Western Broadband Update, 3-23-2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic is having a big impact on everyone’s lives. We encourage all of our subscribers to be aware of the risks, not just to ourselves, but also to the more vulnerable members of our communities here in Central Texas, and to take all necessary precautions to slow the spread of this disease.

Bandwidth Usage

In order to “flatten the curve” and prevent our hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, most schools have sent students home, and many businesses are encouraging or even requiring their employees to work from home. This combination has already resulted in higher-than-normal bandwidth demands throughout the day, and as more people shift to this new, temporary way-of-life, we expect to see that increase even further.

Our normal planning method for increasing capacity looks at existing demand and extrapolates based on a simple, linear growth model. This new surge in demand was unexpected, and although we are constantly upgrading and improving our network, and we did already have plans to add additional capacity to support higher speed plans and improve redundancy, the new equipment for this is here at our office, still awaiting FCC license approvals, at which point we will need to schedule tower climbs to install it.

We fully intend to try to expedite this process as much as possible, but all this additional bandwidth demand is stressing our network in new ways. As a result, there may be periods of the day during which you may not be receiving all the network speed you normally expect. Just like the grocery stores had their shelves cleared of hand sanitizer and bleach and have to scramble to restock, we are working hard to improve our infrastructure, but it can’t be done all at once.

We ask for some patience, and request that you please refrain from running speedtests, if possible – speedtests do not have some secret process to objectively determine the speed of a connection; they work by throwing as much data as they can at our system, and detecting the point at which the connection chokes. That means that when you think your connection is running slow, and you run a speedtest, you are putting even more traffic, carried over the whole path from the fiber to your access point and then your home, possibly during those same periods in which everyone else on the same access point is competing to use bandwidth. If you are concerned that you’re not getting the speed you should be, please call us on the telephone, and we will be happy to run the necessary diagnostics to figure out what is happening. That process may involve a speedtest, but under monitored conditions.

If you require additional bandwidth to meet your work-from-home needs, or to allow your children to use learning-from-home software, please call us. We can evaluate the quality of your connection, and determine if we can make the requested increase. In some cases, a site visit may be required to improve the signal level in order to allow the higher-performance plans to work properly. In certain instances, where the signal levels are already at the best we can manage, yet are still marginal, we may not be able to increase the speed as much as desired.

Special WiFi Hotspot

We know that the wireless connections we offer are limited in speed by their nature. We are working on improving speeds to your homes, as I mentioned above, but we already have a high-speed fiber optic line which connects to our office in Austin. During this crisis, we understand that you may need to move files so large that they won’t work well over your home’s connection, so we are setting up a WiFi Hotspot accessible from the parking lot at our office. You can use a laptop and see upload and download speeds much faster than you’d get at home for those few files that are too big to send or receive from home. Please call or email us for details.


“All is flux, nothing stays still”
― Plato

For quite some time, Western Broadband has offered in-house evening and weekend technical support. The way that worked was we had an experienced team member (Craig) who was able to answer phones 7 days a week, during every weekday evening and on weekends during the day, with relatively few breaks for holidays, vacations, or family events. He is now in a position where he is able to step down from this job and spend more time with his family. We’ll miss him, but we understand this is a good thing for him.

Of course, this leads, inevitably, to the question of how we will be handling technical support on the weekends and evenings. Hiring a new person or people to take over from Craig was considered, but it is simply not feasible. The costs of hiring and training, not to mention the time period during which any new employee would take to get a handle on everything, makes that option either very expensive (and those costs would have to be passed on to our subscribers), very inefficient, or both.

We decided our best option was to contract out our extended hours technical support needs to a new, US-based, remote office team. They have staff who already handle this sort of thing for other Internet Service Providers across the nation, and they are well experienced in solving the same sort of problems we already solve on a day-to-day basis. We believe this is the best way to ensure our subscribers’ needs are met without having to raise our rates.

How will this affect you?

  • For now, our support line hours will remain unchanged. The new service will operate M-F, 6pm to 10pm, 9 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, and noon to 5 pm on Sundays, just like Craig did. We are still not certain on how each holiday will affect the support schedule, but we can notify our subscribers of those relevant details here, in this blog.
  • Our network monitoring will not be affected. The same staff who currently monitor all the major aspects of our network, and are automatically notified when there are any problems, will continue to do this. Repairs to equipment in our datacenter or at the towers will still be handled the way they always have been, and with the same emphasis on minimizing our subscribers’ down-time.
  • We will have daily, in-house, Tier 2 escalation management. In other words, if you call in on Friday night with a problem that is outside of the scope of the evening team, you will be contacted the next day by one of our in-house personnel for additional troubleshooting, and at that time, if we need to schedule a service call, we can do that.
  • IMPORTANT: This new line is intended to be used only for technical support calls. Their staff will not be able to provide in-depth information to potential customers, so we will not be passing sales calls onto them. By the same token, they cannot answer questions about billing, or resolve billing disputes, and they will not be able to take payments or handle other, non-technical, customer support issues. Our payment portal will still be operational 24 x 7 to make payments, and telephone payments can still be made during normal operating hours, 8 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Questions about your bill can be asked during normal operating hours, or emailed to billing@ecpi.com at any time.
  • IMPORTANT: Because this new support system charges per call, and we need to keep those costs down for everybody, we must charge a fee of $10 to subscribers who use this new line to call about things it is not meant to or able to handle: things like customer service issues, scheduling issues, billing questions or making payments – as mentioned above, they cannot help with billing questions, they can’t take payments, they can’t resolve customer service disputes, and they aren’t able to rearrange scheduled appointments, but we would still be charged for those calls. We have an outgoing message which will remind callers of this policy, and this system requires a button push before it transfers over to them, so we don’t expect to have too many people accidentally incurring this fee.
  • If you are uncertain about which department you need to speak with, you can always email your question to support@ecpi.com, or call us during normal operating hours.
  • As a general rule, you should NOT call the technical support line after normal hours for these topics:
    1. To make a payment or discuss anything to do with payments.
    2. To make or update a payment arrangement.
    3. To ask a question or discuss a dispute about a bill you’ve received from us.
    4. To change the credit card information we have on file for you.
    5. To change the bandwidth plan you are subscribed to.
    6. To schedule an appointment for equipment to be installed or moved at your site.
    7. To ask about an upcoming appointment which has already been scheduled.
    8. To re-schedule or cancel an appointment.
    9. To cancel service.
    10. To address a (non technical) customer service-related issue.
  • You should call the technical support line after normal hours if you:
    1. Are unable to connect to the Internet.
    2. Are connecting to the Internet, but not getting the level of performance you should be (after you’ve eliminated other devices using bandwidth).
    3. Are experiencing intermittent connection issues.
    4. Have a specific, technical problem with our connection I did not list.

Of course, this is a transition for us as much as it is a transition for you, and we do appreciate your patience as we work through this. We would also appreciate feedback from you – how clear our messages are, how effective the technical support team is, and anything else you might think is important – of course, that feedback should either be sent via email to support@ecpi.com or you can call us during those normal operating hours, 8 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday.

To reboot or not to reboot?

To reboot or not to reboot, that is the question… (apologies to the Bard!)

Because the radio transceiver we installed at your home and your wireless router are both computers, there are situations in which one or both might lock up, crash, or refuse to communicate with the other. For that reason, it is often the case that the first thing we suggest when troubleshooting is to power-cycle one or both of these devices. When we are dealing with a “one-off” sort of problem, that usually suffices to clear it up, and your connection is back up and working normally in a few minutes.

However, if you have been experiencing some sort of repeated problem, whether it happens at the same time each day, or is intermittent or unpredictable, those troubleshooting steps are not recommended, even if they seem to grant some relief. Here’s why:  We do monitor your transceiver for certain important telemetry data (like signal level and errors), but the system simply takes instantaneous snapshots every so many minutes – useful to show a trend, but not detailed enough to do any deep inspection. Other statistical data, invaluable in determining the root cause of problems, are stored in the transceiver in volatile memory which is cleared whenever it is rebooted, whether by a power-cycle or a software command. Similarly, the historical data we retain on your overall bandwidth usage is captured every few minutes and averaged, so it can sometimes be helpful, but it’s not precise enough to help with troubleshooting many brief or intermittent problems.

The best way for us to get a full understanding of the nature of those brief or intermittent problems is to view the data in real-time when the problem is happening, and the second-best way is for us to be able to view the transceiver’s statistical data immediately after the incident. What this means in the real world is that if you have been experiencing some sort of recurring Internet problem, whether it’s intermittent, transient, or regular, you will want to give us a call on the telephone, preferably while the failure mode is ongoing, so that we can collect enough data to ascertain root cause, and you should do this without power-cycling anything. That is the best strategy to eliminate those sorts of problems.

On the other hand, if you almost never have any problems with your connection, and it’s acting up with no obvious reason, then resetting the power to the transceiver and/or router may be the quickest way to get you back online. Just remember, if you are having problems with your Internet connection, we want to help you!

Beware of scams!

Over four years ago, one of the first posts I put up on this blog was about the issue of Computer and Internet Security. In the last few months, we have gotten several subscribers calling us in a panic after falling prey to a particularly insidious scam. Their browsers had been tricked into displaying a screen which pretended to be from Microsoft, and it asked them to call a telephone number given in that same pop-up window.

Remember: if you see any popups while using the web telling you that there’s a problem with your PC and you need to call a number or visit a website to fix it, these are scams. There are also some varieties of this scam which involve the scammers calling you. The important things to remember, regardless of who called whom are: don’t be sucked into a discussion, don’t provide any personal information, and don’t allow them access to your PC.

Have fun, and surf safe!

Windows Updates and connection performance.

We have been experiencing a great deal of complaints about connection performance, only to discover the root cause of the problem is not a problem with the connection, but with the way Microsoft pushes Windows Updates. In previous versions of Windows, it was possible to set Windows to download and install updates automatically, but you could also take control and make your own decisions. In Windows 10, it is nearly impossible to have any control over when Windows chooses to download and install updates, and their new setup for the download process hits connections with constrained bandwidth (such as anyone using our fixed wireless system) very hard.

All is not lost, however. Notice I said “nearly impossible” above? If your computer is using WiFi, not an Ethernet cable, to connect to your router, there are a series of steps you can follow which will put you back in control. Now, it is important to note that these updates may contain vital security fixes, so we STRONGLY advise everyone to use this judiciously. If you need to get work done right now, and Windows Update is preventing you from doing so, this may help you get your work done, but you should reverse the change as soon as you are able to let Windows take over all your connection again. Leaving your computer permanently unable to automatically download updates can create a very real security risk, unless you diligently check and tell Windows to install updates regularly. If that sounds a little scary, then I did make my point. There is a way to do this with an Ethernet cable connection, but it involves editing the Registry, which is definitely not for beginners, so I will not provide details here.

OK, you understand the risks, and you want to change your Wi-Fi settings to do this – here’s what you will be doing: Telling Windows that your Wi-Fi connection is a metered connection, so that it thinks you have data limitations, and will not automatically download updates. Again, this is not a setting you should leave this way forever.

First, click on the Windows button in the lower left corner, and select “Settings”
Start Menu
Next, on the Settings screen, click on Network and Internet:
Then, you’ll see the Wi-Fi screen – you’ll need to scroll down below all the listed Available Networks, and click on Advanced Options:
Top of Wi=Fi screen
bottom of Wi-Fi Screen
And when you click on Advanced Options, you should see the Wireless Network Connection screen – just turn on Metered Connection (like so):
Metered Connection
Now that you’ve done this, Windows will not download updates unless you specifically tell it to. As I said above, that can be a help for the short-term, but can be dangerous if left that way forever.

Spam-filtering Changes (from Postini to Barracuda)

Most of our e-mail customers have been using the Postini junk-mail filtering service for years, but unfortunately, Google has decided to shut down the specific Google Postini Services we have been using.

The official ending date for our Postini services is July 31, but we have our transition plan in place, and we expect to have all filtering moved over to the new system by July 17. The new system uses Barracuda technology, and is located here at our office. It should have already been sending out e-mails regarding its quarantine, and those e-mails do include a clickable link which will not only take you to the server, but will log you in, as well.

You can access the mail-filtering server by going to barracuda.westernbroadband.com.

Part of this transition has been adding the Barracuda device into the rotation of mail filters. This has been done already, which is why some of you have already received user quarantine messages, but the bulk of messages are still being routed through Postini for filtering. This balance will be shifting over the next week, so that only a dwindling percentage of messages will still go through Postini, and then none at all.

Your quarantine on Postini will still be available until the end of the month, but any messages left there past that date will be gone forever.

We hope that this process moves smoothly, but if you encounter any issues, please let us know!


PM WiFi E-mail changes

When we purchased PM WiFi’s Central Texas operations in 2008, we kept the previous owner’s setup for all the PM WiFi e-mail accounts, which was managed and hosted by GoDaddy. Recently, we had gotten a number of frustrated customers calling us with problems accessing the GoDaddy servers, mostly for sending mail, but some had issues with logging into their incoming server, as well. At this time, it made sense to migrate the entire domain onto our own servers, which allows us to more effectively manage all the settings with a flexibility we had previously lacked.

We made the change on May 8th, and here’s what you need to know:

  1. The old server, at secureserver.net, is still going to have the accounts up for a few more weeks. We will probably shut it down on June 1st, so you will need to archive any messages stored there you want to keep, and any address book info that isn’t otherwise available.
  2. Because I did not want any mail to be undeliverable during the transition, I created a matching account on the new server for each one on the old server, but I did have to generate the passwords on the new server independently. If you did respond to the e-mails I sent about this topic, then you’ll have a valid password and you should have no problem accessing the new server. If you have not supplied me with a password you want to use for the new server, you will almost certainly not be able to access your new inbox until this is cleared up
  3. The new server can be accessed at either mail.pmwifi.com or mail.ecpi.com – the username is the full email address, including the @pmwifi.com part, and the password is the new password. You will probably need to change the outgoing port in your mail client to 587 as well, since the other two of the old server’s alternate port numbers (80 and 3535) are not supported, nor is port 465 (with SSL)
  4. The webmail page may be accessed with either of those URLs or you can select “Webmail” under “My Account” on the Western Broadband main website.

Please contact us, either by phone at (512)257-1077 or email us at support@ecpi.com if you have any questions about these changes or require assistance getting your e-mail to work.


One other thing – after the switchover, a few of the PM WiFi accounts received “Welcome” messages from Postini, a spam-blocking service from Google. These are valid messages, not a phishing scheme, but there is a problem with logging into the Postini system using the pmwifi.com e-mail accounts, so I have removed those accounts from Postini and disabled all filtering.  If you got one of those messages, just delete and disregard it.