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Mobilestar Less Mobile; Excite@Home Less Exciting 190

jc1 writes: "MobileStar, provider of 802.11b wireless LAN connectivity throughout 500 of the USA's Starbucks cafes, has laid off 88 of its staff, which a source described as "everybody". With the demise in August of Metricom's Ricochet service, one is left to wonder if there is a business to be made in providing public wireless Internet services." Or any broadband internet access at all - Excite@Home, currently in bankruptcy proceedings, has stopped taking any new orders.
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Mobilestar Less Mobile; Excite@Home Less Exciting

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  • by po_boy ( 69692 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2001 @11:49PM (#2414054) Homepage
    All these people are being laid off, and now they'll be sitting around in Starbucks without even having any connectivity.
  • I loved my cable modem. I had it for 3+ years, worked flawlessly, good upload speed, GREAT upload speed, all the stuff you know.

    OK, now I live in an area that isn't wired yet, and Comcast's predictions as to when it will get here seem to be rolling out into the future.

    Meanwhile, Comcast here in Maryland seems to be endlessly running ads for new people to sign up. I wonder what will happen there?

    Meanwhile, being 30k+ feet from my CO means that I am anxiously awaiting the installation of my ISDN line, complete with per minute charges. Blech!
    • I was wondering the same with comcast. I have never had a problem with them (with the exception of 2 short DNS outages, solved by using another DNS server [I'm pretty sure not too many in my subnet figured that out - you should have seen the speed while they were all not using it]) Anyway, last night my service went out at 11:30pm - MY thought was it was because I didnt pay my bill. I still havent paid it - I wasnt going to pay If @home was not going to be providing service. Now that I know (or at least am told) that there WILL be continuous service, I'll pay it. So, I called them to either A> tell them something is wrong or B> say, ok here is my credit card number, turn it back on. Now I'm no moron, I realize that at 11:30pm there is most likely nobody there, but i figured I'd get a recording that would tell me that. I listeded to their annoying message untill 12:30am, with no indication like "It will be 27 minutes until we answer your call" or even the "Your call is very important to us..." Just them saying Sign up for High speed interenet! (insert annoying music clip) blah blah 50x faster then a modem blah blah. Finally my cordless phone battery died and I gave up. I hear rumor of them starting their own gig [icomcast.com] but not anything official from them. Any one else hear anything about this?


    • I just ordered service on 10/10/01 (MM/DD/YY or DD/MM/YY) They are even offering 2 months free - that's right free until 2002!! And the self-installation kit is free as well!

      I have had problems with comcast service though, like 200ms ping times to my gateway. I blame it on the partment complex density though. I'm moving to a house in a near by neighborhood, and we'll see how that goes...
  • by bstrahm ( 241685 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2001 @11:53PM (#2414063) Homepage
    Path to Profitability.

    2 years ago, it was get a customer base, then figure out how to exploit them to make a profit. Now people have realized that there are no barriers to entry, so you can't raise prices later. You have to show up front how you can make money off of each and every customer from day one, then hope you get enough of them to overcome useless overhead in the corporation (read, the CEO, CTO, C??, and much of the marketing dept.)
    The days of giving away dollar bills for 3 quarters to generate revenue are over for the internet, show me how you can make money, or go the way of the Dodo bird
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The days of giving away dollar bills for 3 quarters to generate revenue are over for

      Yep, the price is now 5 quarters and a pop-under ad. Except nobody will pay for some reason...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It isn't like we're talking about a freely available
      web portal or news site. Those of us shipping
      out a couple hundred bucks every month for
      "connectivity" (cable TV, local+long distance phone,
      broadband Internet) are paying plenty.

      And what do you mean about "no barriers to entry"?
      It costs millions to provide broadband Internet, and
      for this reason monopolies are quickly taking over.
      • Obviously we are not paying "costs" if people are going bankrupt providing the service. I can understand if it were one maybe two badly run companies, however the whole industry is quickly going bankrupt...
        You can't tell me that a $200 dollar access point, and a $70/month Broadband connection to the internet is a barrier to entry... That is all it takes to connect a starbucks to the internet. I'll start a business now, except not enough people would be willing to pay me the $200-$300/month it would cost to make this profitable enought to be interesting. (I need to make a few tens of thousand a month to pay my staff to run it, plus clear a profit for myself)
        • Why don't you install one unit in a Starbucks and see how it works. If you actually make a profit, take the profit and reinvest in your company, possibly buying one or two more units.

          As these start to turn a profit, again, reinvest the money back into the company.

          Once the (small) business starts to get too large you can't handle it yourself, hire someone. Time and time again, this is how sucessful business get started.

          In other words, let the business grow naturally and don't expect to install 500 units, hire 88 people and figure out where the money is.
        • I'd like to know where you can get a T-1 for $70 a month, if ya do, tell me where. All the Mobilstar Starbucks locations had T-1s rather than DSL or something cheaper.
          • I'd like to know where you can get a T-1 for $70 a month, if ya do, tell me where. All the Mobilstar Starbucks locations had T-1s rather than DSL or something cheaper
            Sounds like a business problem to me. No wonder they were loosing money. As I said, I think you would have to sell this service to a business for under a few hundred dollars a month. Do you think starbucks cares what their ping times are, DSL is fine...
        • Actually, the broadband portion of Excite@home is making money. It's the portal that's spending it's money like a drunken sailor.
    • "...overcome useless overhead in the corporation (read, the CEO, CTO, C??, and much of the marketing dept.)"

      I'm sorry, but this is bollocks. A good CEO, and a well structured marketing plan backed by a focussed department (no matter how big or small) is VITAL to the success of these companies.

      This is WHY a lot of the smaller ISPs are being bought out - they just don't have the quality people heading them up with the savvy to grow, rather than be assimilated.

      The CEO is not in and of itself a bad thing - most are crap at their jobs, and are rightly criticised. But put Jack in charge of even the crudiest little Linux friendly ISP and I guarantee that within a year its 20 times the size and a national brand... at least.

      I'm sick of the 'top brass bashing' on /. - its petty, misguided, and makes /. look even more like a bunch of opinionated geeks letting off their frustrations than it is!
      • I'm sorry, but this is bollocks. A good CEO, and a well structured marketing plan backed by a focussed department (no matter how big or small) is VITAL to the success of these companies.

        I'm pretty sure the original poster was referring to the value of marketing to the economy, not its value to the company. Marketing has negative value to the economy because those who participate in it produce nothing of value - they merely try to persuade others to choose their employer's thing of value over somebody else's thing of value.

        Theories that try to suggest that marketing has positive value to the economy appear to operate based on an assumption that nobody will by any of the things they need without marketing being there to tell them what they need. In other words, they assume people are too stupid to figure out what they need and then go buy it. Such theories are fundamentally unsupportable.

        If marketing were not to exist at all, things of value would still be produced, at a lower price (due to the drop in overhead from marketing). What's more, those currently putting their efforts into marketing would be forced to gain employment producing things, so more would be produced, generating more tangible wealth for everybody.

        Marketing is one of the known defects of a competitive market - the attempt to alter the supply and demand aspects of a product not by alteration of the price or quality, but by creating a perception of difference, and when one competitor does it, the others are forced to.

  • A Source? (Score:4, Funny)

    by eAndroid ( 71215 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @12:05AM (#2414080) Homepage
    Well I'm also a source, please quote me as saying 88 is, "not quite half" of their employees. There. Now it is cast as fact and not even the trolls can dispute it.
    • Re:A Source? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kris_J ( 10111 )
      Yeah, but which 88? If it's all engineers, support people and other tech-minded people then it's "everyone". If it's management and sales then it's "nobody".
  • My ATT@Home service died mysteriously yesterday. Haven't had a chance to call support yet...

    No changes to the setup by me, the 'Cable' light was still blinking, so the physicial connection between my computer and the central hub was operational, but neither Windows (via the shit @HOME software) nor Linux (via dhcpcd) will connect. Both worked fine less then 13 hours earlier.

    It's all speculation at this point, but what a coincicence...
    • This happened to me twice in the past week. They know it's happening, and they seem to be taking their sweet time fixing it. If you don't muck around with your network card, release/renew, etc. you shouldn't run into any problems since it's only with the DHCP.

      This is one time Linux dhcpcd is a bad thing- it's one of the few DHCP clients that actually plays by the rules, releasing your IP when you shutdown. Windows doesn't bother.

      Overall ATT Broadband has their heads up their asses. They have managed to develop the WORST voice response system EVER. If you call the cable support number, they drag you through a huge menu, only to tell you to call another phone number. Another menu, a recorded woman who tells you about Nimda, how to reset your cable modem, then a recorded man who also tells you about Nimda, then a hold time ~20 mins. No wonder these companies are going under.. they couldn't manage a cable company, let alone an ISP.
      • by DavidJA ( 323792 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:10AM (#2414260)

        This is one time Linux dhcpcd is a bad thing- it's one of the few DHCP clients that actually plays by the rules, releasing your IP when you shutdown. Windows doesn't bother.

        F.Y.I. There is no requirement in the RFC for a client to release the IP address.

        MacOS 9 and before will release the lease upon shutdown and there is nothing more annoying then 50 angry mac users screaming at you at 8:30AM because the DHCP server went ass-up the night before and none of them have IP addresses.

        FROM: http://ftp.rfc-editor.org/in-notes/rfc2131.txt [rfc-editor.org]

        "...where the client retains its network address locally, the client will not normally relinquish its lease during a graceful shutdown. Only in the case where the client explicitly needs to relinquish its lease, e.g., the client is about to be moved to a different subnet, will the client send a DHCPRELEASE message."

    • I wonder if this has something to do with misconfigured dhcp servers on your subnet? I noticed I get a huge amount of people requesting IP's and so on. If it wasn't for my ipchain rules I'm not sure what it would do. I suppose nothing because I told dhcp to only look at eth0 (inside). However if someone had a windows 2000 server (which a lot of people do for some reason - on their desktops) with dhcp enabled it might cause this.

      I dunno - something to think about.
    • This has happened to me.
      If I unplug the modem power cord. Then turn the computer off. Then wait about 5 minutes. Then plug the power back in to the modem and turn the computer back on--it works.
      Good luck
    • I was wondering the same thing when my Adelphia@home service went down for the better part of 24 hours over last weekend.

      Needless to say, Excite@home has some infrastructure problems, but I think they inherited a lot of them. A couple of months ago our service bit the dust for nearly a week, and after the second day the tech support guys were allowed to explain to all the pissed off customers (like me) what was causing the problem.

      Adelphia purchased TCI cable a couple of years ago here in the San Fernando Valley. Apparently they never bothered to inspect any of the switching equipment after the acquisition, and TCI had seriously overloaded some of the switches with more connections than was safe for optimal/sustained performance... kind of like a tangled octopus of extension cords plugged into a wall socket.

      Anyway, the only people who had known this was going on were the old TCI people, who had either left or continued to report everything was hunky dory, right up until one of the switches blew up.

      Multiply that one incident at one cable company by all of them, and it's no wonder they're in trouble. :-/

    • Happenned to me two days ago. I had to find out just how fucking awful the tech support is. The support person couldn't even create a ticket because their own trouble ticket system was down. What a fucking joke! Their 24.11.49.1 gateway is down (my subnet). I fixed the problem myself. How to fix? Turn DHCP off, since it won't work anyway. Set the netmask to 255.0.0.0 and set your default route to some other gateway e.g. 24.11.50.1. Try it, it worked for me.
    • The same thing happened to me last night on my ATT@Home cable connection. My wife and I were computing on our seperate computers last night and she yells out : "Hey did you do something to the Linux gateway again?"

      That was that. We've been dead in water since then. I haven't called the service number yet. I hate phones.

  • by sting3r ( 519844 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @12:12AM (#2414088) Homepage
    Although the loss of two more high speed providers in the US is inherently a Bad Thing(tm) for consumer choice and cheap Internet access, it could be a boon to Open Source adoption. How? Because most Linux distributions come with all of the software that the average user needs, all unencumbered by fascist licenses and all on a few CD-ROM discs. Having just set up a Windows 2000 box for a friend, I found myself needing to download and install dozens of separate commercial and shareware packages (such as Mozilla, WinZip, WinAmp, hardware drivers, PuTTY, and service packs). The reduced availability of shareware sites like Tucows to the average consumer makes him more likely to opt for a solution that does not require so much downloading. In addition, Windows applications are rarely foreward-compatible with OS updates, and need to be changed every few months. Thus the path of least resistance is Linux.

    You may disagree and claim that somebody can sell a CD full of the necessary tools for Windows users. Indeed this may be possible, but it will never rival the ease with which a Linux vendor can put together a Linux distro. And that is because each of the shareware programs has its own unique license, which may or may not permit redistribution and/or resale. Therefore the lack of connectivity will be good for Linux and bad for the competition.

    -sting3r

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Having just set up a Windows 2000 box for a friend, I found myself needing to download and install dozens of separate commercial and shareware packages (such as Mozilla, WinZip, WinAmp, hardware drivers, PuTTY, and service packs).

      Windows 2000 includes Internet Explorer 5, Windows Media Player, and lots of drivers. Windows XP, when it is released publicly in two weeks, will also include shell-level access to zip files (first seen in Windows ME), and even more driver support. Neither include SSH clients, but you have to be using a 2400 baud modem to be complaining about downloading PuTTY. It's one of the smallest, most useful utilities I've seen for Windows.

      Every program I use in Windows 98 (Unreal Tournament, Quicken, e-mail, and a few others like CodeWarrior) works perfectly in XP. If an app isn't forward compatible, talk to their developers. Don't be so quick to blame Microsoft.
    • I believe most of the functionality you mentioned has been "assimilated" into XP. :-)

      Another point: linux distro CDs will cease to be readily available in the coming months. Stores are realizing that they are full of out-of-date stock of various distros that aren't selling. Don't believe me? Go to Staples/OfficeMax/GenericOfficeStore and look in their clearance section. It's sad.

      So I think that the loss of broadband providers will have no positive impact on OSS.
      • They bought just short of the release cycle and bought too much... Seems Wal-Mart's been handling it pretty much correctly- 5 of the latest copies of Mandrake at any store at any time; when they run out they know via their inventory system how fast they ran out so they can plan restock in an orderly manner and make sure they don't have much in the way of stale overstock and don't run too short for too long.
    • It's somewhat ironic that you mention Windows's weakness is that it doesn't bundle ENOUGH software with it :P

      On the otherhand, Win2K has almost everything you mentioned, with the exception of builtin winzip, and WinXP has it all.

      Also, your statement that windows programs aren't forward-compatible is largely erroneous. Drivers maybe for the most part aren't forward-compatible, but the OS's for 99% of applications ARE backwards-compatible. I can run games written for windows95. I can even run Winword for windows 3.1. Can you run a linux binary compiled on a typical system from 7 years ago today?

      Scott
  • but what about areas that were served by MediaOne, then bought by AT&T, and then bought by Comcast so that AT&T could stay within federal limits? Billing comes from Comcast, but support comes from AT&T. Am I the only one that is confused by this? This has to be Bert, he is the only one that could think of something as whacked out as this!
    • The article says:

      Not all of AT&T Broadband's customers are affected, including those who live in areas served by MediaOne before AT&T's acquisition.

      I live in a Chicago suburb that was MediaOne beore AT&T Broadband. I had MediaOne Express service still up until just last month when AT&T started converting us to @Home. In fact, I'm pretty sure they are still in the middle of doing this.

      We got a call at our house late last night from AT&T asking if we had already been switched. I'm not sure what that means. One possibility that comes to mind is if we hadn't yet switched, they might have wanted to let us know not to try to switch over now (the customer initiates the switchover by downloading and installing the @Home "software" which turns out to be some utilities that change your network settings and test your connection after you reboot.)
  • This time next year:

    A spokesman for AOLT&T-TimeWarnerEarthlink summed up the latest merger nicely:

    "Eeeexcellent... Smithers, release the hounds!"
    /me wonders how long all the smaller companies in the Net business will last at this rate...
  • by chrisserwin ( 448761 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @12:23AM (#2414116)
    It seems that this is just another case of the "small" ISP not making it. The profitable ones get bought up, and the rest... well...

    I've had great difficulty finding an independent ISP in Eugene, OR. The two best, pond.net and continet.com, have both been sold to EarthLink in the last 8 months. Qwest.net has gone MSN, except for Macintosh.

    The following are all options, none of which are particularly linux-friendly: MSN, AOL, JUNO/NetZero, Earthlink. You can still get ppp by telling Qwest that you have a Macintosh... that's it; everybody else seems to have proprietary software. I think this is a big challenge for getting joe-user to try a linux desktop.

    Are the days of the simple, no-strings-attached ppp account gone?
    • Perhaps in your area, they are. Around Philly, there is a still a dialup ISP called VoiceNet that doesn't use proprietary ANYTHING. It's refreshing to see nowadays(although new customers dont get access to shells like the old school customers did).

    • Earthlink is straight-up PPP, as far as I know.

      ~jeff
    • Hrm.... that's really weird. In reply, in Ottawa, Canada, I have easily 30 different dialup ISPs, most of which are PPP, many of which also offer SLIP. As well, we have 5 different high speed options, two wireless, and ALL linux compatible... two PPPoE. And those are all home-user-targetted ISPs under $50 monthly. The stakes- and speed- go up if you're a business user.

      I've got it goooooooood. :)

      Oh, did I mention, you can usually get a static IP- all you have to do is ask for one. :)
    • Worldnet is an option, though they don't make it easy to sign up without their software. Dig around on www.wurd.com to find a link to a completely web-based signup page.

      Restrictions:

      • must explicitly enable Internet access to email via the web-based configuration if you're retrieving from outside their dialups;
      • must use SSL tunneling to the mail server for the same;
      • outbound SMTP is blocked, but the block can be removed by request after the account's been active for 30 days;
      • Can't get the el-cheapo accounts, which require an ad banner while you're connected anyway.
    • I may be missing something, but what does this have to do with @Home? Are you saying that if ATT buys out Excite, the service will require proprietary software? I would think the situation would be more to the contrary; the only aspect of @Home that is even close to proprieatary is the @Home software, but that's not required to get connected, and with Excite gone, the software would be gone as well. I think Excite's demise and ATT's potential buyout would actually be more of a "Linux-friendly" move than anything else. Presumably the cable companies are seeing that the proprietary software-based, portal-oriented service won't make it, so more than likely they'll simply provide a straight-up cable modem connection with no eye-candy portals or software.
      • Actually, this has fuck all to do with @Home, the high-speed access cable modem provider.

        This is about Excite, the one-time player in the Internet portal business. True, there was once a plan to make Excite the portal for everything @Home, and Excite@Home was born.

        But the two companies (yes, they are still two separate operations) are still in different markets.

        Excite's market, the web-portal business, is completely unprofitable. So Excite is closing its doors. @Home still provides adequate cable modem service, and makes money doing so. Given the current state of the portal wars, where even the winner (Yahoo!) is struggling to stay alive, I doubt @Home will miss its sister company much, if at all.

        This has nothing to do with @Home.

        The company I work for had some bizarre colo hosting deal with Excite (don't ask). Now we're scrambling to get our website out of there before they cut our access and turn our servers over to their creditors. Meanwhile, my girlfriend's roommate is happily installed with @Home cable modem service, with no complaints and no end in sight.

        This isn't about @Home.
        • The parent comment was referring to the lack of Linux-friendly ISPs. My question was what does the lack of Linux-friendly ISPs have to do with @Home/Excite? Cable internet in general is very Linux-friendly, and why would anything change due to the Excite/@Home troubles? Remember, this story is about the news that @Home is currently not taking new orders, so the parent comment sounded a bit offtopic to my ears; I wanted to know: not what the *story* had to do with @Home, but: what the *comment* had to do with @Home. See the difference?
    • I've ordered Qwest DSL with MSN :( since there's
      no other choices at this time. Will this not work with Linux? Surely it uses PPPoE or DHCP, right?
  • Pr0n!! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Renraku ( 518261 )
    Imagine it! No more long pr0n downloads..just leave your laptop in your briefcase under the table for a few hours while you discuss 'business'. The pr0n is downloaded, you have a raise, what could be better?!
  • ...but it'll be coming from the mobile phone companies, like SprintPCS's "wireless web" and Voicestream (eventually AT&T too) with their GPRS. Doesn't look like unlimited service anymore, now pay by the minute or MB, at least for a while.
  • Feeling @home's woes (Score:2, Informative)

    by drodver ( 410899 )
    Since a week ago or so my latencys have been huge. Pinging www.yahoo.com would get me times of 200-500 ms. Considering I playing online games a lot that just isn't acceptable! They get better early in the morning, I wonder if @home's network structure is suffering.

    At least I now have time to finally finish Homeworld
    • Hmm. I just tried pinging yahoo from my @home connection and got 14 ms avg ping time. Ping times to my gateway are under 8 ms.

      Try doing a traceroute to identify the bottleneck before blaming @home. It could be any server between you and yahoo that's causing the slowdown.

      • If it was only Yahoo then yes, but when pinging a list of thousands of game servers sometimes I get 0-2 servers with a ping of less than 250 ms, the ones I do get are barely under the 250 limit I set on my filters. Normally I would get 100-200 servers with the best ones being in the 40 ms range. I wasn't saying the whole network might be having problems, in fact my connection has been great until recently. No downtime (besides when the guy mistakenly pulled the wires at their box) and great (low) latency.
  • don't ever take away my broadband connection. I don't know what I'd do. I have AT&T right now, and they have been pretty decent, back when they were MediaOne here in Cambridge, they sucked big hairy balls, but now the service is good, but expensive. I love it though, a linksys router there and the firewall it has, and then a wireless hub on top of that. I'm loving it, all with crazy fast downloads.
    if that goes away, then I don't think I want to live.
  • Reading this over it makes no mention of Excite@home north of the 49th up here in Canada.

    I had a friend who was supposed to get @home installed today so I wonder if it went through.

    Any sources know how this affects Rogers and Cogeco?
    • I have @home in Canada and have not heard anything about not taking new orders, I do know someone who had it installed last week in Toronto. Although the past 2 days my service has been rather crappy :( but this happens once in a while. One thing to consider is, I remember reading a few months ago about Canada having the highest % of broadband users, or something to that effect.
    • >Any sources know how this affects Rogers and Cogeco?

      It shouldn't affect them at all. AFAIK all of the cable internet providers here in Canada are not actually members of the @home network, they just make use some of the @home content for things like the default homepage they setup during installation on windows boxen. This is certainly the case for Shaw out west anyways, I don't know much about Cogeco, but I'm pretty sure Roger's is semi-independent of excite@home too.
      • I'm pretty sure Roger's is semi-independent of excite@home too.

        To some extent, but not quite as arms-length as I'd prefer under the circumstances. Most Rogers services in Ontario are provided using Ontario-based servers. However, e-mail is still stored and handled by a server in San Francisco. I'm not entirely sure how integrated the on.home.com network is with the rest of @Home's stuff, but I do know that if Excite@Home kills the SF mail server, a lot of people in Ontario will be s-c-r-e-w-e-d.
    • It will most likely be like back in the old days of "The Wave". You'll have a Shaw.ca or similar e-mail address, and your local content as opposed to the national Excite content.
  • At 5:15 PM 10/9/1 a dumptruck hit a pole - and took out not only power but the link between my podunk home and Muskegon, MI. My TV was, of course, out as well.

    On calling AT&T Cable Modem Customer Service - they could not tell what was wrong. They insisted that I call the Cable TV Service also owned by AT&T (logically, this was TCI cable, and they provide the infrastructure). They did not have a clue.

    Ultimately, this home network was down all night, costing me $$$ for lost work, as well as much aggravation. I physically found where the problem was (less than 5 miles away) and on trying to report it got a snotty response as to when they might have it fixed. I should have crawled up there with some RG-6 and done a quick patch job. All they had was some shithead on the phone saying "we know there is a line down" and could not offer any estimated downtime.

    More relevant, the Cable Modem agreement says nothing about having anything to do with cable TV (i.e.: you don't have to have a subscription to the TV service to get your damned internet!), so WhyTF are they telling me to call the TV people when it's their problem TOO???

    Either way, I agree that these companies are clueless regarding service - and should never have been allowed to provide it. I'll be mad when I have to go back to dialup, but probably not as mad as I was yesterday.

    • Well... firstly, thought it's annoying.. often the compay that's providing internet service is affiliated with, or a branch of, the company providing you with cable TV.. but not hte same company or the same office. They rely on the cable-TV technicians to do all cabling-related issues.. and just use their internet guys to hook up the cable modem itself. So if a line goes out.. they expect you to call the cable TV people.

      Also.. if you check your bill, they may or may not indicate the fact that $10 of your fee is actually a 'cable line fee'. ie: in Calgary, if you have cable TV, it's $49.95 for internet. IF you DONT have cable, it's $59.96 ($10/month for the cable line). Sleazy.. but kind of makes sense.

      As for lost money, that's 100% your problem, not theirs. If downtime costs you money, you need to weigh that against the cost of a backup solution. That is, unless they made some kind of guarantee of service to you.
  • by krokodil ( 110356 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @01:29AM (#2414188) Homepage

    I've emailed Starbucks about availability of this service and they responded that they do not advertise it until all stuff is trained, but I am welcome to go to the store and try. I went, and it actually works very nice, thought little expensive.

    Taking into account all expenses of running T1 into each of 500 stores, delaying service roll out could cost a lot. I guess it cost enough to run Mobile Star into financial problems.

    • Beg to differ. Can't seem to get a Latte in the city (NYC) without at least 2 postcards about their wireless internet connection snuck in to my hand, along with countless flyers by the door, and a big poster in the window.

      You are right though, it is expensive.
    • While it would have been nice, a T1 wasn't strictly needed. A fat ADSL pipe (1.5mbit down 764k up) would have handled them nicely (and much more cheaply when it could be obtained). Most people wouldn't need the bidirectional bandwidth that a T1 provides.
      • You're completely right, but the deal MobileStar struck with Starbucks to get access to their stores was to install T1 lines in *every* facility they went into at their (MobileStar's) expense. This always seemed too generous to me. Starbucks wanted a corporate network; MobileStar wanted to use Starbucks to leverage a national deployment. The money just wasn't there, nor would the revenue ever meet the probably $200 million ticket for deployment. (They burned through about $100 million, I believe.)
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @01:46AM (#2414216) Homepage
    It was never clear what value Excite@Home added. The cable company provides the infrastructure for cable modems, and some backbone provider provides the long-haul portion of the service. Excite@Home was supposed to compete with AOL's "content", or at least that was the hype a year or two ago. Apparently they also did tech support for cable services, badly. So, no great loss.

    I live near Excite@Home HQ. I await the furniture auction; they had good furniture.

    • Not particularly close. Excite@Home may have sucked (especially the Excite portion) but they actually did handle most of the infrastructure and had their own backbone. Of course with AT&T slurping down any parts of the company that look tasty to it that's changing rapidly, but @Home used to do the router-herding etc. to make the system work. The really stupid part of all this is that the @Home portion was still doing okay financially - Excite managed to lose so much money it dragged the rest down with it. Not a broadband failure at all, just another BS "Portal" biting the big Kishko.

      My sources? A former @Home Tier-4 Network engineer and a few people who worked in the NOC. No bones to pick there...
      • Not a broadband failure at all, just another BS "Portal" biting the big Kishko.


        And that's a topic that probably deserves it's own Slashdot submission. Just what does it take these days to make a portal profitable. The "Old regime" was entirely based on revenu from advertisements. That almost looked like it was going to work until all of the dot bombs (who were the big source of advertisements) exploded. Under that scenario, though, Excite was probably only losing a little money. Lots of portals are trying new things, but does anybody really know what it'll take to ensure profitability?

        • Just what does it take these days to make a portal profitable?

          Except for AOL, nobody has been able to bring it off. Excite@Home was supposed to be the "Broadband AOL", but it didn't happen. It's probably possible to run a low-cost search engine portal, like Google, profitably, but it's not a multi-billion dollar business.

          The Excite@Home flop may have some good results. If cable and phone companies focus on providing a good, fast pipe cheaply, instead of dreaming of selling "content", the result will be better for customers.

    • Type in 'www' in your URL bar.

      Log in with your user name and password.

      See this web page, it is a very configurable portal and you can edit your email addresses, change your passwords, upload files to your homepage. And all of this works in Windows, Mac, and Linux. No special software is required, just a standards supporting webbrowser.

      It may be my ignorance, but I don't know any other ISP that provides that kind of crossplatform solution.

      @home also does your email 'mail' and nntp 'news'. And the nntp has good lists, even an @home unix list.

      I am not saying that excite@home does not suck, but they do actually do something.
  • I went and read their info about it after I hooked my laptop up to 802.11 in my apartment, but couldn't find a single reason to pay $30/month to get unlimited access there. Why does it cost so much to use their wireless access? If they got a cable modem (which are available in the area), or a DSL line, they could pay $30-50 a month to get fast enough access for everyone there to be happy with. Also, if I could have free access while I was there, I know I'd be far more likely to drop by Starbucks for coffee, or to get coffee there instead of going someplace else.


    There are independant coffee houses in Seattle that offer free wireless access because they realize that customers might stop by and buy coffee and food whlie they use it, but they don't want to pay $30 a month for it, or a per-minute charge, since they are already spending money there. They go spend $50 a month on an ISP, $200 on their wireless router, and it's pretty much good.


    I think where Starbucks failed was not adding wireless access, but thinking they would be able to charge a fortune for it instead of assuming they can make back the cost, and more, by the people that would stop by and have coffee while they use it that wouldn't stop by otherwise.

    • And this is exactly the thing that pisses off a large majority of @home subscribers. Many people that take the time and pay the money to upgrade to Broadband Internet access do so because they have a need for bandwidth and many because they need a semi-static IP address. A lot of the people that subscribe to @home are not clueless lusers who have no idea what they're doing. A lot of them are tech savvy people who use it for hosting basic servers like the family website or a family mail domain. When @Home blanket filters all these server ports it just pisses off the people who are giving them the most business. Think about it, who makes recommendations of Internet providers to customers, friends, and family the most. It's not Joe Blow User who can't figure out what port the patch cable plugs into. It's people who work with computers technically. If your company isn't getting recommendations from the tech sector it's not going to be nearly as successful in selling its services to Joe User as if it were.
    • You could use it for as little as 20 cents a minute with a basic plan, but, you know, they didn't want casual users: they wanted business users. If they'd wanted to goose signups, they should have done a deal with Starbucks: every dollar you spend would equal free minutes that day. In any case, business travellers would see it as a godsend versus paying for toll calls, etc. Once airports were "unwired" (which is still on track), a lot of business travellers will probably stay at the airport to download before heading to the hotel, which often charges $10/day for data access at high speeds.
  • These guys [www.itl.tv] just bought the remains of an Wireless ISP trough a bankruptcy proceeding in FL, for next to nothing. Geez at this rate it will be cheaper to buy an ISP than a new computer.
  • Could it have to do with that you couldn't get cable modems, even if the guy across the street could get it? just a thought.
  • by batobin ( 10158 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:19AM (#2414327) Homepage
    I've know @home was dying ever since the Code Red viruses first struck. Up until that point, I was permitted the ability to run my own email and web servers. When the viruses were ravaging @home's bandwidth, they created a blanket port filter on 25 and 80 (email and web). Needless to say, this pissed me off.

    When I called to complain, I was sent to an endless queue of representatives who couldn't care less about my problem. That was the last week I subscribed to @home.

    I guess they had more important things on their minds, like not going bankrupt!
    • Yes, I agree that may seem harsh, but really, was it in your service contract to have the mail and web ports open to you?

      They were protecting their own network, and while you may say "Well, it wasn't ME. I didn't have Code Red", it doesn't matter. They don't want to babysit every customer... They want to provide good service to as many subscribers as possible.

    • They (@Home) don't really want you to run servers. In the past, they didn't really try to stop anyone, but in response to Code Red, they blocked incoming port 80 (but only in certain areas, e.g. not in my area.) According to their rules, this wouldn't deny anyone any functionality they can rightfully claim. You weren't really supposed to be running web and mail servers in the first place, so maybe it was inevitable that they would prevent you from doing so. And were you trying to get your service canclelled by complaining about the problem? Sheesh...
    • Firstly, @home never allowed servers, I've NEVER seen a TOS that allowed servers. So, complaining that they stopped you from doing what you were never suppoed to be doing is a weak point.

      Secondly, @home did NOT block port 80. You local company blocked it. Place the blame in the correct place. 90% of all complaints I see about @home tend to be things controled by the local cable company.

      --knick
      • There was a great DSL re-seller in my area that catered to the tech and gaming market - they were about 15 or 20 bucks a month more than average, but allowed and encouraged you to run servers, alternate OSes, whatever. Very big on the concept that it was YOUR bandwidth you were paying for and you should be able to use it however you want. But, of course, they went under when all the cyber-cafe's in town closed up shop (they provided the access)
    • What did you expect @Home to do? I'm a AT&T Broadband in the former MediaOne territory (which means we explicitly ARE allowed to run our own web-servers etc - it IS in our local AUP and we've all received letters from the powers-that-be confirming this when @Home was first introduced) and even we were blocked.

      What else could have been done?

      @Home managed a patchwork network with 1.35 million customers. There's no way they could have quickly rolled out a response to Code Red on the scale required. As it was parts of their network were beginning to saturate before the block was put in place and with much of the activity now dampened they've removed the block.

      1. How to identify the Code Red afflicted machines?
      2. What kind of infrastructure would even be required to monitor & identify Code Red-type problems across the @Home network?
      3. Would the @Home customers (the corporations, not the individual subscribers) even be willing to pay for this addt'l service?
      4. How fast could this be budgeted and deployed?
      5. What policy applies that differs Code Red from acceptable network traffic?
      6. How to contact the thousands of afflicted customers?
      7. How to tell them all that they'll need to wipe their drives and rebuild from known good backups (like they have any) if their PC's are to be considered secure again?
      8. How to provide that scale of customer support?
      9. How not to take the blame from those customers for having "given them Code Red"?
      10. In the meantime how to slow or stop the spread of Code Red, dampen the traffic problems?
      11. Can't filter at the routers; that sort of specific address management is hell on routers and couldn't be applied at the scale needed.
      12. Cutting off individual customers by deprovisioning them would overwhelm the support infrastructure as well as piss off thousands who would suddenly find themselves without service and no way to even patch their PC's.
      13. What kind of precedent would this set?
      14. Would @Home go from being a simple ISP providing basic connectivity to a cop ensuring what travels over it's network?
      15. What if others took advantage of this? Could RIAA file an injunction and force @Home to apply any comprehensive monitoring & blocking system it put in place (for Code Red et al) to block Napster et al?
      16. What about the next virus/worm/trojan horse? Would the policies/procedures/hardware/software/monitoring so expensively & complexly put in place for Code Red apply for the next nasty to appear on the scene?

      No, while @Home did a terrible job at informing it's customers and training it's own staff they did finally get the response right - heck, they really didn't have any alternatives. Just blocking the ports and getting their network traffic back under control was clearly what needed to be done and the first step for any possible response strategy.

      As to support most @Home customers won't trust them to get the date right; the Dilbert cartoon about letting cable-modem support monkeys reel through their script while waiting for the point a human intellect kicks in was so @Home!

      By the way the @Home pages on Code Red still just say "patch your server." No mention it's been sitting on the 'net for who knows how long beaconing out it's lack of security to everyone and is now likely thoroughly pilfered and riddled with trojan horses, new accounts, turned into a zombie. Wonder what the legal liability is for bad advice like that?

  • by n9fzx ( 128488 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:51AM (#2414382) Homepage Journal
    Many businesses are now failing, not because of bad technology or bad business models, but because of poor execution. Startups are particularly beholden to their early investors, and all of the VCs were heavily pushing "land grab" business practices throughout the bubble. The reason is obvious: Stocks were valued primarily on audience, and if you want the best quick return on your investment, you demand practices that build audience share, period. Early investors don't care about long term prospects for a business, they just want a quick cash-out to flip into something else. The 1997 changes in post IPO-lockout (from two years to six months) only magnified the short term focus. Having structured the business with that bias, the result is inevitable.

    Businesses fail for all kinds of reasons, many of which are completely out of control of the management or techs. Don't dismiss an idea just because somebody screwed the pooch in the past.

  • What Can I say? (Score:2, Informative)

    by twakar ( 128390 )
    Here, where I am. New Westminster, BC (suburb of Vancouver) I have both ADSL (1.5mbps down/540kbps up) and cable (SHAW@HOME - 3mpbs down/540kbps up) and I've had both in varying areas of the city for well over a year (4 years in the case of cable). I hate to admit it, but, I've had excellent service in the whole time (2 days downtime in 4 years isn't bad), with the occassional hiccup here and there, nothing serious.

    I pay $40 CDN for each service, thats about $26.00/month in US dollars. Neither of my providers (Shaw & Telus) is in trouble of going down, both are very linux friendly. No special software to run or anything. I run 2 servers with both static and dynamic IP addresses. The only thing is other than the cable company censoring (refusing to carry) certain newsgroups, I can't bitch. Those of you in the U.K., you have my sincerest sympathies. Here it's cheap and reliable. There are also a number of independent ISP's offering ADSL at the same price and service/speed levels. There were at least 4 others last time I checked about 6 months ago. Why all the problems south of the border?
  • I'm a full-time telecommuter in Houston, with my main office in Dallas, both cities in MobileStar's Starbucks coverage area. I love getting out of the house, and with Ricochet gone, this was the best cheap alternative that let me work somewhere other than the house for a couple of days a week. I used the service yesterday, and I'm packing up my laptop again this morning to meet the Starbucks staff at the door at 5:30. They know me by name - I can't imagine a more perfect target user for this product. (Well, not that I'm perfect, but that too.)

    I've signed up for MobileStar twice. The first time was an incredibly bad experience, so bad I started e-mailing their corporate staff by guessing their names (first initial, full last name @mobilestar.com). It worked, and I got a couple of suits to listen to my stories, and they even made some changes to their web site to reflect reality. They said it would work with any 802.11b card (but it didn't), they had router problems (couldn't pull up my Webtrends or other reports on 8000-9000 port range), the tech support staff would forget about your issue and not call you back. (On a side note, their tech support was extremely qualified, friendly, and easy to reach.)

    What made me cancel was that it wasn't bulletproof reliable. They had a couple of days during my first month where I couldn't log on, and I had to call their customer service. In both cases, they couldn't fix the problem within a few minutes, and at that point, why should I bother to continue to burn my cell phone minutes, hanging around in Starbucks? I've got work to do, and faced with the prospect of either packing up my gear and going to another Starbucks (where the connection might not work) or going home to my DSL, I would just go home. You don't pay $30-$60 a month for that kind of reliability.

    The access itself was awesome: I rarely saw anybody else in Starbucks using it, and so I had a full T1 to myself. My bosses loved it because I was always reachable, and I could do any diagnostic work remotely.

    But again, the whole time I was using it, I only met two other people who used it. People just won't pay $30 a month to get wireless access in a coffee house, not when their home DSL or cable modem isn't much more than that. And one, two, or three users a month don't pay for a T1, at least not at those prices.
  • The secret (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason Straight ( 58248 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @07:15AM (#2414628) Homepage
    The secret is to stop trying to sell something for nothing - with the average cost of a good T1 in the US being about $1300 including local loop charges these arrogant companies cannot afford to sell T1 speeds for $30/mo. It would be the same way if I opened a car sales lot and sold corvettes for $5,000/ea. I'm only going to last as long as my credit. Bandwidth isn't cheap, why is everyone trying so hard to convince people that running an ISP doesn't cost $$?

    My company offeres wireless locally at speeds up to T1, we have bandwidth control in place via QoS under linux to ensure customers don't use all our bandwidth for hosting and dial-up. We have IP accounting data from iptables and allow our customers to xfer up to 10GB for their initial $49/mo. They get all the speed they need but if they use the bandwidth then they'll have to pay for it. Every company that undersells bandwidth is going under, we are going strong.

    • Re:The secret (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blair1q ( 305137 )
      You're comparing two utterly different business models.

      A cable drop costs about a thousand bucks to install (with equipment), and you get $30 per month, every month, for years. Have you ever heard of anyone voluntarily dropping their broadband connection to go back to DSL or analog speeds? I sure haven't.

      A corvette costs about $25,000 to produce and you only get to sell it once.

      But, if your drops are crappy and your customers are stupid, you spend that $30 and more on repairs and handholding. And you've got the cable companies (known mother-rapers) as middlemen hocking you for a bigger piece and screwing up customer service even more out of spite. This was @home's problem. Excite's problem was that they believed their own hype and market cap and did some supremely stupid things insted of doing due diligence and trying to make a business.

      $1300/mo for a T1 line is insanely overpriced (the phone companies are antediluvian retards). $30/mo for a cable line is insanely underpriced. $50/mo or so is the residential ballpark, $200/mo for businesses.

      --Blair
      • I totally agree that $30 bucks a month is cheap. I would love it, but that is not what I pay. I have @home service and I pay $50 a month. I love it so. It hurts me to think it will go away. And no you don't have a T1 like connection. It is fast, but not that fast.

        I have had the connection for about 2 months now and I refuse to go back to 56k. The only alternative is $150 for some stupid dsl line. Man that sucks. And it only cost that much because everyone wants the cable drop. Go figure.
  • The service is really provided by ATT broadband. excite is just a portal. AtHome provides some sort of caching technology. AtHome was supposed to provide mail server - but they did an absolutely awful job. AtHome was also supposed to provide part of the customer service, again absolutely awful job.
    • by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @11:45AM (#2415607) Journal
      At least as of today, this simply isn't true. AT&T Broadband (where I work) owns the head end equipment, and in some cases the cable modems. The backbone was owned and operated by @Home until recently, when they sold it to another part of AT&T (not Broadband), who leases capacity back to @Home. Key servers (DHCP, DNS, mail) and routers are still all owned and operated by @Home.

      This arrangement, with @Home controlling the IP service, made some degree of sense when it was originally set up. Much of the friction between @Home and its cable-television shareholders (AT&T Broadband, Comcast, Cox, etc) that has been reported recently is due to the cables wanting to provide services to IP devices other than PCs, and @Home dragging their feet about supporting them.

  • This is a little off topic, but I have always wondered how much geography plays into the ability to develop profitable wireless WAN. In the west, many cities have a huge mountain on one or both sides of the city (Denver, Phoenix, ALbuquerque, etc...). Would it be easier to design a network in these cities since line of sight would be pretty much guaranteed anywhere in the city.
  • by DigitalSorceress ( 156609 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @10:38AM (#2415323)
    At first, I was not able to comprehend how Excite@home could be losing money when so many people were marching to broadband - unless they were running an Amazon.com-lose-money-on-every-transaction-and-mak e-it-up-in-volume business model. It remained a mystery until I found out that the only thing they do is provide all that useless crap "if you miss AOL, you will like this" content, and something about help(less)desk.

    I certainly never cared for the former, and the latter is so bad that I would have to spend 30 minutes on the phone proving I had a clue and the problem was on their end before they would bother to look and see if the problem was on their end (it always was when I called because I knew enough to troubleshoot my own network first)

    The most annoying thing about Excite is that I originally signed up under MediaOne RoadRunner - the Terms Of Service were great! I could run any server/OS I wanted to as long as I wasn't reselling their service or causing configuration/security problems. I had a good firewall and I ran an NT4 server with IIS, MS SQL server, and Cold Fusion for development purposes for over a year - never a problem. Once they switched to Excite, the TOS says I can't run any of that, soI shut down outside access to those services.
  • * a direct optical connection on the side of your home, which is

    * Ethernet standards based, and

    * Operates at 10MBps bidirectionally, with

    * No shared bandwidth, so

    * Buy our stuff, if

    * You live in Sacramento, by checking out:

    * www.winfirst.com [winfirst.com] and maybe, just maybe

    * Your life will stop sucking.
    • I livein Sacramento and have yet to actually hear of anybody getting winfirst's service. I've heard projected rollout dates, and "we're adding infrastructure" but for now, they've only dug up holes in the streets and done a poor job of cleaning up after themselves.

      I just stick with DSL downtown.. I'm less than 1,800 feet from the CO. Works great for me.
  • Oh that's just SPLENDID.

    I currently live in the Philadelphia area. A short while ago Comcast took over the existing Adelphia cable system. I have a 1-Way surfboard cable modem (telephone upstream, cable downstream.) Adelphia promised for the last 2 years they'd upgrade the infrastructure to support 2 way.

    When Adelphia turned over the area to Comcast, it still maintained the cable modem network. So I still actually pay Adelphia for my cable modem, but my cable company is comcast. Comcast sent a letter out sometime in early August saying come September 22th, existing 1-way cable customers could schedule migration to 2-way. The date came and went, and I received no call from the cable company as promised.

    Two days ago, I phone Comcast@Home to see what was up. Their reps are CLUELESS. The conversation went something like this:

    "Ok, so you sent me this letter saying you'd have 2-way cable ready last month. So now you're telling me it's not ready?"

    "Sir, your area is currently not servicable for 2-way."

    "Then you guys just sent me this letter for the fun of it? Inventing dates off the top of your head? This couldn't have anything to do with the fact @Home is in bankruptcy now could it? Are you even installing new modems?"

    "Yes we are."

    "So when's my area going to be ready?"

    "I don't know."

    Argh!

    I live approx 19,000 feet from my CO which makes me ineligble for DSL. I'm stuck with this crappy SB1000 modem for which the service is INCREDIBLY flaky. Both cable companies play "pass the blame" whenever I have service problems.

    Besides DirecPC Satellite Service (and oh, the nightmare stories I've read about them) are there any other alternative high-bandwith solutions I should be aware of?
  • I contracted to a company who configured and installed the "kits" (router, switch, access points, UPS, etc) into the Starbucks' stores. The problem was inverse-pyramidal management with far too many layers of outsourcing.

    I think the chain of outsourcing went something like this:
    Starbucks contracted with
    Compaq, who contracted with
    MobileStar, who contracted with
    NEC and IBM, who contracted with
    Netcom (not the ISP), who contracted with
    my company.

    The management was FAR too top heavy and inefficient. The actual bottleneck was up the line a bit; Netcom did everything it could to make sure kits got out the door on time and installed under Draconian schedules. There was a schedule originally planned, but the folks up the chain couldn't get configurations and equipment to Netcom on time to meet it, and then (I believe) tried to put the blame on Netcom for not meeting deadlines.

    Typical (mis)management.

  • I live in a brand new subdivision that basically has no hope of getting any kind of dsl/cable broadband any time soon (God bless Qwaste and the Deathstar).

    Then a neighbor told me about a small isp (Mesa Networks [mesanetworks.net]) that was offering fixed 802.11b connections for residential service in my area with 1-mbps up/down for $58/month. I called them up, arranged an installation time for a week later and have been up and running with no problems for a few weeks now.

    Since then, it occurred to me that small shops like these offering fixed wireless access are a perfect compromise between the bloated-beauracracy-from-hell providers (ie here [attbroadband.com], here [qwest.com] and here [earthlink.com]) and the unreliable, unmanaged, unavailable you-get-what-you-pay-for communal neighborhood nets that have been spawned as a backlash. It's become obvious that turning a profit offering broadband where last mile wiring is involved is extremely difficult if not impossible. But, the infrastructure to manage fized wireless seems a lot more manageable from a small business perspective to me

    Anyway, I don't have the time, inclination or expertise to professionally manage an isp network and I really hope that the model these guys are pursuing pays off - I think small local providers have a much better chance of tailoring solutions that can cost effectively meet the broadband needs of neighborhoods and communities.
  • Mobilstar was just a lousy deal. I had no idea they were in financial trouble, so I actually considered signing up last week. I decided not to, because they want a year contract and $29.95/month for local-only service, only in Starbucks. You can't work from Starbucks, so this isn't really a serious service - it's a luxury item. Which is all very well and good - I would have bought it anyway - but it was just too expensive for the sort of person who would want wireless - a person who travels. They wanted $0.15/minute in addition to the $29.95/month if you wanted to use their service out of the area.

    When will people learn that metered internet service is a non-starter, and that you need to provide a service that is priced attractively if you want customers? If they'd charged $29.95/month for access anywhere they had connectivity, they most likely would have generated a lot more income. Sigh.

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