Tips For New Althea Users

So, you just took the leap and got connected to your local community’s Althea network! You have a brand new fast, affordable, community owned and operated internet access from your local network operator, and you’re ready to experience the advantages of this entirely new model for providing internet access. But, as with anything new, Althea requires a slight mindset change to ensure that your experience is a positive one. So there’s a few things you want to be aware of:

Pay-per-forward billing:

As we wrote about in a previous blog entry the way you pay for your service is entirely different from other ISP’s. Unlike traditional incumbent ISP’s with a laundry list of different (and often hidden) fee’s, the billing for your Althea service is simple and entirely transparent. Rather than paying a flat fee for a speed-tier plan that you may-or-may-not even receive, or may-or-may-not even use, with Althea you are only paying for what you use, plus a small support fee that helps the network operators maintain the network, provide top quality customer support, and replace any potentially defective hardware. You can think of this model as “utilizing the internet,” billed in the same way you would pay for any other utility, such as electricity or water.

Logging in to your Althea router, at https://192.168.10.1 you have access to to the “Finances” tab, where you can load funds onto your router via your debit card, but also see a historical list of your daily bandwidth usage:

Image of a lab router finances — actual network prices per gigabyte will vary.

While this has the advantage of only paying for what you’re using, and not paying for what you’re not, it does mean you need to think of your bandwidth usage much in the same way you think of your power or water usage.

If you were to leave your lights on all day, or other power hungry appliances running, or leave your water running constantly your utility bills will reflect that usage. However if you make sure to turn the lights off when you leave the room, minimize the usage of power hungry appliances, or use your water only as necessary, your utility bills will remain affordable.

So from this analogy you want to stay conscious of the bandwidth your devices are using. But how do you conserve bandwidth? What are the types of activities that will use more bandwidth than others? By following the tips outlined here to conserve bandwidth you will see the results of lower costs, and the funds you load into your router will go further.

Tips for conserving bandwidth:

To get an idea of how much bandwidth various tasks use and get an estimate of what your households total usage might look like you can use this handy bandwidth calculator.

As you’ll be able to tell from that tool most on-line activities don’t require much bandwidth. Things like web browsing, email, social media applications, on-line gaming, and streaming music are fairly low bandwidth activities. Most bandwidth gets used for from either large file downloads and streaming video from YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others.

Here are a few things to stay conscious of:

Some services like Netflix will stop streaming at certain points and ask you “are you still watching?” This is to help preserve bandwidth usage for people who may have left Netflix open and walked away, fallen asleep, or are otherwise no longer paying attention to what’s playing. However some other streaming apps, like Hulu, will continue to stream the next episode of a show, without interruption, and can lead to a large amount of wasted bandwidth.

4K streaming is the next big thing, delivering high quality video to the newest generation of high resolution TV’s. Most of the major streaming services are now offering 4K streaming for much of their content, and setting it as the default for streaming video in some cases. However streaming 4K requires a LOT of bandwidth. To provide a point of reference for the bandwidth rates used for various quality video streaming:

Depending on the source you are streaming from this means that a 2 hour movie, streaming in a range between 15-32mb/s, will use a whopping 13.5gb-28.8gb! At $0.14 per gigabyte amounts to between $1.89-$4.032 in bandwidth usage. Compare that to streaming at 1080p the same 2hr movie, using between 3–6mb/s will use only 2.7–5.4GB, costing only $0.39–$0.77. That’s roughly an 80% savings when you compare streaming 4K vs 1080p.

You can control each streaming application to set the quality of video you are streaming at an account level, per device, and in some cases per video.

Here are some links on how to set your video quality for the most common streaming services:

Netflix

Amazon Prime

Hulu

AppleTV

YouTube

While things like streaming music are not huge bandwidth consuming tasks, something that can save additional bandwidth when using services like Spotify, iTunes / Apple Music, etc. with content that you regularly listen to you can downloaded files directly to your device(s) for off-line use, so that you don’t have to stream the same songs multiple times (this has the added benefit of having these files locally on your mobile device when you are out in areas where you may not have data service). The same thing can sometimes apply for some movie services that allow you to locally download movies that you may watch more than once.

How to download songs on Spotify

How to download songs on Apple Music

Brave browser is a great new web browser, similar to Chrome, that has built-in advertising and web tracker blocking. In a recent article published by ProtonMail they ranked Brave browser as the #1 privacy respecting browser. While this won’t dramatically minimize your bandwidth usage, why pay anything at all for ads you don’t want to see, or pay to have websites track your activities?

As customer privacy and security are core values for our organization, the added security of Brave browser make it the web browser of choice of the Pacific Northwest Rural Broadband Alliance that we recommend to all customers.

As you can see from this image below, over time, the amount of bandwidth (and time!) you can save just by blocking ads and trackers really adds up:

It is also worth mentioning that Brave browser also has a feature built in where you can opt-in to viewing certain advertisements that you then get paid in a cryptocurrency known as BAT (the Basic Attention Token) which you can read more about here. After all, if you’re going to be viewing ads it’s only fair you get paid for it!

The Althea network creates a “marketplace for bandwidth” much in the same way a smart grid of solar panels allows people to sell their excess electricity.

As we touched on in the blog article mentioned above, rather than being a customer that is forced to choose from one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it, service tiers that traditional ISP’s sell, the Althea network allows you to choose your level of service.

While everyone receives un-capped bandwidth, where we deliver the fastest speeds your hardware is capable of receiving, not everyone needs those level of speeds. In the router dashboard you can tune your level of service to meet your needs.

For example, in the “Advanced” tab on your router dashboard you can set your speed limit:

Set the speed you need!

Another example is found in the “Finances” tab, where you can set the quality of the bandwidth you receive, which determines the route your traffic takes through the network:

Choose between faster lower latency bandwidth, or cheaper lower latency bandwidth.

Say you are a gamer and want the fastest and lowest latency bandwidth you can set the slider to the right, where you will pay more to ensure you are getting the fastest path through the network. Or on the other hand, if you don’t need the lowest latency absolute fastest speeds you can set the slider to the left where you will receive lower cost, but slightly lower quality bandwidth.

This system is what allows you to tune your connection to your needs, and in effect set your own speed / service tier, which you can adjust it at any time.

Other ways to lower your service cost:

Of course the best way to lower your monthly service cost is to opt to host a relay. This has the benefit of helping the network grow, become more reliable, become faster, and gives you the opportunity to literally own your own piece of the internet. Once your relay is setup, and more customers around you sign up, the revenue your relay earns will begin to grow in a linear fashion.

This is, at it’s core, what makes the Althea model so revolutionary, is that by creating a multi-stakeholder system where the infrastructure that we all rely on is owned by the community itself, everyone benefits from a better, more reliable, more affordable internet service. Furthermore, it not only helps keep service fees distributed equitably inside the local economy, but allows you take back control of the internet from the hands of the incumbent ISP’s that have managed to consolidate ownership of the internet into the hands of a small selected few, allowing these companies to hold the consumer hostage to continually raising costs without having any motivation or obligation to improve the service they are providing.

The Future of Network Bandwidth Costs:

Lastly, one thing each customer should take into account is we are always working on delivering the cheapest bandwidth possible. As our network grows larger, and as more customers join the network, our organization gains more opportunities to lower bandwidth costs (rather than arbitrarily raise prices, in the way incumbent ISPs are known to do). This happens in several different ways:

  1. We operate as a non-profit organization. This means that we put people over profit, and are accountable only to our customers (rather than shareholders or equity investors). With the broadband crisis our entire nation is facing it’s our goal to make fast and affordable broadband as accessible as possible. So, as our network becomes profitable we have more of an ability to lower costs.
  2. As more relays come on-line, and customers become connected multiple relays deep, we will lower our costs at the gateway to better ensure that even customers at the far end of the line are not paying disproportionately expensive prices. This means that the closer you are to one of our gateways, and the fewer relays your traffic passes through, you’ll receive cheaper bandwidth.
  3. As we are able to deploy multiple gateways, not only does it create cheaper routes through the network, but we are in a better position to negotiate cheaper backhaul costs from the wholesale providers that we source our large fiber connections from.

Conclusion:

It is our goal to always provide the fastest and most affordable internet possible. We aim to ensure that the vast majority of our customers pay the most competitive prices possible. Just as every customer uses the internet in a different way, with different needs, as with any utility not everyone will end up paying the same amount — some will pay less, some will pay more, but most households will fall into a general average price range. Though even with those high bandwidth usage customers that may pay slightly more we still strive to make the service attractive by providing a wide array of benefits that other ISP’s don’t, such as fast symmetric download / upload speeds, the only ISP to offer fully private and encrypted connections, top quality customer support, community ownership, and much more. At the most, our high bandwidth consuming customers end up paying the same as the average Spectrum or Starlink customer, but receive a far higher quality service.

But to truly accomplish delivering the best service possible, at the best price point possible, it requires our network to grow through community participation. When we all work together, and take back control of the internet into our own hands, we will ultimately be capable of benefiting from a more equitable, affordable, fast, and reliable infrastructure that is a vital lifeline service for everyone in today’s modern society.

We are The Pacific Northwest Rural Broadband Alliance, a non-profit foundation dedicated to building fast, affordable, community powered broadband networks.

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