Learning your Bits and Bytes by Comparing GCI’s Internet Plans

If you live in one of Alaska’s large towns (or your small town happens to have a GCI fiber landing), you have access to some of the best residential Internet bandwidth available in the world today.

Depending on your plan, you’re allowed to transfer a certain quantity of data over your Internet connection per month. If you add up the size of all the emails, websites, streamed movies, downloaded games, and emoticons seen on the various screens in your house in one month, that all adds up towards your limit.

GCI measures your transfer in GB. Important: a GB is not to be confused with Gb. The big “B” is for bytes, and the little “b” is for bits. A byte is *eight times* bigger than a bit so it’s important to keep them straight. The reason there are two different sizes of b’s is because things just can’t be simple now can they? Traditionally bits are used to measure data traffic while bytes are used to measure data stored. It’s a silly, easily confused, and important to understand distinction.

At this point you should also understand that bits and bytes use the metric system, where names change sensibly every 1000 units. So a Byte is 1; a KiloByte is 1,000; a MegaByte is 1,000,000; and a GigaByte is 1,000,000,000. When you’ve transferred one GB over your Internet connection, that’s the same as saying you’ve transferred one billion bytes.

If you use up all the bytes GCI allots your plan, then you’re given two options. One option is you can pay for more bytes. The other option costs you nothing but your bandwidth is throttled back into the dark ages. If you remember browsing the web using a 9600 baud modem then you know what it feels like when you go over your GCI cap. GCI dubs this torturous web browsing experience as “no worries.”

Here are two of GCI’s plans (from Juneau) compared:

Internet_Plans_Features___GCI.jpg
If you noticed that the Download and Upload speeds are measured in bits not bytes, then you get a cookie!

The “Data” number is the amount of transfer included in your plan. This is measured in GigaBytes. Note the plan on the left caps you at 300 GB while the plan on the right is twice that amount (600 GB).

That means in one month you could transfer twice as much stuff. For only $40 more. But here’s the rub.

The “Download” number is the width of your Internet pipe. This is measured in Megabits. The wider the pipe, the more water can fit through it at one time. Notice how the plan on the left has a 100 Mbps wide pipe, while the one on the right is five times wider at 500 Mbps.

So, while you’re allowed to transfer twice as much stuff in one month, you’re able to transfer five times as much.

If you’ve ever fallen asleep watching Episode Two of your favorite series on Netflix or Hulu in HD, and you wake up with Episode Nine playing, you’ve just transferred about 16 GB. This is the modern equivalent to leaving the hot water running.

Anatomy of a URL

By understanding the anatomy of a “URL” you will be able to better understand how the websites work and how to keep safe when clicking links.

What is a URL?

A URL (Uniform Resource something-or-other) is a unique address of a webpage. Like everything else that has an address: URLs are unique.

URL anatomy

First thing to know: The Slash /

The slash, is a key character in a URL. It separates different sections. You need to be able to recognize the slash so you can recognize the different sections of a URL.

http:// or https://

At the beginning of every URL is either an http:// or an https://. The “s” stands for secure. This means traffic between your computer and the website is encrypted (that’s a good thing).

Safety Tip: Whenever you type a password in a webpage, before you hit enter on your keyboard, you should make sure the website URL starts with https:// and not just http://.

Domain Name

After the http:// comes the domain name. The domain name stretches from the double slashes (://) all the way to the next slash (/).

http://this.is.the.domain.name.com/gobley-gook-random-mishmash?#&q

The “top” level domain name is the last word after the period. Usually this is “.com.” A .com is for commercial organizations. Other top level domains you might recognize are .gov (government), .org (non-profits), and even national ones like .ly (Libya) or .uk (United Kingdom).

When you look at a URL you must be able to recognize the domain name. You do this by looking at the slashes and periods. For now, focus on whatever is between the http:// and the first slash. Ignore anything after the first slash.

Within the domain name section, look at the periods, specifically the last period. The last period separates the “top” level domain from the “official name” aka the main name aka the real name of the actual business who owns this domain.

For example, how do we know that http://www.pepsi.com is owned by Pepsi? Well, we assume they bought it and that they wouldn’t let anyone else parade around with it acting like them. But, that doesn’t mean that something else can’t buy anotherpepsi.com and put up a website.

So, look at a URL, specifically at the domain name section between the :// and the first / and even more specifically right before the last period in that section, and identify whether or not it’s for the domain name you’d expect. Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge, which are probably NOT actual PayPal properties?:

a) paypal.com
b) www.paypal.com
c) paypal.requestfunds.com
d) requestfunds.securetransmittal.paypal.com
e) paypal.i-live-in-a-van.down.by.the.river.gimmemoney.paypals.com

In the above list,  If you guessed C and E you are correct. If you guessed something else, re-read this article.

Here’s another way to ponder this:

a) www.google.com
b) www.googlem.com
c) www.yourgoogle.com
d) www.google.ly

In the above list, only one of those domain names is sure to be owned by the company Google. The other two could be owned by anyone. How do we know? We look in between the 2nd-to-last and last periods, for the “official” name.

Web Page “Path”

Everything to the right of the first slash is the “path” of a webpage. Sometimes this section will be broken up by more slashes. This section quite frequently includes a bunch of apparent gobbley gook.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KGsegsLe7RytssUW_DgVpYpZUUBq_JPhuN2RpG2WRdk/edit#

But it is that gobbleygook that makes it unique. The gobbleygook is why you can add a bookmark to a webpage.

Now that you know the anatomy of a URL, you can more safely evade phishing and more quickly know if your traffic to that website is encrypted or not.