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Archive for August, 2011

No Dial Tone

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

(or: The End of Reliability)

(or: Why is the FCC Broadband Study Good News?)

(or: Comcast Digital Voice Gets me One Service Outage Every 63 Days)

I just spent my morning troubleshooting my Comcast digital voice telephone. I get my phone service via my Comcast cable modem… which is to say, over the Internet.  It wasn’t working.

I followed the instructions on the Web troubleshooting wizard, which required me to dig up the only corded telephone that I still own.  I finally found it in the basement. It dates from the late 1980s and it still has the speed-dial list written in pencil… speed dial #1 is “Live 105 Request Line.” Anyone get that reference?

Anyway, after switching to corded phones and re-wiring my home entertainment center so that I could easily get to the back of my Comcast cable modem with a paperclip, nothing had changed. I still had no dial tone.  Finally after a chat session with the Comcast customer support they sent a mysterious reset signal to my house that solved the issue.

But this made me reflect… I’ve had Comcast digital voice service since March 28 (see my previous post about how hard it was to get).  So that’s four months and one week.  In that time I’ve had two major telephone outages.

The first was a neighborhood-wide outage that was corrected two hours after I noticed it.  This one went on for two days until we noticed it — according to reports from a friend that couldn’t reach us.  (Since we didn’t dial out during that time, we just thought no one was calling us.)

Almost a tangent: I’m also concerned about my backup battery, as the battery light on my modem sometimes turns off and on by itself.  (In the old phone system backup batteries used to be centralized but with digital voice over the cable network each cable modem has to have one.) I haven’t gotten around to complaining about that — I’m not sure if I have the energy.

The whole experience screams: not-ready-for-prime-time. Cheap-looking flimsy gray plastic boxes that have to be reset with paperclips. Nothing like the good old Model 500 telephone from Western Electric (pictured). That thing was solid as a rock–and as heavy as one.

The whole time I had plain-old-telephone-service from AT&T I never had any service problems.  Currently my average with Comcast digital cable is one service outage every sixty three days — and those are only the ones that I noticed.

Is this the way of modern telecommunications? Reduced regulatory requirements lead to the death of reliability?

Crappy cell phone service quality has softened us up to expect poor quality across other areas of telecommunications. The quirky and opaque nature of Internet service is no help.  Low quality there seems to be lowering standards elsewhere as well.

This week in the media a FCC study of broadband speeds has been trumpeted across all major outlets.  The finding that made the news? ISPs now deliver 80-90% of their advertised speeds. This is hailed as a triumph. (And it’s an increase since the 2009 report.)

Yet another way to present the same numbers is: Only two ISPs out of every single one studied by the government actually provided the speeds that they advertise (see p. 15 of the report). In telecom that’s the kind of news that we’re happy about these days. It’s a new era.

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