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Riding in the Fast Lane
By: Doug Bittinger - December 09, 2008

We have been looking, longingly, at high speed internet deals for over a year now.  The trouble is that there really are few viable options available to us here on our mountain side.  DSL is not available and will not be available anytime in the foreseeable future, according to AT&T.  There is one local wireless internet company, but they say their towers are at capacity and are not accepting new clients.  That leaves satellite, cell phone or cable.

My research indicates that satellite service is not especially reliable (or affordable) in locations such as ours - trees block the signal, or more accurately, moisture in the leaves of trees block the signal as do clouds and fog.  We live in a forest.  The Great Smoky Mountains are famous for the fog and mists that rest on our mountain overnight.  Some are lazy and refuse to get up and fly way at the crack of dawn, so atmospheric water content is an issue especially for sending (uploading) which is most of what I do here.  That leaves cell phone or cable.

To be honest, I'm afraid of cell phone companies.  I know too many people who complain loud and long about their cell phone bills and the way they were duped into a two year (or more) contract for services that don't work well.  Air time is expensive, and the internet is a major player in our household and business.  No, I don't think a cellular account would suit us at all.  That leaves cable.

Our county is served by two cable companies, Comcast and Charter.  Comcast covers the area we live in.  Both have absolutely horrid reputations for over billing.  I've talked with 9 people over the past six months who are customers of one or both cable companies, all have said that they have at least occasional trouble with being billed for something extra, a few say it is a monthly ordeal.  It seems the more of their communications needs they give to the cable company the worse this gets.

I had decided that I'd be willing to take the leap from $9.95 a month for dial-up to somewhere around $50 a month for broadband Internet just because it would save me so much time in web site maintenance.  It takes a full half hour just to upload the weekly sermon to our churches web site.  My site-mapper won't run at all anymore because the dial-up connection as gotten so slow, and our web site so large.  I put about an hour and a half a day into uploading photos for the Daily Shop Notes blog.  Of course, I *can* start the upload, go home and have supper and come back later to finish things up, so I don't have to just sit there waiting.  But too often I come back only to find that something glitched 5 minutes after I left and Dale (that's my office computers name - hey, you HAVE to give every computer on a network a unique name, why not make it something memorable) has been waiting patiently for me to tell it how to proceed ever since.  Sigh.  A year or so ago Comcast wanted $80.00 a month for Internet-only service… eh… that was too much.

A while back Marie found a deal where we could get Comcast High Speed Internet (which by the way is WAY faster than Charter Cable's internet - according to a couple of people who have one at home and the other at work) for $33.00 a month for 3 months, then $59.95 a month there after, and they would give us $100 rebate after the first three months, *and* a free modem.  It is Comcast (actually it's ComcastOffers.com - a contractor for Comcast) and I don't trust them.  But my Mom did say that once she got past the first billing that was all screwed up they did not try to rip her off again.  Marie suggested that maybe I need to get over my fiduciary paranoia and just call them.  So I did.

Well, actually I went on-line and signed up on their web site.  Once I'd given them all the information I find out that the "free" modem will cost me $109.95, and the $100 cash back is a rebate to cover most of the cost of the modem, we don't get both.  And to get the rebate I have to provide ORIGINAL documents of the modem purchase, the Comcast 1st billing, a properly completed rebate form, stack the forms in the proper order and staple, once in the upper-left hand corner, just so… do anything wrong and the rebate is invalid.  Oookayyy…

But, it was done.  So my modem showed up a few days ago.  I am NOT paying them $150 for Professional Installation, not when all I have to do is plug in a few wires and set a couple of IP addresses.  Of course, it wasn't quite that simple… never really is.  First off I had to find the roll of coax cable I'd ripped out of the mobile home when I converted it to a workshop.  I finally found it, of course it was in the very LAST place I looked.  Then I went through it and found a piece that is BOTH long enough to run from my office to the pole outside the trailer, *and* has both ends on it.  Next I pulled the cover off the hole in the skirting by the phone pole a crawled under the trailer - not my favorite place to be, by the way - and made like a lizard as I fished the cable through the framing to keep it up off the ground, hooked it up to the fitting on the pole and then to the modem.

Because the modem is going to be used by more than one computer, I had to install a router.  I just happened to have one laying around.  Then I had to get all of my computers to talk to the router and then to get the computers and the router to talk to the modem.  It took most of the day for me to figure all this out, but I got it, with some help from my friend Mike.  OK, lots of help from Mike.  Mike is a network administrator in a big hospital outside Birmingham Alabama, and a certified Microsoft Network Engineer.  He *knows* this stuff!

Then I called ComcastOffers.com to have them turn on the service.  I spoke to Heather.  Of course she insisted that they really needed to have an installer come and check my work.  We went round and round about that.  Finally Heather relented, but said she can not turn on my service from where she was, she'd need to transfer me to a local office.  Later, I was told that Heather couldn't turn anything on for anyone, anywhere, she was just a scheduler for the installers, they would have called Comcast after the install to have it turned on.

Heather transferred me to Terry, who again took all the telephone, address and service order number information, and we repeated the above discussion.  Terry transferred me to Justin.

Justin took all my information yet again.  But when it came time to talk about what offer we were accepting, he said he could find no $33/month deal… but he did have a $19.95 per month for 3 months then $59.95 a month afterward, if we wanted that.  Sounds good to me.

I fully expect that the rebate offer has been nullified because I refused their outrageously priced professional installation, but… they would probably have found some excuse to void the rebate anyway - the staple was vertical instead of horizontal or something.  But, I'll fill out the forms and do my best to get it anyway, it won't cost me anything but a stamp to try.

Reviews on Amazon of this Motorola modem gave it very high marks, 101 of 130 reviews gave it 5 out of 5 stars, another 15 gave it 4 stars, most of the others appeared to be so clueless they'd have had trouble operating a cigarette lighter.  I figure even if this deal crashes and burns I can sell the modem on Amazon and get most of my money back.

So, I gave Justin my modem's MAC address and he polled the modem - no go.  We did some diagnostics and decided that when a tree came down across the power lines last spring, it pulled the cable wires loose somewhere.  He would send a truck out tomorrow between 9:00 and 11:00 to check it out.

The Cable Guy showed up about 11:30, but it had been raining all morning so I wasn't surprised that he was late.  He found the break and repaired it.  He also updated the 16 year old service access box on the pole outside the trailer and tested the signal strength.  He noticed that they had me signed up for 3 different speeds of internet access and called them to get that straightened out.  He did his very best to get me to let him do an 'install', but I assured him that although I could not connect to the internet at that time, we were getting a signal to the modem, and I would get it sorted out later on.  Right now I need to get back to making Christmas gifts, Santa will be dropping by to pick them up soon.

The next two days were kind of a dizzy whirl of momentary flashes of inspiration and banging my head against a wall.  I did get the communications blockage fixed, got onto Comcast's set-up page and began entering information to establish my account.  Then *their* set-up utility crashed and trashed my computer, my network, and of course my account set-up.  It was late, I was tired, and my head hurt from all that brick-wall bashing, so I shut everything off and went home.

Early the next morning, just as I was awaking, God whispered, I listened and I knew what to do.  When I got to work, I re-worked the IP addressing scheme, then powered each component up one at a time, starting with the modem and working my way inward to the computers.  That worked… sort of.  I again had a network, I could access the Internet via the Comcast signal, but the web pages were all messed up, if they'd display at all, and everything ran very, very, slowly.

When the set-up script crashed, it gave me an error code and instructed me to call a Comcast technician with the information.  I decided now would be a good time to do that.  I'll give them credit, they did not keep me snoozing on hold for very long, I was handed up the scale of technicians quickly and ended up talking to James, one of their Advanced Technicians.  We talked for an hour and a half as we poked around in my networks' guts looking for the problem.  But first he completed the account set-up for me and issued a temporary log-in and password.  He also noticed that I was set up to be billed a monthly charge for modem rental, and since I'd already told him about my 109 dollar "free" modem he decided to remove that charge.  During our discussion, he found that I knew most of the terminology and switched from his "click the button that says "this" then look for "that" dialogue to simply telling me what he wanted to accomplish and we did it together.  In fact I taught him a thing or two about IPCONFIG switches.  (Things I, in turn, had learned from Mike.)  At the end of our session, and after a couple lengthy recesses to go speak with a supervisor, he admitted that they had no clue what was happening, and suggested that it may be a problem with the modem, gave me Motorola's tech support phone number and bade me a good day.

All along I was questioning the reasoning that it was an addressing problem.  It looked to me like a software conflict.  During one of those long recesses I booted up my FTP software (used to transfer data files directly to a web hosts servers) and told it to transfer the largest picture I could find; normally this would take about 20 minutes via dial-up.  It said, "Okee dokee boss" zip-bang, "Done! What's next boss?"

OK, nothing wrong with the connection or the modem, it is definitely software.  So I closed Internet Explorer, booted up an old copy of Netscape and headed out onto the Information Highway.  In no time at all I had my head stuck out a window, ears flapping in the wind and shouting "Whooo-eeee what a ride!" That worked just fine.

So I fired Internet Explorer, sent it packing; Comcast's set-up script had obviously corrupted it beyond use.  But I never cared much for Netscape, so I downloaded a copy of Firefox and installed that as my default browser.  It does not like to play embedded videos, and I have long wanted to take advantage of some of the instructional videos offered by a number of woodworking masters, but the copy of I.E. on our home computer works fine so I'll further my education in my off-work hours - as it should be anyway.

When I reported my progress to Mike, he replied by conferring upon me the title of Doug-Bob, Honorary Network Engineer.  I reminded him that it wasn't MY doing that got it going again.  He reminded me that if I did not have the knowledge to implement the Divine Inspiration, it would have remained a fuzzy thought that flitted through my mind that morning.  The title stands, take a bow, Doug-Bob H.N.E.

Aw, shucks… twen't nuthn'.

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