Sunday, February 14, 2021

I Hate the Cable Company II: Final Farewell.

I fired my cable company. Not just the television portion, mind you; I cut that back in 2015. No, this time I cancelled the whole smack: phone and internet both.

It wasn't exactly what I had intended. Over the last three years, Time Warner, a.k.a. Spectrum, had again ratcheted up my rates, until the last bill (for only two services) was $95/month. Thinking I knew the drill for getting another discounted rate, I took the modem down to their offices and dropped it on the desk. To which the underpaid customer service rep said: okay.

The first problem I had to solve was getting back on the internet. Spectrum bought AT&T, so there aren't really any bargains on DSL anymore. Fortunately, we have unlimited data through our cell phone provider. Unfortunately, this plan does not include tethering, which costs an additional $10/15GB/phone. I initially avoided this fee and cap with PdaNet, a program that, once installed on a PC and phone, allows tethering over USB. The free tier of PdaNet has its own data limit, but I went ahead and bought the $8 "full version" without a limit. I wasn't sure how much this tethering aggravates the cell phone provider, so I also acquired a VPN service to mask my usage.

PdaNet has its own set of limitations:

  • USB tethering requires the "developer options" and "USB debugging" to both be active on the phone. This worked on my daughter's and my Samsung phones, but not on my wife's LG phone. Not sure why.

  • The paid version is supports "WiFi Direct Hotspot" from the phone to one or more PCs. Note, however, that the wifi connection must be established to the phones from within the PCs' PdaNet application (Settings-->WiFi Pairing), not as you would connect to a standard hotspot.

  • The desktop app is supposed to support "WiFi Share (beta)" from the desktop's wifi as an ad hoc network; however, this apparently only works from computers running Windows 7, not from Windows 10. I guess this is consistent with the ad hoc capability being generally disabled on Windows 10. Supposedly this can be overcome by changing the wifi card driver, but I couldn't make that work either.

  • I was able to connect every PC I own, and an old Nokia phone without cell service, but I failed to connect a Samsung tablet. I didn't have a C2C USB cable, but none of the "WiFi Direct Hotspot", "WiFi Share (beta)", and "legacy bluetooth mode" would allow me to access the internet through the connections. Also not sure why, but connecting to ad hoc networks is generally a problem for tablets, unless one is willing to perform some serious hacks on the OS, and I was not. I may update this post when/if I get a C2C.

So I wound up having to buy the cell company mobile hotspot anyway to run our tablet collection, but I anticipate keeping this below the 15GB monthly, and even if we don't, our plan let's us to exceed the limits at throttled speeds.

The next problem I had to solve was replacing my wife's email account, which had been provided by the cable company, and to which she unceremoniously lost access. For my non-blogging life, I've been happy with Microsoft, but in the interest of giving the finger to Big Tech, she chose Protonmail. Protonmail offers end-to-end encryption within it subscriber base, but not outside of it. The free tier get you very basic webmail, the paid tier ($4/month if you buy a year's worth) gets you MS Outlook integration (and other programs) and the ability to create additional online mail folders. Unfortunately, Protonmail does NOT allow contact synchronization, nor does it offer any calendar support at all.

A couple of interesting experiences with our VPN:

  • My ability to access a website can depend on the server to which I connect. Last evening, I suddenly stopped connecting to a number of sites, one of which was DuckDuckGo. (Facebook was not affected.) Changing servers fixed the problem, but I'll be disappointed if this gets to be typical.

  • The VPN interferes with my voicemail reception. Voicemail recordings would normally download directly to my phone automatically, but the VPN prevents this, probably by cell company policy to prevent voicemail hacking. I can still access voicemails on the cell carrier's server (*86), but I don't have much confidence that I haven't lost any of them.

It's mildly inconvenient not receiving internet service through our home router, to which we have ethernet connections to a printer and a shared drive, plus a couple of "smart" home devices. This doesn't matter much when we are USB tethering, but my a computer can only connect to one hotspot at a time; if we're tethering to the phone's "direct hotspot", we have to disconnect to connect to the home router to access files or run the printer. Likewise, I have to unplug the ethernet cable from a computer to connect it to the direct hotspot.