Web Informant #111, 19 May 1998:
More on why cable-modems and small businesses are like oil and water


While it is tempting to pen something about the nonsense going down with MSDOJ, I will reserve commentary for now, other than to say the lawsuits are a significant waste of time and energy on all parties.

Last month in WI #107 I wrote how small business owners have the most to gain from high-speed net access. One reader sent in the following reply. Given his circumstances, we'll call him "The Cable Guy." Take it away, TCG.

We will have to drag cable companies kicking and screaming to the high-speed access market, not to mention the vendors marketing security software. They have no clue.

I have two home-based businesses -- my own PR agency for high-tech companies, and my wife's gift business. We have an NT-based network, with Win95 machines too, sharing two printers. Until last month, we jacked in to the Internet via 28.8 fax/modems and analog phone lines, using about four hours a day connect time.

ISDN was a possible alternative, but after three failed installation attempts by the phone company, I told them to quit. Besides, if you do the math, ISDN calculates out to about $100 a month for the service, plus what I would have to pay my ISP.

Cable is the much better deal. It's way faster. It's way more affordable -- unlimited access with no per minute charges, for less than $40 a month. The modem was installed last month. It came with a contract that requires one cable modem hooked to one machine that is not hooked to a network -- and configuration settings that require users to turn off file and printer sharing.

That shuts down my network. It is unacceptable. I discussed options with the executives at the cable company. They acknowledged that I cannot turn off file sharing "for obvious reasons." Technical support, noting that using a cable modem with a machine hooked to a network violates terms of service, offered to disconnect service while I waited on hold.

There's a second, equally critical issue. Just after the initial installation, using Windows Explorer or Network Neighborhood, I could see other domains and machines on those domains -- including, incredibly, a server at the cable company! Service calls by two techies determined they had not clicked the check box that shuts off network sharing back at their server!

This prompted me to ask for help from Strom's minions and some of my other more technical contacts in the computer industry. Their suggestions led me to the web sites for Check Point and other firewall vendors. Problem is, these are industrial-strength firewalls, designed for corporate use. They are priced with licenses that start at 25 seats or more -- way beyond what I need. A more affordable potential solution is WinProxy from Ositis (www.ositis.com), which I am currently testing on a dedicated firewall system built from spare parts.

Next up is testing Strom's suggestion -- reconfiguring the internal network to use NETbeui and unbinding TCP/IP from everything but the cable modem, which requires DHCP and TCP/IP to operate.

Others suggested I upgrade from NT Workstation to Server, and add in MS Proxy Server. That route would cost $1,500.

My ISP suggested swapping out Windows for Linux -- which means learning a new operating system and trashing my existing tech-tool investment.

Thanks, TCG. Clearly, this is far more difficult, time consuming and costly than it needs to be. Chances are, few small businesses have the time, the tools, the hands-on expertise and computer-industry contacts The Cable Guy has. How many small business owners would be able to fool around with all of the products mentioned, to configure and reconfigure Internet access, set up and take down an IP network, install and test firewalls? The cable companies and the security software vendors are missing this market big-time.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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