The Internet! (for Mums)

  • Where does the internet come from?
  • What is wireless, and why do most people get it wrong?
  • Security, Cost, Value - three things Mums need to consider before getting a service for their family

At Compare Broadband, we often find ourselves helping parents find a suitable broadband plan for their family - our own parents, and other people's parents. Usually these requests are prompted by demands from children who understandably need fast, reliable internet connection for their homework, although the ability to play online video games is also usually mentioned as an essential requirement.

But the internet is so much more than Wikipedia and World of Warcraft. So this guide is for Mum. We'll start with the basics and then move onto how you can use the internet to do less of the things you dislike (paying bills) and more of the things you do like (whatever that may be). We've also tried to provide plenty of relevant information in easier-to-understand terms for the non technically inclined; not because Mum is less likely to understand than Dad, but rather because Mum is more likely to have the patience to read it, and less likely to bluff their way through complex things they're not entirely sure of :D

The basics: What is the internet and how does it work?



how does the internet work?

Let’s start with the basics – what the actual words mean, that are used to describe broadband services. You can skip this bit, which gets a bit technical – but we recommend it as a way to understand how this all works. A lot of people don’t really care about how it all works – and that’s perfectly understandable. But with an internet connection becoming so useful and necessary, knowing the basics can help relieve frustration when looking for a new service, or finding out what’s wrong with your current one.

Important point to remember: The Internet is not magic. It’s not worth getting upset and saying “Why is this so hard in 2012?!?”.
That would be like suggesting that we shouldn’t have cracked water pipes anymore, because we now know how to make pipes out of carbon fibre! The fact is, the internet is made up of bits of equipment that date back to the last century (even some bits dating back to the 19th century) and is constantly under stress. It’s still something made by humans, and there are limitations. Making improvements requires the co-operation (and money) of dozens of different agencies, so comparing to other countries and bemoaning the shortfalls is mostly a waste of time.

Internet

The internet is a big tangle of wires connecting each individual home (or mobile tower) back to big junction points. It comes in many layers, and has no fixed starting point (though it has some significant inter-connection points). It really does mimic a superhighway – but it’s made of plastic spaghetti.

Each country has its own internet. This is a mesh of copper wires, fibre optic wires, telephone exchanges, mobile towers and home offices (big buildings where all those cables lead to) and many, many big racks of computers. It’s mostly underground and in the headquarters of big telecommunications firms, which is why it seems invisible and hard to understand.

Each country’s internet terminates at the coast. In Australia, there are a handful of termination points in NSW and WA. They lead back to the US Internet and Asian internet via big submarine cables.  So yes, the internet can definitely be affected by real phenomena – earthquakes, fishing boats – even attacks by sperm whales! But there’s a lot of redundancy in the system.

Eventually, these big links extend to your local telephone exchange. Then the connection travels along your telephone line, and terminates in your home at the Telstra telephone connection point. OR…big links from the telephone exchange travel underground to a mobile tower, which feeds the transmission equipment at the top. That tower sends a data signal to your smartphone or mobile broadband modem via a wireless technology called 3G (or 4G for newer, faster wireless standards).

The point is, you are connected to everyone else on the planet, in a very literal sense. Just like a real highway, with all of its access roads and sidestreets, the internet provides the means to reach everyone else, eventually. It’s all done at light speed, but there can be traffic jams along the way.


The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is a collection of most of the content whizzing around the internet. If the internet is the highway, the Web is the destination.

Most services – websites, email, online video, online games – are hosted on the Web. But some services use the internet directly to reach you. This includes services like Skype (and other voice-over-internet connections), some email services, and some messaging services.

Imagine that the Web is like cities and shopping strips along a highway. To deliver goods and services to you, a company can ship their wares to this city, along the highway. You can then reach that city and buy it from a shop there.

But if that company was bypassing the city, and travelling along the highway directly to you, that would be more like what non-Web based services do.

Broadband

Broadband is not a thing – it’s an adjective. It defines the connection methods from your computer to reach the internet.
Any high speed, dedicated connection to the internet, whether it’s made over a copper line, a fibre line or via 3G mobile wireless connections, is defined as ‘broadband’, to differentiate it from ‘narrowband’ connections - connections made by dialing an access point and transmitting the signal over a low frequency telephone call.

'Broadband' is really an electrical term. Imagine narrowband (or "voiceband") services being made up of about 4000 electrical clicks per second. Broadband services are in the range 1.5 - 100 million electrical clicks per second.

Since Dial-Up is mostly now a thing of the past, so “broadband’ has become a bit meaningless. It’s still used to define ‘high speed’ to many people who were around when Dial-Up was more common.

Each method of connecting to the internet has Pros and Cons.

ADSL/ADSL2+/Naked DSL - Each copper telephone line to every address is made up of two wires inside the cable. The first wire carries the telephone service; the second is a redundant line. All DSL connections use the redundant line for a dedicated, high frequency signal to the internet, leaving the phone service itself untouched.

All DSL connections (including ’Naked DSL’) runs along the copper lead back to a telephone exchange, where it hops on to a high capacity fibre link.

Pro:

  • Just about every home is connected
  • It’s overall pretty cheap; there’s a lot of competition
  • It’s reliable
  • You can get a lot of data for little money


Cons:

  • It relies on an active Telstra line, so you must pay a line rental fee even if you don’t wish to use the phone service
  • It’s a lottery. If you happen to live close to the exchange building (within 2km), then your speed will be fast. If you happen to live in a highly populated area, then it will be cheap. Otherwise…it can be slow and expensive.

 


Cable – Cable internet uses Foxtel or Optus Pay TV connections (only the cable ones, not satellite) to link to a fibre optic link in your neighbourhood.

Pro:

  • It’s capable of much faster speeds than ADSL2+
  • It doesn’t require a landline telephone
  • Lots of data available


Cons:

  • Only Telstra and Optus offer it, so there’s no competition driving down the price
  • Speeds are dependent on how many other people are using cable in your neighbourhood
  • Even though you don’t technically need a landline, Telstra still require that you get a landline as part of the service anyway!
  • It’s only available to about 30% of homes in metropolitan areas, and not available in many units and apartments.

 
Mobile Broadband/3G/4G/Wireless –
Your modem (which can be a USB dongle, or a Pocket Wi-Fi device, or a modem that plugs into mains power) connects via a radio signal to a mobile phone tower. The tower is connected back to the internet with underground fibre optic links.

Pro:

  • Very convenient – just plug and go, can be bought as a pre-paid service
  • Can be used anywhere with a mobile signal
  • Can be very cheap for low-usage customers


Cons:

  • Like any radio connection, can be interrupted by cloud cover, brick walls, too many people on the network
  • Connection can drop out
  • For anything above very light usage, can get very expensive – and most plans top out at around 20GB of data



Fibre-To-The-Home (NBN, Telstra Velocity Fibre, Opticomm, OPENnetworks) – This is the next generation of connections. As you can tell from above, most of the internet beyond your home is linked with fibre-optic glass cables, which uses light signals to transmit data rather than electricity (copper wires) or radio.

Fibre optics provide vastly faster speeds, with less need for power and amplification. All submarine and interstate links are fibre optic. If the internet is like a network of pipes carrying water, fibre optic links are like big, fat pipes. And in fact, bigger links are commonly referred to as ‘fat pipes’. It’s a bit of a joke, because most fibre optic strands are the width of a human hair!

Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) technology brings those fat pipes right up to your door. The reason this wasn’t done in the past is because the copper telephone networks, Pay TV Cable networks and Mobile phone networks were already there, and already capable of carrying what most people needed.

But slowly, the need to bring fibre optic right up to people’s door, because of increasing demand has seen FTTH deployed in a few different places – and will eventually extend to almost every premises.

Telstra Velocity – These are new housing estates (and a handful of existing distribution areas) where Telstra has opted to lay fibre optic to each door, rather than laying copper cable that will just need to be ripped up later. Telstra Velocity Fibre has been rolled out in about 125 newly built estates across the country, and is being rolled out to 2 big existing distribution areas – South Brisbane in Queensland, and Point Cook in Victoria.

Opticomm and OPENetwork – These are estates where Opticomm and OPENetwork have won contracts to build fibre links to each new home, to link back into the general telecommunications grid.

National Broadband Network – This is the federal government’s 10 year rollout of fibre-optic lines to replace Telstra’s copper telephone network. It is currently in the first stage of its build, which involves laying the ‘transit network’, the big links between cities and states. As such, only a handful of areas around the country have been connected. Once the transit links are built, it is expected that individual homes will rapidly connect.

Telstra Velocity, Telstra Cable, Optus Cable, Opticomm Fibre and OPENetwork fibre will all be incorporated into the NBN over time.

If you are currently on ADSL or Cable, you will eventually be migrated to the NBN. As each neighbourhood is connected, Telstra and NBNco will run copper and fibre lines to each home for 18 months, after which the copper will be extracted from the underground tunnels.

For about 7% of the Australian landscape that is just too remote to reach, The NBN will use a mobile network that connects to roof mounted antennas, to lead into the home. This will be similar to current mobile broadband connections, but designed for stability. A small proportion will also use a satellite service, using two satellites being built for launch in 2015, specifically tailored for internet use (the current satellite service uses satellites used for Pay TV and other purposes).

Pro:

  • Vastly faster speeds to each home, with the same speeds available regardless of location
  • All retail providers will be required to service all areas – so what’s advertised should be available
  • Will eliminate most “infrastructure competition”, which can be good for innovation but has mostly resulted in confusion for individuals
  • Will eliminate areas where Telstra has a monopoly control


Cons:

  • Will take a long time to build, and will require at least partial funding from the taxpayer (About 50% of the costs are being paid for from the budget, and the other 50% being funded by bonds)
  • Might be interrupted by politics; the Liberal-National coalition has remained opposed to the scale of the rollout and may replace it with an alternative solution.


The internet, and the means by which we connect to it, shares many features in common with other large national infrastructure - like the telephone grid, power grid, the natural gas network, the water system and the sewage system. And indeed, it works in similar fashion. It is essentially a mixed system of light, electrical and radio signals transmitted across a variety of means. The future is in eliminating parts of the network that are unfit for current and future demand, and upgrading to a smoother and more unified network delivering the same benefits to all households, shops and offices.


A note about Wireless

Many people want ‘wireless’ internet, but it’s important to know what context you’re using when saying ‘wireless’. You could mean Mobile Broadband – which is when the modem itself connects to the internet over a long range radio signal. Or you could mean a wireless link between your computer and your modem – but the modem itself is connected via ADSL, Fibre or Cable. This is more correctly designated as Wi-Fi.

As stated previously, the value difference in fixed-line broadband and mobile broadband is vastly in favour of fixed-line broadband. The only need for mobile broadband, in comparison, is if you need to use it in several places, or when fixed-line is unavailable. You may not want or need ‘wireless’ internet – you may just want a wireless connection to your fixed-line modem.

So which broadband plan should I go for?

internet cost

As you may have gathered from our list of pros and cons, there is no 'best' internet plan to suit everyone. You need to carefully consider what you are going to use the internet for and then pick the type of internet and plan that best suits your own unique situation.

Unfortunately, broadband is a lottery in Australia. Even if you have decided the best type of broadband for your family is cable, for example, there is no guarantee this service is available at your home.

Ultimately, we usually recommend families go for an ADSL2+ bundle plan, if available in their area. It's not as fast as cable, but it is more economical and certainly more flexible. Chances are if you have an idea of how much data you need, how fast you need it to be and how much you want to pay, there is an ADSL2+ plan to suit you.

If you're still not sure, you can call us on 1300 106 571.

What's in it for me? Why do we need a connection to the internet at all?

There is far more to the internet than can ever be covered in one guide. But we'll focus on some of the more useful applications and recommend a few websites we like.

We get requests from parents every day searching for an internet connection suitable for their family's very different needs. We've taken a selection of some of these requests to illustrate how families can choose the best broadband plan without too many headaches

 

CASE STUDIES

The Andersons – What do they use the internet for?

The Andersons live in Frenchs Forest, NSW. Kerrie, aged 48, uses the internet to keep up with friends on Facebook, for e-mail, and to do some part time work for a marketing company, which requires logging on to a website and completing a series of questionnaires. She uses an iPhone and the desktop PC in the study. Neither she nor anyone else in the house uses a landline telephone.

Mel, aged 51, is a tradesman. He uses the internet to hunt for good deals on tools, and watches online videos (on a dedicated YouTube channel) on home repairs and general maintenance techniques. He uses the desktop computer in the study, and likes to print out fact sheets on different equipment. He doesn’t use an internet-capable phone.

Elle, aged 22, is at Uni studying Commerce. She has the option to stream lectures over the internet. Most administration is done on her Uni’s web portal. She has an iPad, iPhone and her own laptop.

Paul, aged 20, is working as an apprentice tradesman. Apart from using the internet for the same reasons as his dad, he’s also an avid Xbox gamer and likes to watch TV on his desktop PC in his room. He has a Samsung smartphone.

What would they do more of?

Kerrie handles a lot of the general household ‘admin’ as well – she does a lot of the shopping, bill paying and cooking, while the kids do most of the cleaning and general chores. Mel handles all repairs. They have a white board to help keep track of things, but no-one uses it. Everyone uses a different computer, so it’s hard to keep a schedule that everyone can access.

There’s ALWAYS a big pile of paperwork that has to be attended to – tax returns, lodgement forms for Elle’s Austudy, etc.

Which connection should they go for?

The Andersons don’t think of themselves as a tech-heavy family, but their usage is actually quite extensive. Even without Paul’s heavy duty downloading and gaming, the rest of their usage requires a steady, reliable connection with plenty of data to feed their usage. Mobile Broadband (which Kerrie refers to as ‘wireless’) is not suited to the task, no matter how fast it is – maintaining a mobile signal over so many connections would be frustrating, and there would not be enough data to go around.

The Andersons don’t use a landline phone, and don’t want to have one installed. What they’re overlooking is that the ‘line’ is already installed – there’s still a phone line being fed into the house, terminating at a Telstra connection point. All that would need to be done is actually activating that line for service. There are ways to reduce your bills if the line is only needed for an internet connection, and not for landline phone use.

Kerrie hunts around on the internet, and comes across three companies that provide services in her price range – TPG, iPrimus and Telstra.

She calls each company, and finds it all very confusing. TPG will only sell her ADSL2+, which needs a phone line. They have short contracts and cheap monthly prices, but they want a lot of money up front and they don’t provide a modem (Kerrie already has a modem from years ago, but doesn’t realise it’s a modem. She just calls it ‘the internet box’).  They want to charge her $30 a month for Unlimited Data, and $30 for the landline rental, for a total bundle of $60.

iPrimus has good plans, with free hardware and free connections, but require long contracts. They’re also offering ADSL2+, which needs a landline. They’re charging $70 a month for a bundled home phone and 100GB of data.

Telstra is offering her ADSL2+, Cable or 4G Wireless. The 4G Wireless sounds great – no landline needed, up to 8GB of data, and a free modem that provides a signal around the house that everyone can use! Cable is too expensive and would require drilling a new connection point in her home, and ADSL2+ needs a phone line. Also, she can get online with the 4G Wireless modem in just 2 days, whereas all the other options would need 2 weeks to install! The 4G wireless connection costs only $50 a month, and is even cheaper if she bundles in Foxtel and her mobile phone with Telstra!

Kerrie wants to go with 4G Wireless – fewer messy cables, easier and quicker to install.

Kerrie is not going to be happy.

 The best option for Kerrie, in this instance, would probably have been TPG. She’s annoyed at all the upfront costs and the need for a landline, but she’s overlooking a lot of things:

  • The upfront costs are steep ($120 for connection, and $110 for a modem), but she might already have appropriate hardware for the job. And the monthly savings will pay back that connection fee inside a few months
  • The TPG connection provides a very basic phone line as a necessity- Kerrie thinks it’s unfair that she has to pay for a service she doesn’t use. But that’s not the equation. She pays line rental for the use of the line, which she would be using to provide a broadband connection. The home phone service is included – but she’s not obliged to use it
  • The TPG plan provides Unlimited Data, on a direct feed into her home. She doesn’t have to worry about checking data, going over her limit, and paying extra.


The 4G Wireless modem that ‘provides a signal around the house for everyone to use’  is using a technology called Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is a short-range wireless connection between a modem and your computer/s, and there are ADSL2+ modems that have this function as well. She could have an ADSL2+ Wi-Fi modem/router that plugs in at the telephone connection point, and then connects to each computer, smartphone and tablet, wirelessly.

TPGs tell Kerrie her ADSL2+ connection would be about 10Mbps. But the 4G Wireless connection could be as fast as 50Mbps! Unfortunately, the two are not quite equal. The ADSL2+ connection will be 10Mbps all the time. The 4G Wireless connection will be slowed down considerably by bad weather, too many people on the network, and other factors. And what’s the point of a super fast connection, if you only have 8GB to use it with? 10Mbps is also very fast – twice as fast as the Australian average speed (4.9Mbps) and fast enough for everything her family is doing – even Paul’s gaming and downloading.

The iPrimus deal is good as well, but is more expensive for less data – it includes better rates on phone calls, but this isn’t what Kerrie is looking for. She wants more value tilted towards her internet plan.

How a good internet connection can make Kerrie's life easier

Kerrie could use some help with household admin, shopping and bills, so we have a few tips for her. Many organisations encourage customers to use the internet as much as possible, as it cuts down on their costs. It has now reached the point where some companies are charging more for a paper bill where customers refuse to switch to email.

Government services are going the same way. Tax returns have been available online for a few years now, and the national census was available online for the first time in 2006.

Using internet banking and online services avoids call centres and giving up your lunch hour to visit the bank. It also enables you to make your transactions at times that suit you.

Shopping

Coles and Woolworths offer online shopping in two ways. For a fee, you can order your food online and have it delivered to your home during a 3-hour time slot of your choosing. Both supermarkets promise you can trust staff to pick the freshest fruit and veg and the products with the longest expiry dates.

If you are housebound with a sick child, don't have a car or simply don't want to spend precious time shopping, this is great service for a small fee.

The alternative is to 'click and collect'. Make your shopping list online at home, pay, then visit the store later in the day and a shop assistant will load up your car with your groceries (which have been stored in a fridge or freezer). This service is free and your shopping list is stored online, so if you tend to buy the same groceries every week this is guaranteed to save you a lot of time. This useful service is not available at every store, however.

IGA does not yet, but IGA in other countries have strong online shopping systems, so there’s some hope that it will be coming soon in Australia.

Big Box items (whitegoods, electronics, TVs) are popular items for online purchases – with delivery and installation often included free of charge.
GetPrice.com.au is a popular price comparison site, with links to retailers. Kogan.com.au is an Australian site for good electronics at cheap prices. Mobicity.com.au sells smartphones at cheap outright prices. Oo.com.au carries a wide variety of items, from electronics to beds.

More than actually purchasing items online, the internet is an invaluable resource for direct customer reviews on specific items. Amazon, Choice.com.au, and of course sites like Compare Broadband and Compare Mobile Plans for services.

Banking and Government

The ATO has a comprehensive and free e-Tax solution, that will help you complete your tax return in under 60 minutes, with step by step instructions.

The Government has launched a new website bringing several online services together into one place. The website is simple to use and provides information on benefits and calculators for working out what you are entitled to claim. All Centrelink forms can be completed online, including Austudy claims.

Local councils have their own websites, where you can pay bills and fines, look up information about planning permits, find out when your recycling will be collected and discover when local events are taking place.

Australian Taxation Office (ATO)  Tax returns can be filled in and lodged online, provided you have a PC (there is no free software for Mac users yet). You can also use the calculators, get help with your tax and make a payment or get a refund.

Online banking

All banks have strong online presences, from websites to apps, with Commonwealth Bank taking a particularly strong interest.

Most banks have an online banking option. There are many advantages to online banking and it is easy to set up. You can pay bills through BPay, check all your account balances in real time, transfer money to other accounts, check your transactions over the last month and generally keep an eye on your money.

If you have security concerns, there are a few ways to ensure your money is safe.

  • Never use a public computer for online banking
  • Never write down your password
  • Use a strong password with numbers and letters, which is not easily guessed
  • Regularly check your transaction history and contact your bank immediately if you see any debits you did not authorise.


Fraud does happen, whether you bank online or in a branch. Your bank will refund money that was taken without your authorisation, provided you weren't negligent with your PIN or password. Your best defence is to regularly check your account for suspicious transactions, which is easy to do over online banking.

Calendars and document sharing

Everyone in the Anderson houses uses different devices, but all of them can access Google Docs and Dropbox. If everyone signs up for a free Google account, then Kerrie can use the Calendar function on Google.com to set a reminder for everyone on chores for that week- that might include daily reminders for medication, pet feeds – really anything. The tools are there – it just takes a little time to get them working for you. Google alerts can be set on computers, tablets and smartphones to pop up and remind users of a task that needs carrying out.

Dropbox is a free online cloud service that works across multiple devices. Each computer can have a separate Dropbox ‘folder’ installed on the desktop, which looks like any other folder. When you drop a document in there, it uploads to Dropbox for access anywhere else- protected by a password, of course. If Kerrie sets up Dropbox, then she can drop in Mel’s work documentation (tradesmen need all sorts of safety paperwork at all times), invoices and other bits and pieces that Mel can bring up at any computer, via Dropbox.com.

All of this will be better served by an ADSL2+ connection that provides fast, stable, unlimited service.

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James and Prasana – What do they use the internet for?

James and Prasana are both 25, and have moved together to coastal NSW. James works for a mining company; Prasana works retail. They don’t use the internet for too much – they use their phones for text and email, and just have the one laptop at home. They have a 2 month old baby girl named Jasmine, and a good variety of TV would be handy for late night feeds!

James mainly wants to use an internet connection to get TV content over the internet – Foxtel is unavailable via cable and their landlord doesn’t want a satellite dish installed. Prasana likes to download music, but otherwise doesn’t do much with an internet connection.

Prasana is determined to breastfeed baby Jasmine, but it’s difficult being so far away from her mum. She’s relying on The Australian Breastfeeding Association and her local maternal health nurse to help see her through. She can register for these services via Breastfeeding Society and Easy Childhood Victoria

Which connection to get

James called around to see what connections were available in his area, and found out most of the cheap advertised deals he saw on TV were not available to him. He was told he was in a ‘Telstra Wholesale only” area, and the costs for a connection were very expensive.

They tried a mobile broadband connection through Dodo, which was fine for everything they used- but no-one could offer an online TV connection over it. They downloaded a movie from iTunes, and it used 50% of their data for the month!

James and Prasana eventually worked out that they would need to bite the bullet and get one of these expensive ADSL2+ connections. They found 3 different options.

BigPond – BigPond offered an ADSL2+ plan with only 5GB of data, but James could get a T-Box Pay TV service that ran over the connection- without touching that 5GB. He found it a bit confusing – T-Box content was all unmetered (so it wouldn’t come out of his 5GB a month), but if he accessed YouTube through T-Box, that WAS metered. He also had to pay for line rental, which he understood was a necessity, for at least $22.95 a month (Homeline Budget).

The T-Box service looked very promising, offering a full pay TV suite for as little as $34.45 a month, paying for a basic channels package and rental for the set top box.

All up, the BigPond option would cost James and Prasana $107.40 per month. The Telstra representative instead suggested a T-Bundle at $105, which included 200GB of data – more than he’d ever use!

Club Telco – James was a little wary about BigPond’s bundles, knowing that cheaper prices were only conditional on keeping everything together.  He saw that Club Telco offered Unlimited Data for just $25 a month, by comparison!

That wasn’t the case in his regional area. Instead, Club Telco could only offer Unlimited Data for $60. That was still an awful lot of security for that price.

He would still have to keep costs down by getting Telstra to connect the actual line, for $22.95 a month.

He then saw that Optus would sell him a MeTV package starting from $10 a month - $25 for a more comprehensive package. All of the TV content would be metered against his data plan, but because he was on an Unlimited Plan with Club Telco, that didn’t worry him.

Splitting his phone, internet and Pay TV across three different providers seemed complicated to James, and would cost him almost exactly the same as with Telstra - $107.90 a month. But he was on no contracts and had much more data to play with.

James would be better off getting the mixed package deal

Having one bill take care of everything was certainly attractive, but James and Prasana wanted to avoid a 24 month contract on everything. They realized that a bundle became very expensive if you took one of the services away – you didn’t have the flexibility of dropping a service when times were tough.

Club Telco offered a service that was low-commitment, with a $50 yearly membership fee in place of a contract.

The Telstra homeline connection was on a three-month contract.

The Optus MeTV did require a 24-month commitment, but offered similar content at a lower price than the T-Box.

Some of the content James wanted to get came from other sources- like ABC iView, iTunes, Quickflix and YouTube. The unlimited Data meant he didn’t have to worry about any overuse fees, and still get the ease of a general TV service over his internet connection.

 

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Catherine – What does she use the internet for?

Catherine is a single mother living in a unit in North Melbourne, Vic. She doesn't need much data as she is not too bothered about downloading movies or music. She mostly uses the internet to stay in touch with friends and family, and for research on parenting topics. Catherine would like to get more involved in parenting forums, social networks and learn more about photography, her hobby (when she can get time).

Which connection should Catherine sign up for?


Catherine initially went for a mobile broadband plan because she is a light user and never uses the landline. However, the service only works in certain rooms and sometimes she can't get a signal at all, so Catherine started looking for something more reliable yet still cheap.

An ADSL2+ connection will be best for Catherine, especially as she lives within 1 kilometre of the telephone exchange. In order to get ADSL2+, she will need an active phone line, regardless of whether she uses it for calls or not.

If Catherine bundles both the landline service and a broadband plan together, she will be entitled to a discount on the internet plan from most providers.

A good plan for Catherine would be TPG's 20GB ADSL2+ plan (split into 10GB in the peak times and 10GB in the off peak periods) for $39.99 a month, including the landline.

There is no chance of Catherine going over her limit and being charged extra. If she uses all her data for the month before the next billing date, here connection is slowed down instead. If this happens a lot, she can always upgrade to the next plan, which includes 100GB for an extra $10 a month (again, split 50GB peak and 50GB off peak).

There is a set-up fee of $99.95 on the six-month contract for this plan or $79.95 on the 18-month contract. Plus, Catherine will need to buy an ADSL2+ modem.

Once her broadband plan is up and running (usually this takes around 2 weeks), Catherine can make the most of her high-speed internet connection.

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Communities on the internet

The internet has become the mediator of our social lives. Sharing our news and thoughts on social networks brings us closer to friends we're too busy to see, while forums and online communities bring people with common interests together.

Critics of digital interactions point out that socialising from behind a computer screen can never be a replacement for face-to-face meetings in the real world. But online socialising will never replace daily interactions. Communications shift seamlessly from online to offline and the present generation who have grown up online understand this intuitively.

Joining an online forum or group is an easy way to stay connected to other people who have the same interests, views or problems. Contributing to a discussion, asking for advice or offering your own expertise on a topic is usually simply a matter of registering with a website and choosing a username. Often forums and groups arrange real-world meetings, so joining an online group can be a way to meet real-world friends.

Online etiquette is the same as anywhere: politeness and respect are essential qualities, not always held by everyone involved. However, most forums and groups are moderated. Moderators are people who have the power to remove offensive comments and ban rule-breakers from the website. Forums have rules on what is deemed offensive and of course, illegal or defamatory posts can get users into a lot of trouble.

Parenting groups are a good place to start if you are new to online communities. Most parenting websites are quite mum-centric but Dads can get involved too. If you are looking for something different, you can try searching Google by selecting 'More' on the left-hand search panel, then 'Discussions'. The search engine will then search forums for your keyword.

Top five parenting communities

-    Essential Baby  This Fairfax Media parenting forum also features blogs and guides for parents, covering conception to handling teenagers. It's a good place to hear stories and get advice from other parents on a whole host of topics. You don't need to register to read posts but if you want to contribute, you will need to create your own profile. It's a good idea to have a look at the FAQs before joining the conversation, as you will find the rules and some of the most common abbreviations.


-    Raising Children Network  This forum is run by a group of early childhood organisations, including the Australian Government. Advice on here is based on scientific research and Government recommendation, so it's more suited for research than entertainment. The forum focuses on connecting parents looking for support from each other, so there are areas for single parents, adoptive parents, same-sex parents and everything in between.


-    Natural Parenting  As the name suggests, this forum focuses on all things natural, organic and alternative. It is a good resource for parents looking for tips and advice on natural parenting styles but there are other topics of conversation too.


-    BubHub is a parenting resource founded by Brad and Hilary Lauder, who set up the website after struggling to find information when they became parents themselves in 2002. This site has a range of forums to post on. There are also blogs, articles, guides and product reviews to browse.


-    Kidspotis another parenting website that started life as a directory and has since grown to include blogs and a forum. Again, there are plenty of topics to choose from, including one for non-child related chats.

Taking your interests online

Creative types have found their natural home online, as a place to share, learn and even make money from their hobbies.

Scrapbooking

Pinterest is a relatively new social network, which takes the popular art of scrapbooking online. Users upload images from the web or from their own collection on a variety of themes, which other users can browse. This website has become very popular with people looking for inspiration in decorating their homes, planning a wedding or simply enjoying beautiful design and photography.

Craft

Etsy is an online crafts market where you can sell your own creations, find inspiration or buy a unique, homemade piece of art.

Reading

Readers have taken to eBooks as a convenient and cheap way to access millions of titles. Bibliophiles with groaning bookshelves and limited space will appreciate the advantages of a single device capable of storing over 1,000 books, but there are other advantages to an eReader. For example, out-of-copyright classics such as Pride and Prejudice are free and many other titles can be borrowed from libraries. Many books can also be loaned for 14 days (so you are guaranteed to get your book back!). Subscriptions to magazines and newspapers are also possible over some eReader devices.

Collecting


eBay is the ultimate website for collectors. Buying and selling on eBay is relatively straightforward: you will need to register with the site and set up a PayPal account for payments (using PayPal gives you some protection against fraud). When buying, try to buy from sellers with plenty of positive feedback. When selling, make sure you insist on PayPal and on using registered post, so there is less chance of someone claiming they did not receive the item and claiming a refund. eBay itself has some good guides on how to use the site and how to avoid scams.

Photography

If you have a digital camera, you probably have hundreds of photographs stored on your computer. Hopefully you have them backed up in another location but to prevent their loss in flood or fire, it's recommended you store your images online (cloud storage) as well. Some good, free places to store digital photo albums include Dropbox, Google Picassa and Microsoft's Skydrive.

These are also useful for sharing albums with friends and family. Through Dropbox, you can share a folder with people by inviting them via an email address. It's much simpler than attempting to send large files over email.

If you want to share your photos with the world, Instagram and Pinterest are the best image-based social networking sites. You could also set up your own photography blog through WordPress or Google Sites.

General tips – Security


An internet connection opens up a lot of questions about security.
You’ve essentially opened up a port on your computer for information to flow in and out of – and there are a lot of people out there who know how to exploit that. Fears are increased with the use of Wi-Fi routers, which distributes and internet connection around your home, to a range that neighbours can also get in on (protected only by a password). Here are some general tips.

 
Browser

A Web Browser looks like a simple little window to the internet, but it’s actually a fiendishly complicated program. Most people run a Windows PC, and most people stick with the default ‘Internet Explorer’ (IE) for web browsing.

The problem is that IE is so common, and used so much by non tech-savvy people, that hackers and exploiters specifically target it. IE version 6 is so heavily compromised at this point, that Microsoft no longer even support it.

Newer versions of IE are better, but suffer from the other problem – Browsers actually use a LOT of your computer’s resources. Many people see their web pages loading slowly, and figure their ISP is cheating them – not always the case. Sometimes you may have too many tabs open, or are running too many other programs in the background, and the browser is getting stuck trying to ‘resolve’ the page.

Google’s Chrome browser aims to solve both these issues, by providing a very secure and very light-weight browser.  Download Google Chrome

Mozilla’s Firefox browser is the oldest of the big IE competitors, and still offers some very nice tricks to make things run more smoothly. Many people use it as their default browser.  Download Mozilla Firefox

Opera is a very different sort of browsing experience – it aims to download most of the page in a low-resolution format, and then upgrade it – this has the net effect of feeling faster to someone waiting for their favourite website to load! Download Opera

Apple’s Safari is, like most things Apple, best suited to running on a Mac – but the windows version offers very tight security. It is, however, a bit resource hungry. Download Safari for Windows

Web based email

Many people are used to using a separate e-mail program that downloads their messages to their computer, through a program like Microsoft Outlook. People often use this with their ISP provided email address.

The problem with using an ISP provided address is that it locks you in with that provider – you can’t port an email address the way you can a mobile number, from network to network.

An easy solution is to use a web-based email service, accessed via your browser. Google’s Gmail is the most popular, with Microsoft Hotmail close behind. Yahoo Mail and Live.com mail (also Microsoft) are also popular.

The main advantage is that these web based email services are even better than your ISP at blocking SPAM email, and that you never have to change your address – it stays accessible regardless of how you connect to the internet. Outlook can be configured to work with most web-based email services too, if that’s what you’re used to using.

Switch to GMail Easily

Set up Outlook.com

Yahoo 7 Mail Sign up

Already have an Apple ID? Click here for iCloud


SPAM email

There’s not much to say about junk and scam email that hasn’t been said before. But the rule is pretty simple – if you don’t recognize the sender, dump it. Never open an attachment you weren’t expecting . Trust us – nothing unexpected could be good enough to make up for the risk of a virus that turns your PC into a cyber-red light district.

Anything from a lottery, Nigerian prince, Ukrainian gold company or any other hard-to-trace foreign sovereign promising money? Move straight to ‘Deleted’.

Phishing

phishing scam

Many emails are made up to look like official correspondence from your bank, or from Facebook, or even from Gmail. They will ask you to click on a link and add in our customer number or password. These are called ‘Phishing” scams, because they’re fishing for gullible people to put their sensitive data into a website, where it can be collected and used to access that person’s accounts.

***Remember: Your bank will never send you anything asking for your details.***

Always look at the e-mail address of the person sending you the email – does it look official? Even if it kinda does…no service anywhere will send you a request like this. Dump it in the trash!

And finally…

How much data do I need?

how much data do i need

 

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