Technology Practice Tips Podcasts

Practical law practice technology concepts in an accessible, conversational manner with Phil Brown and David Whelan

Internet Service Providers

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Phil and David take a look at how lawyers connect to the internet.  What type of internet service provider do you use?  And what are some networking hardware and security topics you might need to know about?  We'll walk you through what a router is and why it's important in this podcast.
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Speaker Key:    PB: Phil Brown, DW: David Whelan


PB:  Hi, it is Phil Brown and I'm here with David Whelan. Today we are going to talk about ISPs.


DW: ISPs are internet service providers. They are the people who sell you the access to the internet, that provide you with the technology that allows you to connect to your home and your law firm offices and other devices, to the internet.


PB: So not to prefer any particular companies, but we are talking about Rogers, Shaw, Bell, etc.


DW: Right. It is interesting, the types of technology that they use, and you will come across this, and I am not sure that we will ever get to the point where we can say one is better than another, but it used to be that you would get a connection called ISDN. If you wanted a nice dedicated line and dedicated throughput to the internet, but pretty much, these days, most law firms will be looking at either a cable connection or a DSL connection or, if you are big enough, what is known as a T1 or part of a T1. That is like a timeshare, a fractional T1, where you can have a certain amount of speed, but depending on what kind of wiring they are using, and what kind of system they are using, you are really talking about cable or DSL.


PB: Right. And we are not going to talk about dry loops and things like that, but there are lots of terminology out there, in terms of is "this a voice only line", "this is a voice and internet line", etc. But there are differences between DSL and cable. Some of them are shared in neighbourhood, and some of them are not. Your speeds can fluctuate, depending on what kind of line you are using, but let's talk about things like consumer versus business.


DW: Right. You will find, with most of the providers, that they will have business level speeds and services that are different from your home user. So you may have bought a package for your house and that works great for the films that you are streaming on Netflix or Show Me, and the files that your kids are downloading for their Xbox, but that may not be the sort of stability or speeds and bandwidth that you need to be providing for your law firm, especially if you are hosting your own email server inside the firm, or your own web server. All of those create traffic and you need to be thinking about paying for the additional overhead that all those things provide.


PB: That's right. Speaking of overhead, business prices tend to be quite a bit more than consumer prices and consumer systems, but you would definitely need a business enterprise system for a large office.


DW: Right, so shop around. I think you will find both from the cable providers and the DSL providers, and the real difference between those is that the cable system tends to be a shared system and the DSL is a line directly from your office or your home to the Telco, so it is a slightly different type of carrier but, at the end of the day, you will be able to get the same types of speeds, both upload and download speeds, and they are different, but can you say a word about how they are different?


PB: In terms of the speeds? Upload speed is typically much slower than download speed. A lot of the companies range (and you will get a range when you start shopping for packages) from 1 megabyte upload versus 10 or 20 megabytes download, and I am not sure why they make those distinctions, but they benchmark them and tell you if you pay $100 a month, this is what the minimums you can expect are. You really have to determine what it is you are doing. Are you uploading a lot of information, a lot of large files, or are you more likely to be downloading those files? You can shop around for an appropriate speed. The other thing is that some of them now have limited bandwidth, and you may be limited to a certain price, where you can only download 100 or 200 megabytes or 300 megabytes. You will see this with phone data plans, but now you will see it also with other packages. You might have a gigabyte of download available a month, and then you are going to start paying, on top of that, for every megabyte you use after that.


DW: It is something to be aware of. I think we are more aware of it with our phones than we are with our computers, but as these sorts of caps come into play, it may impact what you do and, certainly, there have been complaints already, for Windows 10 users, where Windows 10 is now doing automatic mandatory updates of its system, that you may have gigabyte downloads coming to all of your computers in your firm, coming over your internet connection, and then eating up some of that data cap. One of the things to look for is that some of the internet providers will have times of day, particularly between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., where they may give you free access or free transmission times, so that if you have large downloads you can schedule them for that time of day to either upload or to download.


PB: That strikes me as the sort of thing where you will be populating those offices with students, to make sure that there is someone there at four in the morning to do those big uploads and downloads.


DW: That's right. I wanted to mention something called power line networking as well. This is sort of, an add-on. Once you have your ISP, you are connected to the internet, but then how do the devices in your office connect to the router or the modem that connects you to the internet? In many cases you will have category 5 network cable in the walls that allows you to just plug in and go. You may have wireless as well, but if you do not have one of those two, or you have computers that are in awkward places, you can use something called power line networking, to connect over the electrical wiring of your house or your office, so particularly in older buildings or in houses that where you might want to work in your basement but it has either bad wireless connectivity or no network wiring. You buy these power line adaptors. One goes next to the modem, to the internet, and one goes in the power outlet, and you just plug into that and you can get networking anywhere in your building.


PB: And this sounds very voodoo, are these things expensive?


DW: They are not expensive. You are probably looking at $30 to $40 per plug-in adapter, and many of them will have more than one plug, so you could run more than one computer off of it.


PB: And maybe we could just say a word or two about redundant connections and how many lines you need and things like that?


DW: Right. The issue of redundancy comes up. Some people believe that you should have redundant internet connections, just like you do backups and other things in your environment. That can become expensive unless you have a really good need for it, if you have problems of, for example, being attacked. If you are attacked on one of your internet addresses, if you have a redundant one you can quickly flip your firm over to the redundant one. In most cases it is not going to make sense for the solo or small firm lawyer who is out there to have more than one internet connection. It really is not going to be cost-effective to do that.


PB: Security with ISPs, is it something the average user needs to be concerned about?


DW: The ISP is really just providing you the connection to the internet, so you should be aware that they are probably not doing anything to protect you in particular, as far as people trying to get to your email server or your web server in your office. They are doing some things though. They are able to block attacks going out or coming into their network, and they may be also monitoring some of the traffic that you send out, if it is potentially going to a source of malware and things like that.


PB: And some ISPs offer additional services like email addresses and some of them offer free antivirus software and things like that, to use within your environment. That is something that you should be aware of, is if they are providing you with ten free email addresses on their servers, on their domain, that is information that might later be handed over to a lawful authority who is making a request.


DW: Yes and since it is an ISP-based email, it can be very useful. It is great for home users, but for a business user, you probably want to think about getting an email system that is intended for business users.


PB: And that is one of the things you need to look at in the beginning when you pick your ISP. What are your business needs now and what are your business needs going to be in five years? You have to figure out what it is they are selling you, and you have to ask questions.


DW: Exactly. You made a good point before we started, which is that a lot of the ISPs are actually piggybacking on other ISPs, so while I use TekSavvy myself, for DSL at home, it is actually on top of the Bell network, and so I could potentially get DSL from Bell just the same. I think you really need to shop around and see which providers will give you the speeds at the costs that you are willing to pay, and if you have done that assessment of what your business needs are, you will be better prepared when you are sitting down and trying to compare the packages that are all very similar.


PB: And I would say that if you are looking at home systems and things like a home business system, speak to your neighbours. Find out what they are using and what kind of reliable speeds they have, because I know, from my personal experience, a few different times that I have had packages sold to me, but the infrastructure would not support the speeds they were promising.


DW: And many of the ISPs will rent to you or sell you hardware, the modem and the router and other things for your network. You should cost check those against Best Buy and other technological things, because you can often get that same hardware on your own without renting it, for much less than you would pay over the life of the rental.


PB: You are going to be looking at user agreements and things like that, and I would say it is important that you read those over the same as you would any banking agreement and things like that, because there are various responsibilities and liability issues when they lose all of your information, or you drop a connection for weeks at a time, and you want to make sure you know who is liable for what.


DW: Right. ISPs are a little bit of a boring topic, but they are key and particularly as the legal profession relies so heavily on the internet, for communication and other things, you want to make a good choice


PB: Right. It is getting bigger and bigger. I mean, whole firms are moving to the Cloud and storing information in the Cloud and being reliant upon the ability to access that information at any time.


DW: And the daily show too.


PB: And the daily show as well. That's our look at ISPs. Thanks, David.


DW: Thanks, Phil.