Life in Cox tech support hell

Major props to Cox for cranking up my speeds to 18Mb/s downstream and 4Mb/s upstream. That totally rocks.

I’m getting that speed now. Here’s what Cox’s local diagnostic tool says:

TCP/Web100 Network Diagnostic Tool v5.4.12
click START to begin
Connected to: speedtest.sbcox.net  –  Using IPv4 address
Checking for Middleboxes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
checking for firewalls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
running 10s outbound test (client-to-server [C2S]) . . . . . 3.79Mb/s
running 10s inbound test (server-to-client [S2C]) . . . . . . 18.04Mb/s
The slowest link in the end-to-end path is a 10 Mbps Ethernet subnet
Information: Other network traffic is congesting the link

That won’t last. The connection will degrade again, or go down completely. Here we go:

Connected to: speedtest.sbcox.net  –  Using IPv4 address
Checking for Middleboxes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
checking for firewalls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
running 10s outbound test (client-to-server [C2S]) . . . . . 738.0kb/s
running 10s inbound test (server-to-client [S2C]) . . . . . . 15.09Mb/s
Your Workstation is connected to a Cable/DSL modem
Information: Other network traffic is congesting the link
[C2S]: Packet queuing detected

Here’s a ping test to Google.com:

PING google.com (74.125.127.100): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=0 ttl=246 time=368.432 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=1 ttl=246 time=77.353 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=2 ttl=247 time=323.272 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=3 ttl=246 time=343.178 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=4 ttl=247 time=366.341 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=5 ttl=246 time=385.083 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=6 ttl=246 time=406.209 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=7 ttl=246 time=434.731 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=8 ttl=246 time=444.653 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=9 ttl=247 time=474.976 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=10 ttl=247 time=472.244 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=11 ttl=246 time=488.023 ms

No packet loss on that one. Not so on the next, to UCSB, which is so close I can see it from here:

PING ucsb.edu (128.111.24.40): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=0 ttl=52 time=407.920 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=1 ttl=52 time=427.506 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=2 ttl=52 time=441.176 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=3 ttl=52 time=456.073 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=4 ttl=52 time=237.366 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=5 ttl=52 time=262.868 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=6 ttl=52 time=287.270 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=7 ttl=52 time=307.931 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=8 ttl=52 time=327.951 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=9 ttl=52 time=352.974 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=10 ttl=52 time=376.636 ms
ç64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=11 ttl=52 time=395.893 ms
^C
— ucsb.edu ping statistics —
13 packets transmitted, 12 packets received, 7% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 237.366/356.797/456.073/69.322 ms

That’s low to UCSB, by the way. I just checked again, and got 9% and 25% packet loss. At one point (when the guy was here this afternoon), it hit 57%.

Here’s a traceroute to UCSB:

traceroute to ucsb.edu (128.111.24.40), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1  192.168.1.1 (192.168.1.1)  0.687 ms  0.282 ms  0.250 ms
2  ip68-6-40-1.sb.sd.cox.net (68.6.40.1)  349.599 ms  379.786 ms  387.580 ms
3  68.6.13.121 (68.6.13.121)  387.466 ms  400.991 ms  404.500 ms
4  68.6.13.133 (68.6.13.133)  415.578 ms  153.695 ms  9.473 ms
5  paltbbrj01-ge600.0.r2.pt.cox.net (68.1.2.126)  16.965 ms  18.286 ms  15.639 ms
6  te4-1–4032.tr01-lsanca01.transitrail.ne… (137.164.129.15)  19.936 ms  24.520 ms  20.952 ms
7  calren46-cust.lsanca01.transitrail.net (137.164.131.246)  26.700 ms  24.166 ms  30.651 ms
8  dc-lax-core2–lax-peer1-ge.cenic.net (137.164.46.119)  44.268 ms  98.114 ms  200.339 ms
9  dc-lax-agg2–lax-core2-ge.cenic.net (137.164.46.112)  254.442 ms  277.958 ms  273.309 ms
10  dc-ucsb–dc-lax-dc2.cenic.net (137.164.23.3)  281.735 ms  313.441 ms  306.825 ms
11  r2–r1–1.commserv.ucsb.edu (128.111.252.169)  315.500 ms  327.080 ms  344.177 ms
12  128.111.4.234 (128.111.4.234)  346.396 ms  367.244 ms  357.468 ms
13  * * *

As for modem function, I see this for upstream:

Cable Modem Upstream
Upstream Lock : Locked
Upstream Channel ID : 11
Upstream Frequency : 23600000 Hz
Upstream Modulation : QAM16
Upstream Symbol Rate : 2560 Ksym/sec
Upstream transmit Power Level : 38.5 dBmV
Upstream Mini-Slot Size : 2

… and this for downstream:

Cable Modem Downstream
Downstream Lock : Locked
Downstream Channel Id : 1
Downstream Frequency : 651000000 Hz
Downstream Modulation : QAM256
Downstream Symbol Rate : 5360.537 Ksym/sec
Downstream Interleave Depth : taps32Increment4
Downstream Receive Power Level : 5.4 dBmV
Downstream SNR : 38.7 dB

The symptoms are what they were when I first blogged the problem on June 21, and again when I posted a follow-up on June 24. That was when the Cox service guy tightened everything up and all seemed well … until he left. When I called to report the problem not solved Cox said they would send a “senior technician” on Friday. A guy came today. The problems were exactly as we see above. He said he would have to come back with a “senior technician” (or whatever they call them — I might be a bit off on the title), which this dude clearly wasn’t. He wanted the two of them to come a week from next Wednesday. We’re gone next week anyway, but I got him to commit to a week from Monday. That’s July 6, in the morning. The problem has been with us at least since the 18th, when I arrived here from Boston.

This evening we got a call from a Cox survey robot, following up on the failed service visit this afternoon. My wife took the call. After she indicated our dissatisfaction with the visit (by pressing the appropriate numbers in answer to a series of questions), the robot said we should hold to talk to a human. Then it wanted our ten-digit Cox account number. My wife didn’t know it, so the robot said the call couldn’t be completed. And that was that.

I doubt another visit from anybody will solve the problem, because I don’t think the problem is here. I think it’s in Cox’s system. I think that’s what the traceroute shows.

But I don’t know.

I do know that this is inexcusably bad customer service.

For Cox, in case they’re reading this…

  • I am connected directly to the cable modem. No routers, firewalls or other things between my laptop and the modem.
  • I have rebooted the modem about a hundred times. I have re-started my computers. In fact I have tested the link with three different laptops. Same results. Re-booting sometimes helps, sometimes not.
  • Please quit trying to fix this only at my end of the network. The network includes far more than me and my cable modem.
  • Please make it easier to reach technically knowledgeable human beings.
  • Make your chat system useful. At one point the chat person gave me Linksys’ number to call.
  • Thanks for your time and attention.

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19 comments

  1. Hunter’s avatar

    How’d you get them to boost you to 18/4?

    I’m in downtown SB and not getting anything near that with supposedly the highest level residential service they’ve got… I’m getting like 6/2 right now. Bahhhhh…

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hunter, I’ve been paying for years to get Cox’s top grade of service. This is now what they call “premier.” The price is $64.95/month. It would be much less if I also used Cox for cable TV and/or phone. The last I checked, a year or more ago, “premier” bought me 10/1 Mbp/s.

    I noticed the last time I was here (which I am only every few months, since I now work in Boston and rent an apartment there) that the speeds had gone up considerably, though not to the ~18/4 I’m getting now at the top end. According to a call a few days ago to Netgear, this is because my 2006 vintage Netgear router/vpn/firewall couldn’t handle Cox’s downstream speeds. That device is now out of the picture and I have a direct connection. Of course, the rest of the house is now out of the picture and has no connection. Things will stay out until I get a new 8-port router/switch. (Recommendations welcome.) And I won’t do that until Cox fixes the failure problem.

    In your case I suspect you’re on an old plan that never got upgraded.

    Cox’s plans and price breaks are here. To see what they’ll do at your address, go here.

    Cox does offer “business” service levels. As is the custom with all cable and phone companies, the price is a multiple of the residential deals, for slower data rates. The best you can do for business is 15/3Mbp/s for $315. That also gets you one static IP address. More are available at additional cost.

    Supposedly service is better. From about 2002-2005 I had a business as well as a residential account, because I wanted static IP addresses and good service. Residential then delivered 3/.35 Mbps while Business delivered 1/.35Mbps. The former was about $35/month, as I recall; and the latter was over $100/month. The service, however, was minimal with both. In fact I got somewhat better action out of the residential account than the business one. So I dropped the business account and stuck with residential.

    Meanwhile, all this makes me appreciate my Verizon FiOS service in Boston. For less than I’m paying Cox, I get a solid 20/20Mbps, and a faster route to a human being at their call center, on the rare occasion when I need service.

    Anyway, if I were you I’d give Cox a call. Or, better yet, visit their local offices by Gelson’s at Las Positas and State. Because on the phone you’ll be dealing with robots. Although I suppose calling Sales might get you to a human faster. I haven’t tried. Good luck.

  3. azbaer’s avatar

    I was having slowness issues as well with COX. I ended up buying a new modem and all is well. I ran the cox test I had mix result high then low. up soild 3.13Mbs Down stream had 17MBs noe getting 11MB’s. I have been thinking about switching to DSL

  4. JohnO’s avatar

    A couple of questions/comments:

    1) You say you have rebooted your cable modem a number of times. Just to be clear, have you power-cycled the cable modem, or pressed a reset button? Sometimes a Power cycle will solve things that a reset doesn’t.

    2) Have you unplugged your cable modem from power and let it sit disconnected for more than 15 minutes? At some locations, I have seen this help. I am not sure why, other than it might be long enough for the upstream gear to “forget” about you and reconnect in a different way when you show up on the network again.

    3) Has the tech replaced the cable modem? I had weird performance issues after a local Comcast network upgrade, and it turned out my four year old cable modem had issues. A newer cable modem fixed the problem.

    4) I think Cox is focusing at your cable modem because the big increase in hop times enters at the second hop on your traceroute or ping tests (68.6.40.1). I am not sure if that IP is your cable modem, or the device just beyond your cable modem. If I ping 68.6.40.1 from my location on Comcast in Minnesota, my ping times are reasonable (about 110 ms) with no packet loss). If you browse to http://ipchicken.com/ you can see your public IP address, and determine if you are 68.6.40.1, or an IP beyond that.

    5) Do you have any near by neighbors on Cox that you could ask to do a traceroute to see if they also pass through that same device? If you could show Cox that your neighbors pass through it, and also see a delay, that would add more weight to the problem being outside of your house.

    Good Luck, Doc!

    John

  5. Mic Edwards’s avatar

    I was going to give you a blistering rant about first world problems …

    Then I fired up a terminal. And this is what I saw:

    PING ucsb.edu (128.111.24.40): 56 data bytes
    64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=0 ttl=54 time=254.424 ms
    64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=1 ttl=54 time=215.000 ms
    64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=2 ttl=54 time=257.888 ms

    AND HERE’S THE KICKER:

    I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam … and that’s the speed on my ADSL line.

    Wow. Either mine has been getting better or things really are dire at your place.

    Mind you, I don’t see anything like 18/4 … :-(

    I hope it improves!

  6. Hunter’s avatar

    Yeah, I have ‘Premiere’ also. A bit faster in a test this morning but it sounds like your ‘tubes’ are clearer than mine. :)

    My mother-in-law has the biz service – pricier but (at least these days) support is staffed with actually knowledgeable network ops folks (though I don’t think they are local).

    I’ve got a friend at Cox (after layoffs in their Goleta office, one of the last left – almost everything has been moved to San Diego) so maybe I’ll see if he can get anything done.

    Verizon told me a year ago that they were moving FIOS into SB, though they were very fuzzy about exactly where service would be available and when. Not holding my breath.

  7. Hunter’s avatar

    Not to spam this thread but I just re-ran the test this AM:

    17/3

    Talk about variance.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hunter, does Cox still have the Goleta office? I was once at a meeting there where they actually told us that Santa Barbara was the last place the company deployed anything new. Smallest market, farthest away.

    FWIW, one of the techs who came to my house (nowhere near the middle of town) told me we were “way out there” and “at the end of the line.” Not sure what to conclude from that.

    I think the 18/4 speed is a “burst” measure on the downstream side.

  9. ski’s avatar

    Doc

    I have seen similar events occur over the years. It almost always (80/20 rule) ends with, “we had no idea that the change that the guys in XYZ Department made last week could affect us.” Or words to that effect.

    It is hard to believe that in 2009, given the success of the internet, that so called “technicians” have no concept of systems (or holistic) thinking. The unstated motto is “local optima to the max!”

    I would bet two bits that a new fill_in_the_blank was recently installed. A new router perhaps. Or new routing entries in a table somewhere. A new monitoring agent of some nature. Something.

    I have seen techies drop routes (for routers on their internal network) and deny having ever done so… until I produce trace routes showing that fact.

    Bottom line, you are probably not going to have any success in the short term. Sorry. But as you only noticed it when you returned, you have no idea when they implemented the change that hosed your connection.

    Again, I have called the very next day, and had it take a week to get a “techie” to figure out that some bozo hosed the system. Even when I started the conversation with, “you guys changed something or implemented something at 2:00AM this morning that caused the problem.” (Thank God for cron; but even with a smoking gun, almost no one ever consults common sense!)

    Wish I was more hopeful… but until they connect the dots that an internal change caused the situation, they cannot help you.

    -ski

  10. Jay’s avatar

    I had the EXACT same problem with Comcast a few years ago. They show me some BS diagnostic, but everywhere else I go packets are lost and connections time out. I would tell them this and show them where the packets were lost, and where the bottleneck was (their servers) and they would give me a baffled look and tell me they would send some other technician to jiggle my cables in a few weeks.

    The problem with my local Comcast was that they had over enrolled and couldn’t actually provide the bandwidth promised to all their customers. This is pretty common with ISP’s that lack local competition.

  11. John’s avatar

    I’m on the west side and having the same problems. Every evening the cable modem starts dropping the connection every ten or fifteen minutes. Rebooting the cable modem brings the connection back up temporarily only to drop it again in a few minutes. Seems to come in waves. Last week it was fine. This week it’s been hell. My neighbor is having the same problem.

    The funny thing is that I am able to release and renew my IP address from Cox, so I know the cable modem is connected and talking to Cox’s DHCP servers. It’s just not getting beyond that point.

    I know better than to try and call tech support, so I tried chat. We got as far as “you are going to have to connect your computer directly to the modem before we can troubleshoot” when I repeated for the third time that it wasn’t an issue on my end.

    So i’ve sent in an email from the support page of their web site. Hopefully it will find it’s way into the deeper dungeons of tech support where someone might actually know something about what is going on with their routing (which I assume to be the problem).

    I’ll let you know if I find anything. And please let us know if you do as well.

  12. Dan’s avatar

    I’ve been running into the same difficulties with Cox service and found this helpful blog, so thanks to everyone – now I can answer all my family’s complaints with “it’s not a problem with our equipment, it’s Cox…”.

    I do have a question about one of the results of the Cox diagnostic tool. Both Doc Searls and I get this line about a local limitation of 10 Mbps Ethernet subnet. I am connected via ethernet cable to a 54 Mbps wireless / 100 Mbps ethernet router. Well, my PC says it’s on a 100 Mbps ethernet connection, and the advertised specs on the Cox cable/telephone/modem say it’s 10/100, so where is the hold-up? It must be that the Cox box is not supplying more than 10 Mbps ethernet. Am I missing something?

    thanks,
    Dan

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Dan, I’m told that the Unix utility they use (and I’ve seen it elsewhere) always says that. And that “other network traffic is congesting the link.” I wouldn’t worry about it.

  14. Steve Davidson’s avatar

    Doc,
    We are using Cox at both our office and home, and I would like to be able to use the outbound mail from home, but everytime I go home I have to change it to:  smtp.central.cox.net instead of our company account and Cox says there is nothing they can do about it. Is this normal???

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    In a word, yes. Most mail software, however, allows you to set up different profiles for different locations. See if yours does.

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