service is usually POP3 and runs on port 110 - OE defaults to this. This is the port at the isp's mail server that you go and GET your mail.  It is like a post office, hence the name "post office protocol (POP)."  Version 3 of course :-).  You normally run a mail client on your PC to go and GET the mail from the Post Office.  This is what OE, Outlook, Netscape mail, Eudora, thunderbird or mozilla mail does for you.  Of course, you need to authenticate (give them your username and password) to get your mail.   doh!

Outgoing service is SMTP [Simple (hah!!) Mail Transport Protocol] and runs on port 25 - again, OE and most clients defaults to this.  To send your mail, your client has to take it to the post office, but instead of talking to the receiving department (port 110), you talk to the sending department (port 25).  Normally you don't have to authenticate when you send mail, since the mail server can already look at your IP address and they figure you are already their customer.  But you never know.....  There is an option to authenticate to the sending mail server as well in most mail clients, but I don't think anybody uses that.

UPDATE July 2004:  BellSouth now requires outgoing mail authentication.  I am sure others will gradually require this also.  OE is all setup to provide this.  And it can use the same username/password pair that receiving mail requires.  I guess this is easier than associating your IP with their pool of IPs. 

UPDATE Summer 2005:  I do not believe BellSouth requires outgoing mail authentication.  I am not sure why they turned it off.  Probably just too much work to inform their millions of clueless customers.....

Most ISPs have restrictions on sending mail.  Their sending departments will normally only accept mail from its own customers.  This makes sense doesn't it?  This is normally done by looking at the IP address of the PC making the incoming connection, or via the sender authentication discussed above.  Otherwise, anybody in the entire Internet can connect to that mail server, and the mail server will then relay the mail on.  "Relay" is a bad, bad word in SMTP land.  This is how spammers operate.  They find mail servers who have no restrictions, which can be REEEEELAYS, and use these to "relay" their trash.  Because the mail server rewrites a bunch of headers, it is very difficult to trace anything back to them, and of course the originating domain is hidden.  So nobody can trace them, and they stay in business.  Nice, huh.... Well, remember this is still the wild wild west out there.  It is NOT difficult to find open mail relays on the Internet, and they can be in any country in the world.  SO how do you go and complain about that guy in Iraq running an open mail relay?  Well, you don't.  So you begin to see what a huge problem this is right now.  Now of course there are holy wars waged on this issue.  And for a good reason.  If an ISP practices this restriction on sending mail, it is really a limitation on their own customers, not anybody else.  They are trying to be a good "Internet citizen" by denying the use of their mail servers to anybody but their own customers, since historically this is what spammers take advantage of.  The simplest way is to block anybody coming in on port 25 of the mail server except their own subscribers.  There are other ways, but they are more complicated, read more costly....   Get it?  If an ISP institutes this policy, it should have very reliable mail servers, since they are really putting a crimp in their customer's email sending habits when their own mail servers are down.  A very well known ISP, who shall remain nameless :-) has been having a lot of trouble with this lately.  The unreliability of the mail servers is a big reason many people want to be able to send mail to another ISP's port 25 - as a backup to their own!

If you are trying to get around the problem of your ISP requiring you to use their SMTP, try secure mail port, or try switching to port 2525 as the sending port - when you are actually on the other ISP's network and you want to connect to your home SMTP server.  Many ISPs provide ways around the port 25 blocking.  They just don't want to make it obvious so the SPAMMERs can run free.

The ISP doesn't restrict you from GETTING mail from anybody else though.  So let us say you had a mindspring account (you have a groovy address, groovy@mindspring.com  and don't want to relinquish it - somebody on bellsouth.net already has your groovy address - groovy@bellsouth.net ).  You can certainly keep your mindspring.com account - they don't care if you keep sending them money...!  So let us say you get ADSL from bellsouth.net, instead of mindspring.com - not sure why you would want to do this, but what the heck [Some people get pretty confused by this.  Check with your existing ISP - they may be able to get you ADSL].   Now your PC gets an IP address from Bellsouth.net.  You can't set up your email client to use the mindspring.com sending port, because to mindspring.com you may be a nasty spammer trying to REEEELAY (remember you have a BellSouth IP, and they probably do the same thing that bellsouth.net does).  So you have to send all your mail out the bellsouth.net port.  That is OK, you just use the local post office to send all your mail.  But you can still specify your old mindspring.com receiving department.  SO you can still get your groovy@mindspring.com mail from your mindspring.com account. 

If you have a really good ISP, they may offer "secure POP."  You should use this if you can at all, since it actually uses an encrypted version of POP I believe [Need to investigate this further].  The problem with normal POP email is that your username/password are sent in the clear whenever you authenticate to the receiving mail server.  Now this is normally not a problem, since it is only going, most likely a few (router) hops into the ISP network.  But it ....could... be a problem if you PC is running on a normal bridged LAN, where everybody in creation can sniff your traffic (think your work Dept, or maybe cable modems).  OE and many clients are actually able to run secure POP.  Outgoing mail to the SMTP port is ...normally... not required to authenticate, so your username/password is not sent here.  Of course, taking all these precautions to protect your username/password is a little bit lame, because your email is still sent in the clear!  Maybe you should start using the encryption facilities built into many of the email clients.

Some people never deal with email clients on their PC at all - they simply use what is called "webmail."  If you use hotmail, or msn, e.g. you don't need to run an email client at all [although you can certainly configure OE or other clients to handle this situation].  Most ISPs also have a webmail presence, such as "webmail.bellsouth.net."  You just use your browser and go to the "webmail address."  You use http (port 80) transactions to do this.  This has advantages.  You can get your email from anywhere on the Internet, even through another ISP (you are visiting your Mom's house and using her ISP).  All the mail is kept at the ISP, so you don't need to worry about which PC you are on, and where to put/organize your email.  There are also many disadvantages.  Kinda like life, you got a lot of choices, here....

If you are one of the few people who have heard of Internet newsgroups, your setup will likely be something like "newsgroups.isp.net" as your newsserver.  That is pretty much all you need to know.  There is so much spamming on the newsservers these days, and they are becoming simply overwhelmed with the binary traffic out there, that they may implement some protection measures as well.  newsgroups.bellsouth.net requires you to authenticate to them if you want to actually post.  Didn't used to be that way.  These servers are where you will find all the pirated MP3s/movies/software stuff.  Most people think it is their absolute right to demand this service from the ISPs, but I feel this service may disappear some day, because it is just abused terribly.  The original use of the newsgroups was as a discussion group, and the postings/discussions were text only.  Well, those are still there, and a very valuable part of newsgroup service, but all the space on all those servers is being taken up by those binaries.  And not only taking up space on those servers!   All that stuff has to wind its way around the Internet over those links to wind up on all the different newsgroup servers.  Boggles the mind with how much traffic in pirated MP3s/warez/videos/porn is actually taking place.  Like I said, it is truly the wild wild west.  Here is the definitive guide to newsgroups.

Now there are variations in all of this, so you still need to read your instructions on setting up your accounts.

If you are curious about the legal responsibilities and ramifications of you and your ISP, you might pursue this lawyer's tome, at Bellsouth.net.  "Acceptable use," "Service Agreement," "Privacy Policy," Terms of Use."  Fun reading! 

If you're still searching for the "any key," you need my help in this...

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Copyright John D Loop Saturday June 25, 2005