Cox

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The Cox Cure

Had a nice long talk yesterday morning with Cox’s top tech guy here in Santa Barbara, and work continued on the poles and wires outside my house, according to a note left on my door by a field tech supervisor.

The service has now been up, without failing (far as I know) since then. Most of the day I was out having a great time with my kid and one of his buddies from Back East, as they say here.

It’s nice to have it working, and getting serious attention to a problem that was around for far too long. Hopefully it’s fixed now. We’ll see.

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I’ve left two messages with the very nice senior tech guy who came out on Monday and confirmed the problem without solving it. Another guy came yesterday when the problem wasn’t happening, and gave me the number of the senior guy to call.

Anyway, no response so far. Meanwhile, the usual: hjigh ping times and traceroutes that show the big latency starting at the first hop: inside Cox’s network.

A smart tech friend, suggests we just replace the cable modem and its power supply. Can’t hurt. Of course, that’s Cox’s gear and their job, and they’re awol, still.

Meanwhile, the quanity of work not getting done is huge.

If I had a choice of carriers, I’d switch in a heartbeat, but I don’t. Verizon is the only alternative, and my house is too far from a central office to get competitive data speeds. So, not much leverage there.

Another friend suggests calling the CEO’s office. If I don’t hear back from the senior tech guy today, I’ll try that in the morning.

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To their credit, fixing my problem has become a higher priority with Cox. A senior guy came out today, confirmed the problem (intermittent high latencies and packet losses), made some changes that adjusted voltages at the modem, and found by tracing the coax from our house to the new pole behind it that the guys who installed the pole nearly severed the coax when they did it. So he replaced that part of the line and brought the whole pole situation up closer to spec… for a few minutes.

Alas, the problem is still there. The engineer from Cox duplicated the problem on his own laptop, so he told me the ball is still in Cox’s court.

At its worst the problem is so bad, in fact, that this was as far as I got with my last ping test:

PING google.com (74.125.67.100): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 74.125.67.100: icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=101.462 ms
^C
— google.com ping statistics —
9 packets transmitted, 1 packets received, 88% packet loss

The guy from Cox said my plight had been escalated, and has the attention of higher-up engineers there. He also said they’d come out to continue trouble-shooting the problem. “Probably by Thursday.”

We’ve had the problem  since June 17.

Meanwhile, I’m connecting to the Net and posting this through my Sprint datacard, just like I did last week in Maryland. Same results: good connections, adequate speeds and awful latencies:

dsearls2$ ping harvard.edu
PING harvard.edu (128.103.60.28): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=0 ttl=235 time=1395.515 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=1 ttl=235 time=750.396 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=2 ttl=235 time=295.272 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=3 ttl=235 time=823.698 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=4 ttl=235 time=1404.692 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=5 ttl=235 time=1360.761 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=6 ttl=235 time=803.610 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=7 ttl=235 time=446.081 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=8 ttl=235 time=554.643 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=9 ttl=235 time=425.423 ms
^C
— harvard.edu ping statistics —
12 packets transmitted, 10 packets received, 16% packet loss

For work such as this blog post, which seems to require lots of dialog between my browser and WordPress at the server, the latencies are exasperating, because there’s so much dialog between server and client. I watch the browser status bar say “Connecting to blogs.law.harvard.edu…”, “Waiting for blogs.law.harvard.edu…” and “Transferring from blogs.law.harvard.edu…” over and over and over for a minute or more, every time I click on a button (such as “save draft” or “publish”).

So don’t expect to read much here until we finally get over this hump. Which has been in front of me since 17 June. Meanwhile I’m hoping to get back to editing in .opml soon, which should make things faster.

But I’ll need real connectivity soon, and I can only get that from Cox. (Don’t tell me about Verizon. They’re great back at my place in Boston, where I have FiOS; but here in Santa Barbara I’m too far from their central office to get more than mimimal-speed ADSL.)

The good thing is, Cox knows the problem is one they still have to solve, and they seem serious about fixing it. Eventually.

Meanwhile, for interested Cox folks, here’s how pings to Google currently go:

dsearls2$ ping google.com
PING google.com (74.125.127.100): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=0 ttl=45 time=110.803 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=1 ttl=45 time=164.317 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=2 ttl=45 time=204.076 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=3 ttl=45 time=259.795 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=4 ttl=45 time=397.490 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=5 ttl=45 time=581.123 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=6 ttl=45 time=506.292 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=7 ttl=45 time=128.939 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=8 ttl=45 time=328.000 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=9 ttl=45 time=160.761 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=10 ttl=45 time=176.398 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=11 ttl=45 time=187.511 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=12 ttl=45 time=188.291 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=13 ttl=45 time=347.966 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=14 ttl=45 time=285.017 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=15 ttl=45 time=389.641 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=16 ttl=45 time=399.993 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=17 ttl=45 time=113.803 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=18 ttl=45 time=153.111 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=19 ttl=45 time=147.549 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=20 ttl=45 time=198.597 ms
^C
— google.com ping statistics —
21 packets transmitted, 21 packets received, 0% packet loss

And here’s how they go to the nearest Cox gateway:

ping 68.6.66.1
PING 68.6.66.1 (68.6.66.1): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=0 ttl=239 time=676.134 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=1 ttl=239 time=263.575 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=2 ttl=239 time=429.944 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=3 ttl=239 time=470.586 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=4 ttl=239 time=473.553 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=5 ttl=239 time=416.172 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=6 ttl=239 time=489.699 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=7 ttl=239 time=471.640 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=8 ttl=239 time=349.825 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=9 ttl=239 time=588.051 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=10 ttl=239 time=606.703 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=11 ttl=239 time=573.560 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=12 ttl=239 time=454.920 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=13 ttl=239 time=259.428 ms
^C
— 68.6.66.1 ping statistics —
14 packets transmitted, 14 packets received, 0% packet loss

And here is a traceroute to the same gateway:

traceroute to 68.6.66.1 (68.6.66.1), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1  10.0.2.1 (10.0.2.1)  2.376 ms  0.699 ms  0.711 ms
2  68.28.49.69 (68.28.49.69)  109.610 ms  78.637 ms  73.791 ms
3  68.28.49.91 (68.28.49.91)  84.093 ms  161.432 ms  84.844 ms
4  68.28.51.54 (68.28.51.54)  187.814 ms  166.084 ms  181.780 ms
5  68.28.55.1 (68.28.55.1)  126.050 ms  100.136 ms  239.987 ms
6  68.28.55.16 (68.28.55.16)  80.512 ms  147.347 ms  373.152 ms
7  68.28.53.69 (68.28.53.69)  121.593 ms  265.198 ms  323.666 ms
8  sl-gw10-bur-1-0-0.sprintlink.net (144.223.255.17)  331.535 ms  346.841 ms  279.394 ms
9  sl-bb20-bur-10-0-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.0.66)  397.594 ms  542.053 ms  546.655 ms
10  sl-crs1-ana-0-1-3-1.sprintlink.net (144.232.24.231)  986.040 ms  451.456 ms  630.898 ms
11  sl-st21-la-0-0-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.20.206)  726.689 ms  452.451 ms  235.828 ms
12  144.232.18.198 (144.232.18.198)  194.067 ms  295.496 ms  99.809 ms
13  64.209.108.70 (64.209.108.70)  262.008 ms  93.663 ms  114.594 ms
14  68.1.2.127 (68.1.2.127)  145.956 ms  123.435 ms  345.784 ms
15  ip68-6-66-1.sb.sd.cox.net (68.6.66.1)  346.696 ms  654.332 ms  406.933 ms

Draw (or re-draw) your own conclusions.

Maybe somebody out there in geekland can see the problem and help offer a solution. Thanks.

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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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The idea was to take some down time in Santa Barbara and get work done in my own nice office, with my nice comfortable chair, surrounded by space and time, with soft sea breezes blowing through.

Instead it’s been tech crash city since I got here last Thursday. (Except for getting out to the Live Oak Festival. That rocked. Also, trees, dirt and great music tend not to crash.)

First a system upgrade hosed a beloved old mail program. So far I can’t get the archives to migrate anywhere. I can still get email addressed to my searls.com and Gmail accounts, but not to my Harvard.edu account. I can send from Gmail. But balls are being dropped and lost all over the place.

Next my Internet connection through Cox got flaky. Mostly it’s bad. Details in my last post. A Cox repair guy finally came today. And, as Russ predicted, tightened everything up, tested it out, and all was fine. Dig this: I didn’t know that service had improved to 18Mb/s downstream and close to 4Mb/s upstream. It was right up there when he left, along with two-digit ping times to everything.

That was then. Soon as he left, we were back to bad. We’re at 3-digit ping times and packet losses. One other discovery: my 8-port Netgear Firewall/Router/Hub/Switch (I forget the name, which cannot be remembered — it demonstrates the opposite of branding) has Issues too. It introduces latencies and packet losses of its own when it’s in the loop. It’s out right now, not that it makes any difference. I’m back using my Sprint data card.

When I called Cox to get them to come back and finish the job, they said they’d send a senior tech on Friday afternoon. That’s two days from now. Then, in the middle of a tech support call with Apple, a Cox robot made an automated survey call. I couldn’t talk and hung up on it.

If you want to reach me, text or call. Or use a Twitter DM. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a shower and go for a long walk. Or vice versa.

Hope everybody’s enjoying Reboot. I really miss being there.

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Starting a few days ago, nothing outside my house on the Net has been closer than about 300 miliseconds. Even UCSB.edu, which I can see from here, is usually no more than 30 ms away on a ping test. Here’s the latest:

PING ucsb.edu (128.111.24.40): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=0 ttl=52 time=357.023 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=1 ttl=52 time=369.475 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=2 ttl=52 time=389.372 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=3 ttl=52 time=414.025 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=4 ttl=52 time=428.384 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=5 ttl=52 time=28.120 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=6 ttl=52 time=164.643 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=7 ttl=52 time=292.241 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=8 ttl=52 time=332.866 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=9 ttl=52 time=330.573 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=10 ttl=52 time=369.385 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=11 ttl=52 time=375.593 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=12 ttl=52 time=405.028 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=13 ttl=52 time=413.990 ms
64 bytes from 128.111.24.40: icmp_seq=14 ttl=52 time=437.124 ms

It’s been this way for days. I can’t get a human at Cox, our carrier, so I thought I’d ask the tech folks among ya’ll for a little diagnostic help.

Here is a traceroute:

traceroute to ucsb.edu (128.111.24.40), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1  ip68-6-68-81.sb.sd.cox.net (68.6.68.81)  5.828 ms  3.061 ms  2.840 ms
2  ip68-6-68-1.sb.sd.cox.net (68.6.68.1)  324.824 ms  352.686 ms  358.682 ms
3  68.6.13.121 (68.6.13.121)  359.635 ms  369.743 ms  372.376 ms
4  68.6.13.133 (68.6.13.133)  386.039 ms  389.809 ms  415.532 ms
5  paltbbrj01-ge600.0.r2.pt.cox.net (68.1.2.126)  430.554 ms  447.079 ms  423.461 ms
6  te4-1–4032.tr01-lsanca01.transitrail.ne… (137.164.129.15)  464.229 ms  453.908 ms  423.090 ms
7  calren46-cust.lsanca01.transitrail.net (137.164.131.246)  206.217 ms  251.298 ms  261.263 ms
8  dc-lax-core1–lax-peer1-ge.cenic.net (137.164.46.117)  264.824 ms  284.859 ms  285.808 ms
9  dc-lax-agg2–lax-core1-ge.cenic.net (137.164.46.110)  289.834 ms  307.450 ms  313.997 ms
10  dc-ucsb–dc-lax-dc2.cenic.net (137.164.23.3)  323.183 ms  331.668 ms  345.606 ms
11  r2–r1–1.commserv.ucsb.edu (128.111.252.169)  340.756 ms  377.695 ms  375.946 ms
12  128.111.4.234 (128.111.4.234)  365.500 ms  397.311 ms  393.919 ms

Looks to me like the problem shows up at the second hop. Any guesses as to what that is? Yes, I’ve rebooted the cable modem, many times. No difference.

I’m talking now over my Sprint data card. EVDO over the cell system. Latencies run around 70-90 ms. So the problem is clearly one with Cox, methinks.

I’m only home from the Live Oak Festival for a shower, so I’ll leaving again in a few minutes and won’t get around to dealing with this (or anything) until tomorrow. Just wanted to get the question out there to the LazyWeb in the meantime. If the problem really is Cox’s, I’d like to know what to tell them when I go down to their office. No use calling on the phone. Too many robots.

Happy solstice, everybody. And thanks!

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For reasons I don’t have time to trouble-shoot, there is too much latency between my house and Cox, my Internet provider here in Santa Barbara.

On top of that, re-setting my SMTP (outbound email) to smtp.west.cox.net, which has always worked in the past, doesn’t work this time. So mail isn’t going out. I don’t have time to trouble-shoot that either, because I’m already late for the Live Oak Festival, where we already have a tent set up. I’m just back at the house picking up some stuff.

See ya’ll Monday.

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When we went looking for an apartment here a couple years ago, we had two primary considerations in addition to the usual ones: walking distance from a Red Line subway stop, and fiber-based Internet access. The latter is easy to spot if you know what to look for, starting with too many wires on the poles. After that you look for large loops among the wires. That means the wiring contains glass, which breaks if the loops are too small. The apartment we chose has other charms, but for me the best one is a choice between three high speed Internet services: Comcast, Verizon FiOS and RCN. Although Comcast comes via coaxial cable, it’s a HFC (hybrid fiber-coax) system, and competes fairly well against fiber all the way to the home. That’s what Verizon FiOS and RCN provide.

fiber

We chose Verizon FiOS, which gives us 20Mb symmetrical service for about $60/month. The 25 feet between the Optical Network Terminal box and my router is ironically provided by old Comcast cable TV co-ax. (Hey, if Comcast wants my business, they can beat Verizon’s offering.)

My point is that we live where we do because there is competition among Internet service providers. While I think competition could be a lot better than it is, each of those three companies still offer far more than what you’ll find pretty much everywhere in the U.S. where there is little or no competition at all.

The playing field in the skies above sidewalks is not pretty. Poles draped with six kinds of wiring (in our case electrical, phone, cable, cable, fiber, fiber — I just counted) are not attractive. At the point the poles become ugly beyond endurance, I expect that the homeowners will pay to bury the services. By the grace of local regulators, all they’ll bury will be electrical service and bundles of conduit, mostly for fiber. And they won’t bury them deep, because fiber isn’t bothered by proximity to electrical currents. In the old days (which is still today in most fiber-less places), minimum separations are required between electrical, cable and phone wiring — the latter two being copper. In Santa Barbara (our perma-home), service trenching has to be the depth of a grave to maintain those separations. There’s no fiber yet offered in Santa Barbara. At our house there the only carrier to provide “high” speed is the cable company, and it’s a fraction of what we get over fiber here near Boston.

All this comes to mind after reading D.C. Court Upholds Ban on MDU Contracts: FCC prevents new exclusive contracts and nullifies existing ones, by John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable.  It begins, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Monday upheld an FCC decision banning exclusive contracts between cable companies and the owners of apartments and other multiple-dwelling units (MDU).”

The rest of the piece is framed by the long-standing antipathy between cable and telephone companies (cable lost this one), each as providers of cable TV. For example,

Not surprisingly, Verizon praised the decision. It also saw it as a win for larger issues of access to programming:

“This ruling is a big win for millions of consumers living in apartments and condominiums who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of video competition,” said Michael Glover, Verizon senior VP, deputy general counsel, in a statement. “In upholding the ban on new and existing exclusive access deals, the Court’s decision also confirms the FCC’s authority to address other barriers to more meaningful competitive choice and video competition, such as the cable companies’ refusal to provide competitors with access to regional sports programming.”

Which makes sense at a time in history when TV viewing still comprises a larger wad of demand than Internet use. This will change as more and more production, distribution and consumption moves to the Internet, and as demand increases for more Internet access by more different kinds of devices — especially mobile ones.

Already a growing percentage of my own Internet use, especially on the road, uses cellular connectivity rather than wi-fi (thanks to high charges for crappy connectivity at most hotels). Sprint is my mobile Internet provider. They have my business because they do a better job of getting me what I want: an “air card” that works on Linux and Mac laptops, and not just on Windows ones). Verizon wanted to charge me for my air card (Sprint’s was free with the deal, which was also cheaper), and AT&T’s gear messed up my laptops and didn’t work very well anyway.

In both cases — home and road — there is competition.

While I can think of many reforms I’d like to see around Internet connectivity (among citizens, regulators and regulatees), anything that fosters competition in the meantime is a Good Thing.

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