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If I Had A Hammer--

By Cathy Faye Rudolph
Editor, The Daily Apocrypha

--I'd use it to smash my cable modem into itty-bitty pieces.

Not that I think mindless, senseless violence is a *good* thing, necessarily. It's just that dealing with this situation has taxed my sense and left me bereft on the mind side.

Back a year and something ago, our cable service provider MedioCrenum announced its new companion product, PiggyT1, or as they called it, Greased Lightning. For 50 smackeroos a month we could have a fastFastFAST internet connection in our home over the same line that we use for our cable TV service.

Back a year and something ago, we had it installed, and it worked great. On rare occasion there was a network problem, and MedioCrenum was "down", but on the whole, it was fast and reliable.

Back seven weeks ago, that reliability disappeared.

Not to get all techie on you, but being a cable modem user through a service provider is pretty much the same as being a computer user on a big network. Besides the network having to be "up", the cable modem has to be in sync with the network. It's like trying to tune in your favorite FM radio station: a little bit off the correct frequency and all you get is hissing and crackling and snatches that sound like Mariah Carey singing the Impeachment Proceedings' Greatest Hits.

At first I thought my computer or its communications card had bought the big one. Then I noticed that the cable modem's status lights indicated a loss of 'sync'. Initially the loss of sync was intermittant over a several day period.

Then the status lights did their own version of Riverdance. If you get off on flashing Christmas lights you'd love it. Eventually the modem lights settled on plain vanilla loss of sync.

I waited. Five minutes stretched into several hours. Sync came back, but for only a couple of hours. Sync went out to lunch --apparently the three martini kind. Sync drug itself back in around evening time, only to escape again just before eight in the evening. Sync decided to stay out all night.

The next morning --Sync didna come home, Captain-- I called MedioCrenum's 24-hour technical support line in what was the first in a long series of calls to their support guys. It's taken some time, but I believe I've identified the salient features of this case.

1. If you don't know whether the problem is in your cable modem or on the 'network', chances are pretty good that MedioCrenum doesn't know either. There's a running service 'event' log that MedioCrenum technical support staff can look at, but the log isn't up-to-the-minute and some of the support staff aren't aware of its existence. Customers don't have access to that log -- instead, we can look at a newsgroup to which service announcements are posted. However, according to two different support techies, "short duration" or localized problems that are eventually tracked down and then fixed aren't often reported in the newsgroup. The upshot is that customers can't easily confirm that the problems they're experiencing now or experienced yesterday are cable modem or network based.

2. The way MedioCrenum figures out whether there's a network problem is to wait until the calls begin to pour in from the customers. Really. However, with waits of 1+ hours to get through to Technical Support, the calls don't pour in, it's more like 'trickle in'. In the meantime, the support people will assume you are a computer idiot and use small words and speak s l o w l y so as you, the customer, can understand.

3. Customers can call Technical Support and ask if there was a problem in such and such a town's portion of the network reported in MedioCrenum's own event log. Yes. We can ask. That doesn't mean an answer will be forthcoming. It's not in MedioCrenum's best interest to admit there are/were service problems. Getting a straight answer to the question "Were there network problems in my town yesterday and last night?" is a lot like pulling teeth, except that pulling teeth is faster.

4. Want a rebate on your bill for those times when service is down? The cable modem doesn't work when there's no sync. Therefore I shouldn't be billed for the outages, right? MedioCrenum is willing to consider billing adjustments, but...there are some conditions. First, the customer has to keep a log of outages. Read back to point one, and you'll see why--MedioCrenum doesn't know when your internet cable service isn't working. The log is the customer's proof that the service isn't working.

But the keeping of a log isn't the only requirement. The customer is supposed to call in each time to report the outage or loss of sync. The combination of the log and calls to Technical Support would form the basis for any rebates on the monthly fee.

Right now my list for loss of sync takes up a page in my notepad--and that's just for yesterday. Frankly, calling in each time the cable modem loses sync would mean I'd be on the phone to Tech Support all day long. What's the big deal, you ask: it's only a buck seventy. Add that $1.70 a day for lost service to the cost of having a 'backup' account with another service provider to provide some reliability while MedioCrenum's sync's gone south, and you're talking about almost doubling your monthly internet connectivity costs.

MedioCrenum is scheduled to come out here on Thursday next, to look at the status lights on my cable modem and to confirm it has lost sync, probably using simple words suitable for Teletubbies fans. Meanwhile, as the status lights on my cable modem are a-winkin' and blinkin', my own language has gotten decidedly more spicy and adult.

Yessir, the way I feel right now, if I had a hammer, I'd use it to smash my cable modem into itty-bitty pieces, faster than you can say "Tinky Winky's Magic Bag."


Cathy Faye Rudolph is Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Apocrypha and the owner of Wayward Fluffy Publications. She designed The Daily Apocrypha and the spoof company site Just Any Idiot Web Design.

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