Saturday, August 11, 2012

Internet Access failure and resolution

My Internet connectivity at home has been very problematic of late. I've been having an intermittent problems, the kind that are very difficult to diagnose. It began a few years ago when my modem would suddenly lose the connectivity to the CMTS. During these times I couldn't even poll the cable modem as it wouldn't respond until it had connectivity to the CMTS. It would occur during extremely hot weather (>100F) or extremely cold weather (<30F). I'd call it in but not much would be done (truck roll, new ends). I ignored it because it only occured once or twice a year. The Tx power numbers were living at the edge (52-54, not good). But in the last few weeks I've been experiencing the problem almost everyday between 3 and 5 PM. I still had the smae power numbers, only this time with TV outages. Then, last week, the problem started occurring randomly. During that time the field techs measured the signal strength at various locations (the drop, the modem, the pole, etc.). The all the cable ends were replaced (greatly improving the power numbers), problem still existed. I then re-cabled the coax for the TV & cable modem, problem still existed. The old cable modem coax was installed in 1998 but it was actually pretty good Tx:44.5/Rx:3.2/SNR:34.2 @ the modem. Finally they replaced my TJ715 modem (DOCSIS 2.0) with a Ubee DDM3515 (DOCSIS 3.0) modem, problem still existed. Then things really got bad. I started to have lot of short 2 minute outages and a few 20 minute outages. This time when I called the telephone support person informed me that they also had a problem with people not being able to order a PPV event. It took almost an entire day to resolve the issue but now it seems to be fixed (I hope).

First let me make it clear that the customer service for Comcast has improved. Also I work for a competitor which doesn't service this area. The people I dealt with on the Internet side of the house were polite, professional and seemed knowledgeable. On the TV side of the house, I dealt with only one person. So the outcome:

  • If you have a problem with Internet and TV, call the Internet help line. They'll be more helpful. The TV side of the house seems to be only able to send a signal to 'reset the cable box'.
  • I now have new, high quality cabling for my Internet and TV. I have some training on cable installation and I worked in a network lab where I built various custom cable as needed. So have some experience with cables so I think I did a good job.
  • It's installation is tidy and unobtrusive. I installed and purchased all the materials and tools for less than $200 and I have left over material should I need it for future use.
  • I now have a DOCSIS 3.0 modem and I am ready for native IPV6, if it is in my area. I now need to bring up my new router with it's firewall and IPV4 & IPV6 configuration.
  • I now have to figure out a way to hide the cable modem as those LEDS are bright and eye catching (very annoying).
  • I've been upgraded from 12/3 to 22/5. Not that I really needed the extra speed but I'll take it! ;-)
  • I now need to revamp my Perl code from the TJ715 code to the Ubee DDM3515 code. And from SSH and command line commands to SNMP polls. Yes I monitor the network equipment.
While the above is useful it came at a bad time. Issues with work, family and health would make me wish this came at a better time. Instead I was forced to deal with it now. Also the support folks were asking me if any of my neighbors were having similar problems. That one really surprised me. I would expect that a service provider would be aware of their own local issues (we call that a database and data mining). Had Comcast not found the problem that week I would have begun the process to moving over my Internet and TV to Verizon. I must say that Comcast got lucky.

What I have learned is that businesses still seem to handle customer problems as an after thought. So here's my take on this event:

  • It appears that businesses don't have procedures for handling difficult problems. They have scripts to deal with the simplest of problems. The support people to deal with the majority and I'd guess the last 20% are left up to luck or to letting the customer escape to the competition.
  • Businesses rely too much on the 'Microsoft fix' method of restart the equipment/software. This isn't a fix for the problem, it's a way to push it off until later.
  • If that doesn't work then swap out the equipment. Soemtimes that makes sense sometimes it doesn't. This time it made sense in that the equipment I had was old and no longer on the supported list.
  • Sometimes they resort to the 'warm body' fix. If you send out a person (a warm body), a repeat problem will be magically fixed. My opinion is that if the problem can't be fixed in 1 or 2 truck rolls there's a more complex problem.
  • Businesses make it difficult to get to higher support when needed. Now I understand that the these tech wizards can't be the front line folks. But there must be proceedures to get to them.


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