Take back the bandwidth

It's a tricky business, owning an internet connection. Not only do you open yourself up to all manner of nasties, but you also have to deal with more technical issues than you can shake a stick at.

It's a tricky business, owning an internet connection. Not only do you open yourself up to all manner of nasties, be they spam, viruses and "intrusion" attempts, unsavoury websites, perhaps even emails from colleagues, friends and family that you wish you'd never seen, but you also have to deal with more technical issues than you can shake a stick at.

If you've made the jump from dial-up to broadband, you'll know what I mean. If you're not struggling to work out why you can't see any newsgroups or why your instant messaging service keeps kicking you off, or what happened to that download you were halfway through or why the online banking site is suddenly loading so slowly, you've got the perennial question of bandwidth to consider. How much have you used, how much did you mean to use, how much will it cost you? Did some pimply youth in a lock-up garage in Oklahoma send you 80GB worth of ping because he hasn't configured his server correctly, or did your teenage nephew load some file sharing software on your system that's allowed the whole world and its cat to rifle through your hard drive?

Once you've realised the download threat is there, you have to negotiate the various paths and byways of your firewall and antivirus protection software in the hopes that you have a) configured it correctly and b) switched it on. Once you've struggled through the quagmire of deciding whether or not some obscurely named .exe file should have access to the internet or not (and can I ask, why does Microsoft Word think it should be allowed out to play? Anyone?), you've then got to remind the damned thing every once in a while that, yes, you don't really mind if Browser 6.0 has access because you've just upgraded from 5.0.

Helping to keep tabs on all of this is your ISP. Sorry, couldn't resist that. Actually, if we're talking about JetStream, I'm pretty sure your ISP would like to help you out, but the whole bandwidth thing is controlled by Telecom, so they can't. If you're on JetStream Starter, of course, then, yes, your ISP can help you out, and it's probably done so by limiting the amount of international traffic you can download in a month. Such is life, I suppose.

Telecom is keen to get your connection upgraded to broadband -- as I write this it's announced a new campaign to get you to sign up, including free rental for the first two months. It recently announced it had signed up 20,000 JetStream customers around the country as if this was some kind of milestone. Sadly, Telstra is signing up 20,000 customers a month in Australia to its DSL offering.

But far worse than any badgering I get from the telcos or ISPs on this matter is the badgering I get from a certain editor whenever I hand in my phone bill.

"Why do you use so much? Where does it all go? I don't use nearly as much as you do!"

I've tried to point out that simply logging on at home on the weekend to check your email doesn't use quite as much bandwidth as working from home full time, but it doesn't seem to have sunk in.

So it's time, I say, to take control of our broadband connections and put them to good use. The first thing you can do is find out how much you're using and when.

To this end I've downloaded DU Meter and thanks must go to Ross on the DSL mailing list for pointing this out to me. The meter, or "du meter" as I've come to think of it, sits there on your screen quietly monitoring your downloading and uploading as you go. You can set it for either bytes per second or bits per second and there are various reporting tools as well as a handy stopwatch for monitoring downloads. I can see that simply firing up my PC and deleting a bunch of spam, along with checking out a couple of sites and sending half a dozen ICQ messages, has already set me back nearly 4MB. In 30 minutes. Assuming I continue at that rate I'd use around 64MB a day.

But at least I know now what it's all about. I can export reports to a spreadsheet, and while they don't include IP addresses it's a good place to begin. If this kind of tool were integrated into a firewall or intrusion detection system that would be all the better. Because then, should a dispute arise, I'd have something to show the tech guys aside from just complaining bitterly about the cost of my connection. It might also keep the editor off my back.

A 30-day trial of DU Meter can be had here.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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