Friday, April 27, 2012

The internet is being Comcastic again...

Comcast^W Xfinity has a strange policy when it comes to line maintenance.  They have roving maintenance teams that drive around at night checking for sources of line noise and other interference that can potentially degrade the service on a node of subscribers.  This in and of itself isn't a big deal, network maintenance is obviously an important task, especially with an infrastructure as large and diverse as Comcast has.  The real issue is how they go about "fixing" problems they find.

In the dead of night, the maintenance team will track down lines that are spewing noise into Comcast's plant.  This noise is typically from shoddy cables, loose connections, etc.  Once they track down an especially noisy line, they'll install a one-way filter, or "trap," onto the house's service.  This trap serves to allow cable signals in to the home, and block all outgoing traffic, sort of like a one-way filter on communications.  So things like cable TV service work fine, but two-way services like on-demand and internet give up the ghost.  Once the maintenance team installs the trap, they leave.  That's it.  No tag on your door, no notes on your account, nothing to indicate that Comcast has been there and crippled your service.

So if you haven't figured out yet, this recently happened to me.  After a few hours of futility trying to reset my cable modem, I called in to Comcast's customer service, and dutifully went through the unplug-and-reset-your-cable-modem script with the operator.  After a while, the operator realized that there were no signs of life from my modem (because it had been cut off from the world) and decided the best course of action would be to send out a tech.  On Monday.  Oh, did I mention this was Friday evening?  That's right, the maintenance truck had been out in the wee hours of Friday morning, and by the time I got home from work Friday evening, the cable modem was blinking furiously trying to connect to the mothership.  Oh well, a weekend without the internet isn't the end of the world, but it sure cut in to my plans of accomplishing anything.

I snuck out of work Monday to meet the tech at my house, and he tackled the problem pretty quickly.  Once he found the trap on the line, he proceeded to test the lines in my house.  Pretty much all of the ends had to be replaced, along with a wall panel, an old splitter, and several of the longer cables in the house.  He explained the disconnect between the maintenance teams and the rest of the world, and once the line noise was within range he re-connected the house to the outside world and all was right with the universe.

For three weeks.

I woke up to the cable modem blinking furiously again.  This time, aware of the drill, I walked outside and found the cable service box on the side of the house.  I took off the lid and there were a couple of lines with big filters and bright orange tags indicating that the filters shouldn't be removed until a tech came out again.  So I called again, they scheduled another visit, and another tech came out.  I told him I'm getting used to this drill, and he told me that these maintenance teams will spot check houses that they previously cut off, ostensibly to keep an eye on the techs.  He tested all the lines in the house again, and one crappy 6' RadioShack cable later the line noise was back within acceptable parameters.

The most aggravating thing about this experience is the fact that Comcast will cut off your internet (and VOIP if you have it) service suddenly and without notice in the middle of the night, and leave no indication that they've been there other than an orange tag in a closed box (that probably should have been locked.)  You're left to call tech support, who also have zero idea that there's been a maintenance team roaming the area, and will try to walk you through all of the basic connection troubleshooting steps for 20 minutes before sending a tech out.  Some kind of door tag or other indication of their visit would have been greatly appreciated.  The fact that they can cut off your service and leave you without recourse for three days (over a weekend) is also alarming.  You can potentially be without phone and internet for an entire weekend.  But you're still paying for service, and you're also paying $20 extra every time a tech has to visit.

I'm thinking it might be time to kick Comcast to the curb and try the local competing cable provider...