My Review Of SpitwSpots Internet, A WISP In Fairbanks, Alaska

In just the last few years, we’ve had two brand new internet service providers that were able to provide service to our homestead.

This is a vast change from where we were at just years ago, where I had to hack cellular networks just to get something remotely close to “real” internet.

We now have our second “real” ISP at our homestead, SpitwSpots.  This is a company based out of Homer, Alaska that has been rapidly expanding across internet deprived areas in Alaska.

This is my in depth, personal review of SpitwSpot’s network, customer experience and my general opinion of their internet experience.

TL;DR SpitwSpots Review

Lots of detail in this review, but if you’re short on time, here’s what I’d say in brevity:

The Good?

  • 24/7 support provided, friendly techs
  • Full installation support
  • Local to Alaska peering

The Bad?

  • Remotely supported from Homer, AK (issues not resolved quickly)
  • Company culture not familiar with very cold conditions (Fairbanks market is a severe learning curve for the company)
  • Have not been able to achieve package speeds, cannot deliver advertised packages (network is oversubscribed)
  • Severe network issues due to over-expansion and poor planning
  • No public or private outage/issue reporting system (i.e. no place you can go to see if they’re having issues, you have to call them)
  • High pressure sales tactics used in pre-sales process
  • Contract driven services (don’t sign a contract with them!)

Ultimately, my poor customer experience resulted in me having to fire the company.  I don’t do that lightly, especially when I truly want the company to be successful!

If you’re interested in my full review, with much more detail, read on!

The Overall Process Took A Long Time

I knew about SpitwSpot’s expansion into Fairbanks in early 2021.  My awareness of their expansion occurred when they filed for their FCC permits and also for their colocation permits on various cellular towers throughout town.

The original “plan” had them fully installed and able to provide services in 2022.  As I’m writing this in 2023, their original plan is still not complete.

I had them out in late 2022 to do a site survey, where it was discovered their current installation was unable to provide services.  They were behind schedule and hadn’t been able to get things going as quickly as they had hoped.

This is what the antenna looked like once it was finally installed.  They had to use a large mount and high powered antenna to make it work.

They called me quite a few times after the initial failed survey, as supposedly things had changed.  They could not explain to me, at the time, what had changed.

The truth was, though, I had seven feet of snow on my roof and there was no way I was going to clear it to get an installer up there.

Not to mention, no one in Fairbanks wants roof work done during the winter.  Whether it’s adhesives or sealants, these things don’t work the same in cold temperatures.

Once the thaw happened, I had them schedule another survey.  This time, they were supposedly able to provide services via their Nordale tower.

So, I decided to proceed as their plans were theoretically better than my current WISP.  More about that later, I don’t have the greatest things to say….

Network Is Heavily Oversubscribed

I’ve now had some time to work with the SpitwSpots network.  It’s not nearly as good as they advertise and honestly, it’s even quite disappointing.

I’m subscribed to the 75mbit/sec plan.  They do say, according to their “open network policies” that I can expect 45-75mbit on the download side of things.  At least 15mbps on the upload.

That should work for me!

The problem was, I didn’t get that almost all of the time.

Almost all of the time, I could rarely exceed 15 to 30 mbps.  I was paying for a premium plan  and receiving a much worse experience.

Worse, during peak hours, the service was really, really bad.  I’ve had speed tests go into the kilobits per second range.  We’re talking barely above modem speeds.

All too often, the service would dip down into single megabits and performance is absolutely terrible.  Latency goes through the roof during these times and I often had to failover to my backup internet connection.

Then there’s the packet loss.  Wireless networks are inherently lossy, but when you’re losing 50% of your packets during your busy times, you’ve got serious network problems that needed to be addressed yesterday!

This was pretty much a daily pattern.  During “heavy use” times, the packet loss was so bad that the network was almost unusable.

For the final seven weeks (almost TWO MONTHS!) that I had the service, the packet loss was really, really bad, almost to the point of being unusable.

Videos would buffer, web pages would stall out, downloads would get corrupted, sessions would cut out, VPN’s would drop and a myriad of other troubles.

I would get regular complaints from my family about “why is the internet so bad?”  More than a few times, important meetings were disrupted and frustrations came to a boiling point.

This was an example of the loss measured over the network.  The top two pings were to my local tower’s routers, the bottom two (where loss was heavy) was SpitwSpot’s backhaul network.  It was really, really bad and very noticeable.

I had pursued their support for months about these problems, literally since day one of my service, to figure out why I can’t get anything close to the rated speeds as well as the frequent outages I was seeing.

I didn’t let them in on the fact that I had all ready studied their network and knew where their problems were.  Their problems come down to three major issues:

  • They put too many customers on their tower’s radios
  • Their backhaul networks are severely oversubscribed
  • Their internet peering is also oversubscribed

Well, it took three months of aggressively pursuing support, but I finally got them to admit what I all ready knew.

Basically, they’ve admitted that their network is oversubscribed.  They’ve taken on too many customers and don’t have the resources to provide the plans they offer.

Worse, there appeared to be no estimated time or plan to fix it.

At no point was I ever offered credit, reduced rates or any kind of concession for this inability to deliver the services I was paying full price for.

The other big problem with this is, as they add customers, the problems are just going to get worse and worse.

Given that they’re still aggressively advertising their services, they appear to be completely fine with being another in the long line of terrible Alaskan based ISP’s.

There appears to be little effort placed into capacity planning or even trying to mitigate the issues by slowing down expansion.

Don’t Sign A Contract With SpitwSpots

If there’s one piece of advice I can give about SpitwSpots, it’s to not sign a 2 year contract with them.

They have two installation options.  One is a $199 fee, then you go month to month.  The second is a free install with a two year required contract.

If you look at SpitwSpot’s Facebook page reviews, they seriously enforce that contract.

I even read a poor woman’s testament that her husband had signed a contract and ended up dying shortly thereafter.  She was forced to move with little money and even that didn’t hit a soft spot with them.  They financially penalized her in a time of great loss.  A contract is a contract in their book, no exceptions.

Uggh.  Things like this piss me off.  Debt and contacts technically die with the person.  Holding someone else accountable for it, through what amounts to bullying, is a highly questionable practice and is also not legal.

That’s a piss poor attitude towards customers, people and society in general.  The attitude clearly reflects in their network policies, too.

I had the wisdom (and money) to do the $199 install.  I’d recommend that for anyone who wants to work with them.

Given that their network is not what they say it is, I’m extremely glad that I didn’t sign a contract with them.  As I mentioned earlier in my review, I ended up firing them after only three months of service.  More on that later…

Had I signed a contract, I would have been forced to pay a hefty cancellation fee or fork over nearly $4,000 over a period of two years for what was demonstrably inferior service.

SpitwSpots Is Not Content Neutral

One of the things I can fairly confidently say is that SpitwSpots is not a content neutral, or an “open internet” based provider.

If you’re familiar with the network neutrality discourse, this might be familiar to you.  It’s the matter of whether providers do or don’t favor particular services, providers or types of traffic.

Although I can’t really prove any of this, as I’m not familiar with the equipment stacks SpitwSpots might have installed or how it’s configured, it was rather evident that this technology was in use and was configured to heavily interfere with the customer’s use of their network.

I have collected a lot of evidence that they slow certain types of communications down.

If you read their “open internet” policy disclosure, you’ll find they very much thread the needle on this one.  Basically, saying they are and aren’t content neutral at the same time.

Even when I had “good service” levels, certain types of traffic were unable to use the full amount of bandwidth available.

I was able to experiment with a number of different network protocols on their network and can confidently say that some were nerfed, whereas others were not.

I could even demonstrate that popular speed test servers were permitted to use the full bandwidth.  But once you go off the “popular” speed test server radar, you can demonstrate a notable difference.  This indicates provider favoritism, likely so you’re unable to complain about “speed tests.”

SpitwSpots requires you to use “approved” speed test servers to demonstrate problems.  Likely because their systems nerf “unapproved” speed test servers.

With a content neutral internet service, there should be no distinguishable difference between network protocols or network providers.

This likely won’t impact most users, but if you favor using encrypted technologies (e.g. VPN), it has the potential to impact your user experience.

Mountain Beam vs. SpitwSpots

I really like Mountain Beam as they provide excellent customer service, have public outage notifications and it’s clear he works really hard to build and maintain a quality network.

In fact, while I explored SpitwSpots, I still maintained Mountain Beam as a backup connection.  They’re really good for that, with inexpensive but still reasonable throughput plans.

Also, SpitwSpots doesn’t offer any kind of affordable backup circuit plan like Mountain Beam does.  So, if you want to use Starlink or maybe some other ISP, SpitwSpots doesn’t really want any of your business.

The comparative installations are night and day different.  My Mountain Beam link is small, unobtrusive and lightweight.  The SpitwSpots antenna is huge, gawdy and overall an eyesore on my home.

This is my Mountain Beam installation.  Super tight and barely noticeable at all.  Can’t even see it from the street!

This is the SpitwSpots installation.  15 foot tower plus a massive radio/antenna combination was required to get me service.

One more note about installation.  Had SpitwSpots performed their full network installation as was originally planned, this monstrosity of a tower/radio combo would not have been necessary.

The truth is, had I known that SpitwSpot’s network was not as promised, I would not have installed them in the first place.  I would have happily continued with my Mountain Beam plan, or maybe even considered upgrading it.

My friends that originally recommended SpitwSpots are seeing the same thing I did.  What was once a great, fast and “as advertised” service is also bogging down and not performing to the original expectations.

If you have the option, I’d steer you towards Mountain Beam over SpitwSpots.

SpitwSpots Peering Arrangements

In general, I do have to give props to SpitwSpots for having excellent, Alaska focused peering arrangements.

They peer with both GCI and ACS in the state according to their BGP alignment.  It does appear that Fairbanks traffic is backhauled all the way to Homer and then aggregated out into Anchorage, but I’d be splitting hairs to request more than that from a network design.

I’m able to get sub 40ms latency in the state of Alaska.  That’s with traffic backhauled from Fairbanks to Homer and then riding back up to Fairbanks.

This is good as it means anything you’re doing “in state” will stay “in state.”  (e.g. your job’s VPN)  If you’re accessing services that use ACS, GCI or one of the myriad of rural ISP’s, your traffic doesn’t need to go to the lower 48 and back.

This improves local latency and not by a small amount.  Since I do a lot of work in the state, and generally connect to things around Alaska, that’s a benefit for me.

Average latency to the lower-48 (Pacific Northwest) is around 65 milliseconds.  When they have network problems due to oversubscription, latency can peak to hundreds of milliseconds.

Compare this to Mountain Beam and your traffic is backhauled all the way to San Jose, California.  When you access local Alaska based services, traffic will go Alaska->San Jose->General Internet up to Alaska again.  (It’s likely you’d ride the Six/GCI circuit back up north.)

Pushy Sales Tactics & SpitwSpots Culture

One thing I’ll bring up is that I had a LOT of contact with SpitwSpots prior to the installation.  Despite being unable to get service, having had a survey that failed, they were contacting me a lot.

I talked to them probably no less than 75 times.  They were rather pushy, overall, and really didn’t appear to be very organized.  For example, they rescheduled survey after survey, but couldn’t explain what had changed that could supposedly get me service.  It’s like they didn’t write anything down.

I learned a bit about their culture through my installer.  They tie a lot of bonuses and extra pay to get service sign ups.  This encourages an aggressive and pushy culture which can rub some people the wrong way.

While I do like that “overcommunication” from a service based company, here’s the rub:

When I had the troubles I mentioned above?  I had to claw at them, calling them regularly and also open multiple tickets, to figure out what was going on.

It literally drove me to a point of establishing a “fix it or I cancel” deadline in mind.  Unfortunately they crossed over that line.

So, lots of communication when you’re signing up.  No proactive communication when you need their help to fix what’s broken.

Even more oddly, once I had fired them, they again became super responsive.  Their schedulers called me right away and kept me abreast of when they would remove their equipment.

I seriously don’t get it!  It’s like they put all their resources into installs and takedowns, but little into actual support and customer communications for ongoing outages and issues.

Mountain Beam has always been incredibly responsive for me, especially for a one man show.  From sign up to trouble, I’ve had email exchanges with them at midnight and they’ve always been quick to resolve issues.

Deception vs. Public Information

Another thing that I’ve hit multiple times is how cagey SpitwSpots is about their network.

An example of this is that I asked multiple times where specific towers were.  I was told “they don’t have that information.”  That seems awfully bizarre to me, considering you can find that information through the public domain.

I would think it’d be important for the company to know where their towers were?  LOL.  (And for sure, they do, but they’re pretending it’s proprietary information.)

Either through their FCC permits or a public records request, that information is 100% in the public domain.  There’s no reason or need to be deceptive about it.

And when you are deceptive about it, it shows a lot about the character and culture of that company.

I literally can (and did) discover exactly how their network topology is arranged.  You can discover the equipment they use, the frequency spectrums in use and the total bandwidth they have to every single tower.

It takes about 5 minutes if you know where to look!

Pretending that the information is somehow proprietary and unique to them is just going to annoy a customer like me that knows better.

Why I Ultimately Fired SpitwSpots

So, you might be wondering why I made the decision to fire SpitwSpots, even though I say in this review that I want them to be successful.

It wasn’t because they had technical issues.  I’ve been in technology for decades and I’m acutely aware that issues can happen.  Even long term issues that take awhile to fix.

For at least seven weeks of my total twelve weeks of service, my network connection was experiencing severe outages.  In modern times, ISP’s understand the severity of impact that outages can have on their customers.

My written tickets with them were never responded to in writing.  They’d always just call me back, never putting anything down “on paper.”

The only reason you do this is because you don’t want to be held to any kind of standard.

After the initial follow up, they’d “go dark” and never respond further.  Unless I opened another ticket, of course.

Over the total three months I had service, I had opened at least four tickets regarding the service.  I gave them plenty of opportunity to communicate with me, resolve the issues or at least mitigate my disappointment.

Had they regularly communicated with me, as a dissatisfied customer, it’s likely I would have continued my services with them.

It would have been nice, given that they weren’t meeting the service expectations they set, to offer some sort of concession rather than expect their customers to pay full price for a mediocre product.

I was very clear in my communications with them that I could and would fire them.  I didn’t expect them to fill me in on their detailed plans to fix their issues, but I do expect some sort of regular communication when your service is outright failing for seven weeks.

I received almost no communication regarding severe outages.  Two deadlines to fix things that they set came and went with no fix and no further communications or updates.

Again, I understand issues can happen and sometimes things don’t go as planned.  The greater failure was in communication, not the service itself.

Furthermore, before I signed up, SpitwSpots should have told me that they don’t currently have capacity to bring me on as a customer.  That would have been reasonable and shown me that they are interested in the integrity of their network and reputation.

Network congestion issues don’t “all of a sudden” happen.  They can be predicted and good network companies work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Even if it comes at the cost of not bringing on a new customer.

Instead, it appears SpitwSpots is interested in building a revenue stream at the expense of customer satisfaction.

At the end of the day, even if they had fixed the issues, my confidence in their ability to resolve severe technical issues quickly was undermined.  As was any confidence in their customer support.  If they were willing to let things get as bad as they did once, they’d do it again and again.

Another In The Long Line Of Disappointing Alaskan ISP’s

The internet service that SpitwSpots delivered me wasn’t a “great” experience.

It cost me several hundred dollars of my hard earned money just to find out their advertised services aren’t even close to being “as-advertised.”

In a lot of ways, I was intentionally and purposefully deceived.  I was told one thing and delivered another.

I thought I was getting into a “good company” with “open internet practices” and come to find out, that’s all just bullshit.

The truth is, though, I do want them to be successful.  I’d like to be able to recommend them, but honestly, I really can’t.  I can’t confidently tell you that you won’t have a terrible customer experience with them.

If the question is “would I recommend them?”  It’s complicated.

  • If you can get GCI service?  Definitely no.
  • If you can get Mountain Beam service, no, I wouldn’t.
  • If you’re on 1mbit ACS DSL and can’t get Mountain Beam?  Yes.
  • If you’re on 15-25mbit ACS DSL?  No.
  • If you can get Starlink and are OK with a self-install, variable speeds and intermittent disconnects?  Tough call.

Maybe SpitwSpots can get their act together and improve things.

From my conversations with them, they seem to be really struggling to figure out what’s going on.  It appears they have severe difficulties with remotely supporting a network, hundreds of miles away from their home base.

Support has no clue what engineering is up to and it appears management isn’t at all concerned about tarnishing their reputation.

I was impressed by their network topology, but it clearly doesn’t translate to capabilities or performance.  It appears their business plans and engineering plans are not at all in sync.

Overall, I’m not going to tell you not to use them.  They might work well for you.  My review is designed to inform you of what a customer experience looks like when things don’t go as planned.

Final Update:  Yup, They Don’t Care

In the interests of trying to improve Alaska’s internet, I decided to file an informal complaint against SpitwSpots with the FCC regarding my experience with them.

I want to make sure my voice is heard, especially as it might influence things like Federal funding and internet availability perceptions.  I also believe that internet companies need to be held to their advertised capabilities.

In no other business would it be acceptable to substitute an inferior product for a supposed high grade one.  These issues are notorious across the industry and we shouldn’t be settling for it.

Also, in 2023, internet companies shouldn’t be providing extremely poor, single digit megabit experiences.

These complaints are “supposed” to be responded to by the provider.  Perhaps as expected, I never received an informal reply to my complaint with the FCC.

Perhaps they’re too busy.  But, it really shows they just don’t care.

I will update this post if anything further comes from the complaint.

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