Month: January 2008

IMAP – what’s that?

Late in 2007, we quietly rolled out access to IMAP, a powerful email access protocol that our customers can use to manage their email. Email is the Internet’s killer application. While the web is essential, it’s email that most folks use first, every day.

Most Internet users either use POP (post office protocol) to access their messages, or a webmail interface of some sort today.

POP is simple – an email client such as Outlook Express or Thunderbird connects to our servers, authenticates, and fetches all of your email. The client tells our servers that everything has been received, and the messages are deleted from our storage here. If you’ve just got one PC, this is adequate, and convenient. All of the messages are stored locally though, so if you keep emails for future reference, a computer crash can mean the loss of your archive.

Webmail is the direction that many Internet users have gone, because there’s a natural desire to be able to access email from any PC. At home, at work, while at a friend’s house, etc. This desire has caused many Internet users to select a free webmail service such as Yahoo, MSN’s Hotmail or Gmail. The down side of these free services is that they have very limited accountability, and they are supported by advertising. You can’t phone up Yahoo’s support line if your messages go missing or call Google if you can’t log into Gmail – they don’t have a phone number and simply don’t want to talk to you. It’s free, so it’s not reasonable to expect much from them.

IMAP solves these problems. It centralizes the message storage here at, on reliable storage, and makes the entire inbox and archive available from multiple locations and via the web. is the only mainstream Internet Access Provider that I know of who provides IMAP, and it’s a feature that I’m very excited about.

IMAP diagram
(click image to enlarge)

It might seem odd to be excited about something this simple, but because email is so essential, and such a big part of so many people’s daily lives, I know that changes to the way that we access and use email can make a huge difference.

Like POP, you can use IMAP with clients like Outlook, Thunderbird (which I use and recommend), etc. It also allows access from portable devices such as Apple’s iPhone. And finally, when you’re at a random PC, you can use it via our webmail interface.

A unified inbox is wonderful, particularly as your email volume grows. You receive an email while you’re at work, read, respond, and delete it. On the way home, you check mail on your iPhone – and your inbox is shown at exactly the state you left it in when you departed the office. Once home, you respond to a few items and delete them, and back at work the next day your inbox is identical to the way you left it when you departed home. If you’re using a PC that’s not your own (and which thus doesn’t have your email client (Thunderbird!) installed with your settings), you can use the web interface, and the messages are all right in the state that you left them in.

There are a lot of advantages to using IMAP over both traditional POP and free webmail solutions, and if you use more than one PC or want to access your email from anywhere aside from your primary PC, I recommend that you switch right now.

IMAP is easy to set up – in your client software, you simply select the IMAP protocol instead of POP, and use the server instead of You’ll duplicate these settings as you install client software (Thunderbird, Outlook, etc) on any additional PCs (at work, laptop, etc). If you need any assistance, phone our support group at 707-547-3400 and they’ll help you through the settings right now.

IMAP allows unified access to email without using a free webmail service. This provides you with the ability to establish a long term email address, knowing that it will be available to you for as long as you like. With free webmail, the service could become restrictive or fee based, may become too ad-laden to be usable, may include ads sent at the bottom of every email (Yahoo does this), or you may simply lose access because someone sent spam using your name. There is no one to call, and no reason for them to help you, because you are just another free mailbox.

There’s too much risk in free webmail, your email and email address are too important.

The practical risks involved have however been judged to be worth taking by many Internet users, as you can see by the proliferation of and other similar addresses. The upside was unified access, which POP just couldn’t provide.

Now, with IMAP at, that problem has been solved, providing individuals with a more powerful way to manage their messaging.

Broadband in the redwoods

I had an opportunity to visit a customer’s home this last Saturday while our installers were putting in their new satellite broadband service.

Here are a few photos I took during the installation. Click here for larger images.

It’s very exciting to deliver a broadband access product that reaches into the rural areas of California. If you live in an area that DSL doesn’t reach, we’ve finally got broadband for you.

Pole top Wi-Fi

Jason and Bryan are making progress on completion of our initial pole top Wi-Fi deployment in Santa Rosa. The primary coverage area will be completed shortly. Once that is done, we will be continuing deployment in Petaluma and at the SRJC campuses.

An early morning in Santa Rosa, preparing to mount a pole top Wi-Fi repeater in the shadow of the old AT&T buildings.

Pole top deployment

More information about our Wi-Fi project can be found here:

For the current network map, see:

Speed kills (business models, anyway)

It seems that everyone is building faster, next generation networks. So, will many consumers enjoy faster access in the US any time soon? I don’t think so.

I believe that consumers will not see widely available faster Internet because it would undermine revenue from entertainment products. TV sells for more $$ than Internet, and by selling you a “triple play”, carriers can dip three times, collecting revenue for Internet, voice, and video. If the Internet access offered was faster, I believe that services like YouTube/Google Video would quickly begin to offer high def content, and that new peer to peer video solutions such as Joost and Veoh would see a huge boost to their business models.

Access spawns applications. If everyone had 20Mbps Internet, many would skip the whole $50 to $100 video and premium channel package and use newly enabled HD video over IP.

We’ve seen similar things happen in voice – Skype, Vonage etc have all taken bites out of land line revenue. Voice is not very bandwidth hungry, so there’s little that carriers can do to prevent its use. I think the same thing would happen to video if access was faster.

A prime example of this is AT&T’s new UVerse product, which is available in some limited markets in the US now. You can’t even have Internet on UVerse without buying TV. Sorry. And the fastest Internet access on UVerse is….6Mbps. This, on a VDSL2 circuit that syncs at 24Mbps or faster. The big bandwidth is allocated to TV, even if you are not watching it. There’s no legitimate technical reason for this.

Another example is Comcast’s “PowerBoost”, which offers a temporary doubling of bandwidth, but just for the first few moments of a download. The net result: no viable streaming high bandwidth HD video. Guess why? Because that would enable someone else’s video business model, a business that the cable executives would prefer to retain.

Are consumers being well served by the triple play? I don’t think so.

I predict that over the next few years, the marketplace will see offers of small incremental upgrades, with Cable and Telco each matching or slightly beating the other from time to time.

Neither wants to actually deliver enough bandwidth to enable HD streams.

CLEC Update

Nathan and his team are have been making very good progress on our CLEC deployment. As a certified public utility in California, and a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC), and is working toward deployment of equipment to serve next generation broadband products.

These products include traditional services such as 1.5Mbps T1, plus advanced services like ADSL2+ and VDSL2. We’ve even got some exciting new products based upon E-SHDSL (we pronounce it “E-Schnitzel” here around the office) that allow delivery of over 5Mbps symmetric (down and upstream) per pair at reasonably short distances. This allows delivery of Internet at 10Mbps (Ethernet speed) on as few as two pairs for business locations. Up to eight pairs can be bonded to deliver T3 speed (45Mbps). ADSL2+ can in theory provide up to 24Mbps downstream on just one pair – compare to today’s ADSL, at only 8Mbps theoretical maximum.

The last six months have seen some important milestones, and it’s very exciting to see the tangible progress.

As a CLEC, colocation in the telco central office (the ugly building in the middle of every town) allows for interconnection between copper to you, and the equipment that serves these new access technologies on that copper. We received access to our first colocation CO in late December. After nearly two years of paperwork, it was great to finally walk into the physical outcome – the somewhat dated interior of a building that was constructed to withstand a nuclear blast not too far away.

Our colocation cage space is just what it sounds like – a cage. It’s a walled off space built from a sort of telco industrial fencing material. While we’re not allowed to take photographs in a central office, here’s a snapshot of a typical type of cage that’s representative:

Colocation Cage

I can’t overstate the importance of this CLEC initiative for Our ability to deliver innovative high speed products is critical to our future, and I’m very happy to see it coming along.

The next few weeks will see DSLAM equipment build out into the colocation space. This space is empty, so this means installation of ironwork – racks to hold the equipment – plus DSLAMs and other electronic equipment.

Even installation of the racks is a bit complex – we had to have staff attend training on “how to drill a hole”, and there’s a even special sized hammer drill bit that was rather tough to obtain. The training is mandatory for us to do our own construction in the central office – Santa Rosa’s main CO’s concrete flooring is “likely to contain asbestos”. No fooling. So, drilling a hole really is a bit complex, involving shaving cream (you guessed it – to capture the concrete powder and “likely asbestos”), some napkins (to capture the shaving cream), and a number of zip-lock baggies. The baggies are then tagged with our training certification data, and disposed of as hazardous waste.

Once we get the racks in, the DSLAMs and other equipment will be placed. Finally, we begin testing on copper loops to various locations around Santa Rosa. I will make postings about our progress from time to time.

Free hosting

I’m always thinking about how we can add more value to our Internet products. It’s probably obvious, but the question I often ask myself is, “What can do that our huge cable and telco competitors are not able or willing to do?” From this concept come all of the primary differentiators that offers.

For example, good tech support. The entire technology industry has spent the last decade working out ways to eliminate the “support cost center”. The cost reduction efforts include automated attendants, scripted “tier one” support reps, and in many cases outsourcing of support to offshore call centers. Our take on support has been to embrace it as an opportunity to HELP our customers, not just to reduce costs. This means that people answer the phone, and that there’s no scripted “tier one”. Just nice people who are helpful and smart.

Other areas we’ve chosen to differentiate are less obvious to many customers, and for some, less important. However, these set a theme – rather than the cheapest product at the lowest cost, our goal is to deliver something better.

  • Plenty of email boxes, for family members or employees
  • Large email storage quotas
  • Low cost static IPs, for customers who host servers
  • IPv6 tunnels, for customers using next generation numbering
  • Usenet access, with high bandwidth limits
  • IMAP access to email, allowing unified access from multiple PCs
  • Wi-Fi hotspot hosting, with revenue sharing for DSL users
  • Unix shell access

Most of our customers don’t make use of all of these features, but the point is to make delivery of a better product our primary goal.

This blog is one more example – we’re now offering free web hosting and easy to use publishing software to every access customer. If you’ve got dialup, DSL, satellite, wireless, etc – we will host a website for you at no charge. Not just a small page at, but a real identity – your own domain name.

Having a domain name and your own website is something everyone should consider. It’s a great way to stay in touch with family, with clients, or to simply speak your mind. Building and publishing a site used to be a bit complex and expensive. You’d spend $10-$20 for the hosting every month, plus registration of the domain name itself at $10-$25 a year, and then you’d need to actually build the site. Graphics, HTML, FTP uploading, blah, blah. Difficult, and expensive.

We’re making it free, and easy.

This blog is an example of a free site – I’ve set it up with our “mini” hosting, rather than a domain name. Customers can do both – mini hosting offers a URL at, and you can also have a domain name and a second website.

My hope is that you’ll build a small site, today. A family site (your last name dot com, etc), or a site for your business, or your hobby. It’s fun, and a great way to become a contributor to the Internet itself. It’s one more way that delivers something valuable to you.