Welcome to the Out Age

I’d forgotten how it is, dealing with Cox High Speed Internet here in Santa Barbara. We got spoiled with Verizon FiOS in Boston. It’s never down. Customer support is solid. And the data rates rock: 15-20Mb/s, symmetrical, for about the same as we’re paying here.

But here we are, back in town for as much of the Summer as we can take in. Everything is beautiful, except for the Net.

First, I’m paying the “premium” rate for the best they can get me. After a long talk with customer service and tech support in San Diego on Friday afternoon, they repeated to me what they’ve told me before: while they offer up to 12Mbps download speeds elsewhere, and plan for more — and while I’m paying for 10Mbps on the download side in order to get 1Mbps on the upload side, my area is only provisioned for 5-6Mbps down. And that, in fact, Santa Barbara is on the bottom of Cox’s list of areas to upgrade. No change there. We heard that two years ago. Santa Barbara is hind tit for Cox.

Second, outages. These happen now and then with Cox, always without warning. Nothing on the website. No emails saying when it’s going to happen.

So one happened today. Fortunately I have a borrowed Sprint EvDO card here. (My Verizon one won’t work on my newer laptops.) I just checked and it gets 1.096Mps down, 533Kbps up. Not bad, considering. Anyway, I used that connection to get on the Cox service website and eventually found a chat interface. I wanted to copy and paste the text, but the interface doesn’t allow that. So I took a series of screen shots and put together the whole dialog as a .jpg, leaving out the personal info that it asked for. Speaks for itself:

Obviously, Edward is doing the best he can, given the narrow and stilted pro formalities he is required to utter. I’m not knocking him. Heck, I’m glad he’s there, and I really do think he’s sorry for the inconvenience. But really, why not notify people that you’re doing work in the area, which is what a “planned outage” involves? Why not send out an email that says something like, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience, but we’ll be upgrading service in your area starting at 1pm Monday afternoon. We’ll work to minimize downtime. Thanks for your patience.” I notice that’s what universities do when they have planned outages. Why not do the same?

And why use a chat client that won’t let the user copy anything? One can guess, but one wouldn’t be kind.

The thing is, Internet service is secondary for Cox. They’re a Cable TV company first, and an Internet Service Provider second or third (after telephony).

There have to be better ways. A small group of us have been working on that here in Santa Barbara for several years. Given the troubles that municipal “broadband” has run into elsewhere in the U.S., it’s probably just as well that we’ve taken it slow.

Meanwhile, here’s an interview I did with Bob Frankston in May. Lots of grist for many mills there.

Here’s what’s essential, and too often lost in arguments over “Net Neutrality”: companies like Cox need to find benefits to incumbency other than the traditional monopoly/duopoly ones. Here’s one: beat Amazon and Google in the offsite storage and compute businesses. Or partner with them to deliver more and better utility Web services.

Essential guidance for that: ‘s .

[Later...] A guy with a hard hat, a tool bucket and a long bright orange ladder just came down from the pole behind our house and told us we should be getting much higher speeds as soon as they finish working on something back up the street. Good to know.

5 comments

  1. docduke’s avatar

    Tell me about monopolies. I have Comcast cable. Qwest offered “real fast” DSL in competition. I signed up for their 30-day “free trial.” It was 5x slower than Comcast, and unusable for real-time market data. So I canceled well within the 30-day trial. They billed me anyway. When I wouldn’t pay, they shut off my landline.

    Gee, it’s a real shame I have VoIP. Without that, they really would have me over a barrel!

  2. Michael Tefft’s avatar

    Edward sound like every first level tech support person I have ever talked to. They are seldom capable of fixing anything other than very basic stuff. I have Cox Internet here in Chesapeake, Virginia and I have not been aware of any outages, planned or otherwise. It would be nice if they had a planned outage that they did notify their customers, even if it was just a notice on their web site. As far as bandwidth, I am happy with what I have but I would not say that I am a very demanding customer in that category. It would be nice to have a viable alternative to Cox but other than DSL or satellite Cox is it. Good luck to you in Santa Barbara.

  3. Jeffrey McManus’s avatar

    This is the reason why I won’t purchase weight-loss supplements from a company that makes most of its money selling tapioca pudding. Cable internet is unsafe at any speed.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Jeffrey,

    My choice here is Cox vs. Verizon. That’s it.

    If Verizon had FiOS here, it would be no contest; but it doesn’t. What Verizn has here is slow ADSL. Something like 756Kbps down and 128Kbps up. You can do better closer to a central office, but I don’t live there. So Cox with 6/1Mb is the only choice.

  5. Glenn Fleishman’s avatar

    Oddly, in Seattle, where broadband can be iffy depending on the neighborhood you’re in, Qwest has apparently invested a lot of first-line tech support. I have had to call Qwest four times (three of those due to a bug in the modem they sent me), and each time got the most technical, smartest tech guys I had ever spoken with on the phone. They were great.

    The first of them was head and shoulders above the others. While waiting to reboot my modem, I said lightly in passing, perhaps there was a firmware glitch due to cosmic rays — this has been known to happen, although it’s technically untrackable. He starts up a conversation on that, is well informed, and admits to having had a career as a chip designer.

    It seems that Qwest understands that there’s competition for the broadband dollar, and rather than put people on the phone who are unable to help, they’re putting crackerjacks on. I would suspect it was because I was press that I was getting better treatment, but they didn’t have my account number or name when I called, and I used the standard number, often from a cell phone that wouldn’t be in my Qwest record. (Some firms do automatically shunt priority customers via Caller ID to higher-tier tech folks.)

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