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In spite of your provider's malevolence

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For about a year The Register's Washington bureau has been one among many frustrated Verizon DSL subscribers. It wasn't our first choice (having already been a profoundly dissatisfied Verizon mobile phone subscriber) but they were the only provider we could get at our location. From day one we had problems, most of which resiliently defied our efforts to correct -- and our loathing for Verizon grew with each passing week.

Our "always-on" connection frequently tanked, requiring us to reconnect on a regular schedule. And even while it was up, after a brief time it would inevitably hang for up to three minutes in a suspended state which we, and the notoriously-inept Verizon technical support team, were at a loss to explain. This infuriating semi-outage would occur, on average, four times an hour.

More often than not, our Web-surfing was barely better than that to which our 56K modem had accustomed us. While we did notice an improvement in our download rates, we never enjoyed anything like the increase we'd been led to expect.

If this sounds familiar to you, read on. We've finally got the sucker to perform according to our initial expectations, no thanks to Verizon.

NukePoET

The single worst element of Verizon's DSL package is their irredeemably lousy PPPoE (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet) software -- in our case, WinPoET by Wind River Systems. This positively virological piece of coding garbage accounted for the lion's share of what was wrong with our service.

For one thing, WinPoET requires VPN (Virtual Private Networking) support, which has to be set up before the actual PPPoE bugware can be installed.

As soon as we got WinPoET set up according to directions, we found that our overall PC performance suffered spectacularly. Big applications took up to three times as long to load as they had previously done; and 3D game performance was significantly degraded, as if we'd dropped our processor speed and HD throughput by half and removed about half of our system and video RAM.

It took us a day or two of continual tweaking to get that sorted out. The answer, we discovered, was to clean-install Windows and include VPN support during a custom installation. Otherwise, our system performance was crippled by WinPoET whenever VPN support was installed over an existing Windows configuration, regardless of the order in which we set up our networking protocols and installed Wind River's PPPoE bugware.

Having thus got our machine working normally again, it remained to get our "ultrafast" DSL connection to do its thing according to the glowing enticements of Verizon's advertising spiel. This turned out to be a black art which we would never fully master -- we tweaked; we tinkered; we pored over our boot-logs and tweaked again. We never enjoyed more than a minor improvement.

Salvation came only when we nuked WinPoET and installed a freeware PPPoE package called RasPPPoE by Robert Schlabbach, which does not require VPN support.

So, steps one and two of DSL-Hell recovery are to get RasPPPoE, and then to detoxify your system. For that, you can download and run NukePoET, and then chuck all the networking protocols you enabled to support WinPoET and which you don't need for other applications.

Now reboot, relax, and install RasPPPoE. (Win98-SE users get a bonus step: they need to install a patch for one of their NDIS [Network Driver Interface Specification] drivers after installing RasPPPoE but before configuring/activating it.)

All right, exhale. You're about to get what you paid for. Finally.

Recovery

RasPPPoE either solved or mitigated every problem we'd been living with grudgingly since we first started indulging our foolish broadband dreams to Verizon's considerable profit and our everlasting disappointment. We immediately noticed that Web pages loaded faster, while download rates increased dramatically.

We then eliminated the maddening hang-time problem by taking Schlabbach's advice and assigning ourselves a static IP (instructions in the RasPPPoE readme file). This step prevents Windows from halting the network adapter periodically to acquire an IP, a routine which also causes Windows to take much longer than normal to boot. We had grown sick of both phenomena.

Many DSL providers discourage their subscribers from having a permanent IP because that makes it difficult for them to balance network loads, and easy for subscribers to run FTP servers off their own boxes. Thus in the name of provider convenience, subscribers are forced to endure grossly sub-standard service without apology.

But Verizon's convenience is the least of our concerns. We used a non-routable IP address (e.g., 192.168.0.1) and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. Thus far we've got no complaints. The hang-time problem is gone.

With that much accomplished, we added a few subtle adjustments recommended by SpeedGuide.net, in the cable modems/DSL 'registry tweaks' section. These afforded us a modest further improvement, certainly worth having but hardly as dramatic as what we got from RasPPPoE.

The end result for us is a broadband connection which for the first time behaves like a broadband connection. It isn't perfect -- it does slow down when Verizon's pipes are most in demand, and it certainly can't overcome deficiencies in the servers one contacts or the frequent outages in Verizon's user-authentication service; but it works pretty reliably now, and it's pretty fast.

And this is all we ever sought from Verizon's DSL service in the first place: a pretty-reliable, pretty-fast connection. It's a pity they chose to withhold it from us, but at least, thanks to RasPPPoE, we've been able to get one in spite of the bastards. ®

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