ASCII by Jason Scott

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Goodbye to the Bandwidth Dragon —

In 2003, having recently bought a house, I achieved a weird little dream of sorts: I had a T-1 line installed into my basement. With it came shelves of servers, a hub that blinked menacingly, and a lordship/dominion over 32 of my very own static IP addresses. This was a good time.

Previously, I’d only had DSL lines, and while DSL lines were, for their part, pretty cool, there was a whole different world when you had a T-1 line going into your house, especially if the term “T-1 line” had any meaning to you at all. For me, the meaning was this: power and glory.

In the context of the modern era, where there is actual competition to provide you multi-megabit speeds, and even in the context of people who remember the era when modems and ISDN ruled, it might have been forgotten just how absolute cockfuck some companies were about bandwidth. In the early 1990s, when I was trying to start a small ISP (not more than 8 lines, plus some amount of people connecting in), I was raked over the coals by companies who I sought bandwidth from, because they were all against “resale”. “Resale”, in this case, is a single person paying for an internet connection and then selling it to others for access. Man, I remember the snooty calls I got, like I was actually proposing actual rape of the person’s actual sister. I’m not kidding or making jokes here, either; I had one ISP (now long dead) actually start laughing and begin telling me that the world didn’t work that way. Strong memories, those.

One company did allow resale: Xensei, run by Jeff Morris. Jeff was the cool beyond the cool. He even came over to my office and personally helped me set up my terminal server and high-speed connection. And bear in mind, when I say high speed, I mean a 56kbit connection that was hundreds of dollars a month.

In this context, of small straws sipping data, a T-1 line was like sliding into a luxury car and doing drifting circles on your mansion’s front lawn. It was, in its own way, the ultimate fuck you to all these places giving sippy little connections to people and harassing their users like slumlords if “usage” went too high. Imagine the bandwidth battles we age  in some quarters now, but for unbelievably small stakes.

When I moved into my house in this new shiny century, things had changed. T-1s were no longer thousands-of-dollars-a-month propositions, and DSL could actually catch up in terms of speed. So I initially got a 1.1mbit down/1.1mbit up DSL connection to the house. Life was good. But I wanted more, and when Speakeasy had a “Business T-1″ service pop up, I went for it. It was many hundreds of dollars a month, but I thought it was worth it. They had a promotion so I didn’t pay for the equipment they stuck in, and installation charges were waived, so let me say, that it was a good deal.

It’s served me well; I was assigned an actual person in charge of my account. This person got a call from me if anything went wrong, which it almost never did, because this was a T-1, goddamnit. If there was a problem, I was able to get a pro-rated refund on my monthly costs. Try getting THAT from your cable modem. I do recall a couple multi-day outages, but in both cases, it was because of actual damage out in my street, that I could see; it wasn’t just a black box of “and now I shall reboot yer modem and hope for the best” from someone I wouldn’t hear from again. And yes, I got money back.

Another thing: bandwidth caps didn’t exist for my T-1. I was a business customer and I paid for them. And I could host anything I wanted to, if it so suited me. I didn’t have to find out that my crime of running a mail server got my shit shut off in the night. It was the kind of rapport that a business gave a real human being, and that’s a rare thing indeed.

One time, I was shut off, and I called in to see what the hell was going on. It turned out someone had hacked one of my servers and put up a phishing site. They tried my home number but I was travelling and they didn’t have my cell. Faced with the fact that my page was gathering tons of credit card numbers (thousands) and mailing them to Stealistan, they reluctantly shut me down and waited for the call. Once I did, they let me in, I disabled the site, and then cleaned up the mess. A day later, I got a paragraphs-long letter from the head of the operations center of Speakeasy explaining their thinking behind the shut-down, what they’d tried to do to contact me, and how they had no choice. Very good work.

This T-1 served me through all sorts of issues, functioning as textfiles.com’s mail home for a few years, running the BBS documentary site and later the GET LAMP site after that. It even ran this blog some time ago.

But in the New Austerity, I had to take a hard look at what I was up to and what I was doing, and I decided that, ultimately, it didn’t make sense to have the T-1 line to myself anymore. It was too much bandwidth for a single person’s site and yet wasn’t scaled up enough should I get hit by Reddit or something. Add to this that I am trying to cut all my monthly costs back, and this was $400 a month, and the sad choice was obvious.

I called Speakeasy, and they didn’t try to upsell me or talk me out of it. (They did mention cheaper options, but I was getting out of this whole “hosting out of my house” thing completely, and the representative quickly shut up about it.) We said goodbye on the best of terms.

Let me take this moment to say Speakeasy were excellent, an awesome company to be associated with for the last six years, in every fashion. They were responsive, smart, engaged, and the people who I spoke to always made me feel I was doing them a favor and not the other way around.  When they were bought by Best Buy I figured that was it but at least from the T-1 level and up (a business account) absolutely nothing changed. I wasn’t harassed, sent stuff I didn’t want, pressured into things I never could want, and they answered everything I ever asked with competency and aplomb.  This is purely a money decision, not a service decision. Times are getting rough and I can’t spend money with such carefree delight as I once did to allow a dragon to feed in the basement.

There are so many crazy things associated with this machine and this T-1. I’ve been pulling it apart like a terrible puzzle box, and it’s going pretty smoothly. I expect some people may get a surprise, but who knows; maybe they’ve all moved on to better things or don’t care if the IP address changes. I’ve got a hosting deal set up elsewhere, and the machine will live again, down the road a ways.

I was proud of my self-starting ways, and I’m proud to have been involved in this part of the Internet experience for all this time, but it’s time to hand over responsibilities to others. I’m headed in a different direction, with a slightly fatter wallet.

Thanks, T-1.


Categorised as: computer history | jason his own self

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10 Comments

  1. Flack says:

    Man … a T1. There was a time when just the thought of having an account on a system connected to a T1 gave me a hard on. It was why we all wanted college accounts back in the day … because “they” had a T1 and “we” wanted to play on it. I remember when Napster would show you the connection speed of other users … “Dial-Up”, “Cable/DSL” and “T1/T3″ … those were the veins from which we would suck. The T1 was the level at which all other connections were compared to. Your picture is somewhat disappointing … in my mind, I imagined the T1 connection would be bigger than a standard network cable, like a giant straw you get with boba tea or something. Even though 1.5 megabit may not seem impressive to the cable modem boppers of today, the thought of unshared, unbridled power was the dream of many a kid back in my day. You definitely lived the dream. RIP, Dragon.

  2. Darius K. says:

    Speakeasy was a GREAT ISP. I had them from ’03-’05 in Worcester and they were truly wonderful, possibly the best customer service experience of my life. I can’t say how they are post-buyout, but man, I have some fond memories of that company (the fact that I just typed the phrase “fond memories of that company” is astonishing in and of itself).

  3. thezak says:

    What kind of charges did you pay and what are you charged now?…

  4. ckd says:

    Speakeasy now offers “Business Ethernet” service, for people who are tired of their slow T-1 lines. 10Mb/sec each way, anyone? Only $995/month….

  5. nimbus says:

    Cool.

    Is that a lava light on the left there?

  6. Andrew says:

    Nice story! Out of interest, what have you changed to? I presume some simple customer DSL or somesuch service – I’m not sure what Americans can get :)

    It’s interesting because I like the download speed of my cable connection, but the upload is so terrible (and throttled) I can’t do major inroads into my Internet Archive work which requires gigabytes of uploads I’ve got queued up. Some business thing would be perfect for that, but yeah, the money issue…sigh.

    At least it seems you had good service, that’s something not all ISP’s can claim to provide.

    • Jason Scott says:

      The nitty gritty:

      The machines are now being housed at a nearby tech space I’m part of, which has a couple T-1s housed in it. Most of the static or larger sites are now at Dreamhost or TQHosting. My incoming home connection is now a FiOS one, which is at 20mbit down and 5mbit up. It’s very consumer (occasional drops, occasional restarts, I can’t host on it) but it does well for my now simpler needs. I pay $50 for this. The tech space charges me about a hundred bucks to host my last two machines. Since the cost of what I was paying for before was about $470 before, I am doing much better.

    • Jason Scott says:

      And yes, there is a lava lamp there. It’s an interesting basement.

  7. James Brinkerhoff says:

    I also wanted to say that I’ve been a loyal SpeakEasy customer for years… The service both technically and from a customer relations standpoint has always been superb, to the point where I’ve gladly paid them a fair amount more money for what I could now, likely, get somewhere else for less.

    I too was concerned about the Best Buy deal, but so far it’s been OK.

    Love the posts as always Jason.

  8. Andrew says:

    Interesting Jason, I just like to know these things for anything I do in the future – especially if it is preserving any amount of files, mirroring, web hosting (which I currently just use a shared hoster for) or whatever. If you’re so close you can walk or drive to the hoster and put a hard drive of data online you’ve sorted or acquired, well, that’s a lot simpler!