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DSL issues abound in rural Lamar

By Walter Geiger Margaret Hice, who lives on Van Buren Rd., works remotely as an administrative assistant for Safari Club International. To handle that job and her everyday online and social media needs, she needs bandwidth and lots of it. One problem: she cannot get it. ’I had high-speed DSL from AT&T or, at least, I was paying for high speed. It was unreliable, dropping out all the time. At times, it was as slow as dial-up,’ she said. She made call after call to customer support but got little of that commodity. One day she did as we all have thought of doing in that situation. ’I got angry and told them to just come take out my phone and DSL and they did. I had forgotten about my neighbor’s troubles in getting hooked up to DSL and that my life alert monitor ran through the phone line. I called and asked them to hook it back up and was told DSL was not available though I had it just a few days before,’ she related. Hice is not alone. A post to the Herald Gazette Facebook page drew multiple responses from others in the same situation. Many noted school children almost have to have high speed internet to keep up with their work. Telecommuters trying to work from home and avoid the horrid drive to Atlanta every day also need bandwidth. Many can’t get it. ‘No ports available,’ is the answer most got. Some have been on the waiting list for over a year. Several people reported buying homes where the previous owner had DSL only to be told they couldn’t have it. One caller said she moved next door to her mother’s home thinking she could move her DSL but could not. Another DSL customer who was moving tried to designate her line for a neighbor across the street on the waiting list to no avail. ’It is a real, real mess,’ Hice said, summing up the feelings of many. Part of the problem lies in what DSL is. DSL stands for digital subscriber loop. It allows for internet service to be delivered on the same copper line as telephone service but at different frequencies. Some of those lines are 60 years old. Most all eventually connect to the AT&T hub in downtown Barnesville next to the courthouse and the equipment in that facility is maxed out or nearly maxed out. Two local men who work in the industry agreed to be interviewed anonymously. Each has been in the tech field for decades. Both were aware of the issues in that they had them at their own homes. ’AT&T just doesn’t have the data rate or the equipment at the hub in Barnesville. Their equipment is saturated. At the busiest time of the day it is at the absolute limit. It can handle only so much bandwidth, thus the waiting lists. Who gets connected is determined by how much bandwidth remains in the system. Since the system is already at capacity, new orders are filled from a waiting list as former users give up service. The actual data speed limits were controlled by Internet Techs in India,’ said one. ‘I had a line from my house connected to the DSLAM (digital subscriber line access multiplexer) at high speed, but AT&T would not allow fast data rates because Barnesville equipment was at data capacity. They had sold all of the bandwidth available.’ Along with bandwidth capacity issues, some areas are port limited at outdated DSLAMS, where connections covert from copper pairs to ATM or Ethernet into Barnesville. ’DSL can only serve one customer per available port. It is a hard run of copper to the home. It can’t be shared with others and is just like a telephone number. DSL here is asynchronous so upload speeds are unbearably slow compared to download speeds,’ said the other. Both tied the problem back to the deregulation of utilities. ’Deregulation forced AT&T to sell bandwidth to suppliers like Birch but that service still runs on the same wires back to the same hub. Under regulation, we would have paid more but the regulators would have forced AT&T to invest in good reliable service and equipment. That would have been mandated. Deregulation brought more competition and better pricing but less reliable service and greatly decreased investment in equipment. AT&T just doesn’t have the profit to invest much in it,’ one of the techies said. Phone service is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission but they are no help at all, according to the tech types. ‘It is a waste of time to call the FCC. They won’t do anything,’ one said. So, what are the options for those who cannot get DSL? Those close enough to Barnesville or Milner may be able to get cable TV/internet packages through Charter Cable. Those farther out can try satellite but should note that DIRECTV is now a part of AT&T. Satellite internet also has issues. There is not a lot of available bandwidth and it is expensive. Satellite takes considerable time to send a signal thousands of miles to a satellite, then from the satellite back to earth. This causes a time-delay between a request for data and when it actually arrives. This is called ‘latency.’ Satellites also share bandwidth between many subscribers. ’You are allowed a certain amount of data each month. If you go over, you are slowed by the satellite company to speeds near that of old dial up internet,’ one of our experts said. Another option is the one Hice chose and many others are turning to. She put a Verizon 4G LTE Mifi personal hotspot in her home. 4G LTE (4th generation cellphone technology) offers speeds from four to 12 Mbps if near a tower or outfitted with an amplifier where our area’s ADSL runs 1.5 Mbps. ’It works okay but I have to watch my data. I wish I had another option but I just don’t,’ Hice concluded. AT&T’s RESPONSE: AT&T spokesman Terry D. Smith responded to a request to comment on DSL issues in Barnesville-Lamar County and essentially confirmed the information in our story. ’AT&T high-speed internet is not available in areas where there are no network facilities or where there is insufficient capacity on those facilities. From time to time, in order to manage capacity and better serve existing customers, availability limitations may even exist where services have previously been available. ’Like other internet access technologies, DSL has distance and capacity limitations and our ability to provide service depends on how close you live to our central office and the number of customers already on the network. ’People are increasingly using both wired and wireless for high speed internet connectivity and we’re addressing this demand through a combination of our wired, wi-fi and wireless networks.’ Smith said.

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