burlington telecom

So I’m now writing to you all from the bleeding edge of networking technology.  Yes, our little town, incredibly, is one of a small group of municipalies in the nation who have taken the step of treating Internet connectivity as a utility, like electricity or water.

To that end, Burlington Telecom was formed a few years ago and has spent the last couple of years building out a fiberoptic IP network throughout the city.  Through it, they are offering telephone, “cable” television and Internet services to anyone the network can reach.  They’re rolling it out in different neighborhoods as they get the network built, but the plan is to eventually serve all of Burlington.

In July we canceled Comcast and got Internet and TV service through Burlington Telecom.  We opted out of their telephone service because we use Vonage.

So how do their services stack up so far?

Internet:

As far as the Internet service goes, it’s incredibly awesome.  Besides the engineering radness of having a fiber optic link directly to my house, BT offers synchronous speeds, which at my service level means I have 5Mbps for both downloading and uploading.  With Comcast, I had bursts of that for downloads, but only 386Kbps for uploads.  Now, for most people this is not going to make a ton of difference.  The main internet activities for many are just requesting and loading web pages and email.  But for some things, it’s made a pretty huge difference.  Connecting to the work VPN is much much faster, and connecting to my home machine from work is also much faster.  And the main bottleneck in OpenArena seems to be my CPU now, not my network.  I’m sure if I had other more fancy multiplayer gaming needs I’d see similar results.

I don’t need a modem any more; they simply run ethernet from the fiber box on the outside of my house to a switch in my basement.  From there, ethernet simply runs to the Vonage router.  Pretty soon I’ll have to get a real wireless router instead of using the cheesy setup I have now (I’m torn between the Apple AirPort Express base station because of AirTunes and the Netgear WGR614L because it’s hackable), but things are running smoothly now.

The only real gripe I could come up with is that the DNS servers they run seemed really slow.  Web pages would spend 10 seconds saying “looking up blahblah.com” before finally loading.  Once they did, they’d often get stuck on other lookups as the pages requested other domains (like accuweather.com has some content on vortex.accuweather.com as well as coriolis.accuweather.com).  I switched them for a public DNS address I found on the Internet and all seems well.  KC says that it’s slow for her, but sometimes it’s hard to ferret out the sources of her impatience, since they are usually legion.

Television:

Now, the television service has been a mixed bag.  For the first three months or so, the service really sucked.  The channels all looked great, of course (even though we still have a pretty average standard-def TV), but the DVR service was terrible.  The UI was only semi-intuitive.  Most of it seems easy enough to find, and a month or so after we’d been subscribers, they put out a pamphlet describing how to do stuff that covered most of the bases.  The main thing that is a bummer is that when you are viewing the Guide (the grid of shows by channel and time), you can’t switch days easily.  If today is a Tuesday, and you want to record something on Sunday, you have to keep scrolling to the right, hour by hour, for all the hours between Tuesday and Sunday.  For the math-challenged, from noon Tuesday to noon Sunday is 120 hours!  That is just silly.

And that was a pretty minor gripe compared to the fact that there was a lot of random bugginess.  Shows we’d recorded would disappear, or the audio and video would be randomly corrupt in the middle of a show.  It got to the point where we didn’t really trust the thing to record stuff that we wanted to record.  Kacey ended up calling and chewing them out pretty hard, and told them that we shouldn’t have to pay for a service that just didn’t work.  To our surprise, they agreed with her, and credited us on our next bill.  They’d gotten tons of complaints and they were working with their vendor to fix stuff.  Supposedly there was going to be some software upgrade coming that was going to take care of a lot of these issues.

Now, any tech person knows that most software upgrades are bullshit.  They fix things, but Murphy’s law dictates that they never fix YOUR issue.  So imagine our delight when things magically started working not long after that phone call!  All of the random weirdness is now gone, thank goodness.

However, you still can’t change days in the guide, and it’s still just a digital VCR with a nice GUI.  When you click a show it basically just sets it to record at a certain time and channel for a given duration, and recurs if you want.  But it doesn’t know if a show is a rerun or and there’s nothing even close to having it recommend stuff like Tivo does.  But at least it works as advertised.

We have gotten a few things through their pay-per-view service, which works as advertised, but the offerings are nothing to write home about.  The times we’ve done it we’ve been looking for stuff for the kids, so maybe it’s just that category that’s not impressive, but I don’t really care about that stuff anyway.

So overall, now that their DVR issues are fixed, Burlington Telecom is well worth it.  They have offered solid tech, good customer service, and we can take comfort in knowing that we’re supporting a local company, and besides – it’s just cool as hell that we have a fiber-optic cable connected to our house.

One Response to “burlington telecom”

  1. fushia78 says:

    I got their net/phone/tv service back in April 2008, comming from verizon’s crappy 3MB/1.5MB ADSL and phone service.
    I love my 8MB/8MB pipe and now my phone service is crystal clear, no more hums or static pops, crackles or hearing music off in the backgound or hearing other folks talking faintly in the background.

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