Q: I have never had my own internet connection. Here is my problem: I don’t argue with the need for computers or their benefits. I just haven’t had much need for them, and the 90 minutes that the Seattle Public Library provided for free was sufficient for my needs.  The libraries closed March 13, and as far as I know there has been no announcement of a guesstimate of the opening of the buildings.

I have now bought a Chromebook and occasionally sit in a cafe to use the free Wi-Fi.

I think it is time to bite the bullet and join the 21st century, but I have never done this before and don’t even know what questions to ask to get internet at my home. I also do not have a smartphone. I rely on a metered CenturyLink landline which was adequate for my needs until this pandemic hit. 

So, this is what I know: I want a landline and internet. I won’t be doing Facebook, Zoom, streaming or suddenly making everything in my home online and I don’t want to ask Siri or Alexa anything.

I want to access emails, check informed delivery, look up addresses, check websites of local businesses for their hours before I try to visit them.  

I want to be occasionally able to purchase an airplane ticket once this mess is over.


My needs are currently very small and I don’t want to overbuy. I know that CenturyLink is a candidate but no one I know and trust can tell me the difference between Comcast and Xfinity.

— Deborah Ritter

A: The key to selecting an internet service provider is … your address. CenturyLink is available in some areas that Xfinity is not, and vice versa. And, by the way, Xfinity is a Comcast company.

Depending on how much you want to use the internet, it’s even possible that the best deal for you might be getting a smartphone and using it as a hot spot for your Chromebook. (The more time you spend on the internet the less likely it is that this will be the best option for you. But if you could also make use of having a smartphone, this might be the way to go.)

So here’s what I recommend. First, from your description you can use the most basic internet service offered by any of the providers, something around 20 megabits per second. So see what’s available at your address. You can go to the CenturyLink site as well as the Xfinity site, and possibly others, and enter your address to find out if they offer service where you live. Then compare the prices for their lowest-speed plans.

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Q: I have a PC and an iPhone, both of which allow me email access. Evidently, I have hit some sites that might have been wrong decisions.  I get a continual barrage of spam from multiple sources, from car insurance to porn offers.


On my PC, they are in the trash folder, which I then block and send to spam alerts. That has been moderately successful. On my iPhone, they go to the junk folder and no matter how many sources I block, they keep on coming. Is there anything I can do?

— Randy Schwartz

A: I hear you. I’ve had the same problem. And I’ve been disappointed with the effectiveness of junk mail filters.

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Read more from Patrick Marshall here >>

Fortunately, we can all get free emails accounts from Google, Microsoft and elsewhere. So my solution has been to occasionally open a new email address that I use just for family, colleagues and friends. I’ve kept the old spam-infested email address and I check it occasionally just to make sure I’m not missing a legitimate message. But once I’m confident that everyone I care about is using the new address I’ll get rid of that old address.

Follow-up note: A number of readers responded to my recommendation of OpenOffice as an open-source and free alternative to Microsoft Office. They rightly reminded me that there’s an even more attractive alternative: LibreOffice. LibreOffice, which is a spinoff from OpenOffice, is regularly updated, while OpenOffice hasn’t had a major update in years. Like OpenOffice, LibreOffice is open-source and free.

Having revealed my old-school credentials, I’m backing up and changing my recommendation to LibreOffice. You can find out more and, if you like, download the free suite at https://www.libreoffice.org.