My wife and I knew that our twelve-year-old cable box was dying but we also understood that our system was intricately connected with lots of other technology. Twelve years ago we paid an audio-video person a lot of money to put in a system that was probably out-dated a year or two after it was installed. Since it was 2006, it included some bridge technology like a VCR-DVD player. It also had a five-disc CD-ROM player. The least useful part of the system was a speaker system that allowed you to play music from the main system or your iPod in two or three other places of the home. How outdated was that, the idea that someone wouldn't be carrying their own music with them? Finally, there was a Harmony remote which controlled the whole thing. It took two of us, both very technical guys, to get that technology working.
The Harmony remote died in 2014. In the four years since then, the Sony DVR player and the Sony CD players both have also died but remained on the shelf. In that same time period, I installed a Roku streaming player but because our video cabinet was stuffed full of gadgets I had to run some cables down to the mantel. Cables, switch boxes, and other electronic gadgets are not considered as acceptable mantel decorations by my wife.
In the last year, our twelve-year-old cable box started needing almost daily reboots. However, the killer was when our triple play (cable, phone, and Internet) bill crept up to $201. Two weeks ago, I called Spectrum and spent an hour on the phone with a nice agent who recommended the Spectrum Stream plan. I would get 25 channels including the ones important to us, plus phone, and 400 Mbps Internet for $171 a month. The upgraded Internet was costing me $95 per month. I could have cut the cord, gotten YouTube TV and Vonage but my savings would have only been $11 a month and I would have needed streaming devices on two other TVs.
The Spectrum rep said that they would ship me out a new cable box and I should have my new system and new billing in place in five days. I asked if I needed a new modem and she said no. A couple of days later on a Saturday, I got a box. I didn't open it immediately but my thought was that it looked mighty small for a cable box. When I did open the box, I found a modem. I called Spectrum and talked to a representative who was skeptical that I had received a modem. She wanted me to describe what I got to her. I should have sent her my article, I Still Don't Want To Be Hit With Your Modem but I explained that the box was labeled modem on the inside when you opened it and that it was very likely I knew the difference between a modem and a cable box. I did refrain from saying that I have been on the Internet since before she was born. Eventually, she said that I should send the box with modem back by putting on the return sticker and dropping it at a FedEx drop-off site. She promised to ship me the new cable box. This is a rural area so it took a day to figure that out but I got the modem dropped off and watched for my new cable box to show up the next Tuesday.
It was no surprise when the cable box did not show up. I called Spectrum for the third time and for a third hour. This new Spectrum rep told me that there were lots of notes on my account but they could not ship me the new cable box until I got a new modem. I explained that I had just shipped a new modem back. He said he could ship me a new one but I told him I would just drive the thirty-five minutes to Newport and pick one up at the Spectrum office. Friday, a little over two weeks after starting my Spectrum odyssey, we arrived at the office in Newport. The very nice lady at the counter told me that we needed not only a modem but also a wireless router to go with our new cable box and remote. She also said that I would not be getting 400 Mbps speeds. As I was inquiring what I needed to do to activate the modem and cable box, I asked her about registering the MAC address of the modem. She said that was taken care of automatically and everything was plug and play except I would have to call and register the DVR.
I was immediately suspicious since I worked for the original plug and play company, Apple. Even their stuff is no longer plug and play. We headed home, I hooked up the cable modem and wireless router. We are a technology-rich home so I also ended up changing sixteen wireless passwords. However, the phone would not work. I rebooted the modem several times and tried plugging and unplugging the phone wire. Nothing worked. I knew the phone equipment was good because it was new and part of our recent computer refresh. Once again I called tech support to make certain my phone service was turned on because the green light for the phone service never stayed on when I rebooted the modem. Once again I asked if the MAC address had been registered. I was told that it was fine. He asked if I had rebooted the modem and explained all that I had tried. His diagnosis was that I just needed to swap out the modem. I remained suspicious because there appeared to a routing problem with the modem.
Saturday morning, we got up and headed off once again to the Newport Spectrum office. After I explained what happened, they gave me a new modem even though the first one I shipped to them had not shown up yet. Once again I asked, "Are you sure the MAC address has been registered?" The same rep who helped us the previous day came over and assured me once again that it was fine.
I went back home and hooked up the new modem and got the same results as the first time. I called support again and explained what happened and said I was suspicious that the MAC address had not be registered. He looked and said that I was right. He said that he would have it fixed in five minutes. In less than five minutes, he was calling me on my now functional phone. My recommendation is that if you have to talk to Spectrum support, hope that you get Wyatt. Otherwise, it might take a while to solve your problem.
The good news is that my wife has her mantel back. It only took a couple of weeks but our cable modem, TV, Internet, and phone are all now working as are all our connected devices. As a bonus, we now have a Blueray DVD player. Our upstairs, cut-the-cord TV now has live ABC TV by an antenna, PBS steaming, CBS all access, Netflix, Prime Video and other channels. I am hoping in another six months I will have the right mix of TV services figured out and the only thing that I will be getting from Spectrum is the Internet.
I am a lot more laid back person than the last time I had one of these battles back in 2007, My Descent into Adelphia-Comcast Migration Hell. My ability to endure customer service purgatory should not gloss over the problem that I wasted a lot of time over something relatively very simple. In a competitive situation, I could have switched to another service provider. Like many users of the Internet, I have no competitive alternatives.
The other much more important issue is that the Internet connectivity that I have today is not significantly better than what I had two years ago even though I have one of the latest DOCSIS 3.1 modems which if you believe the hype should make life wonderful. Certainly, my March 2018 download speed looks impressive when compared to this chart which I did for a ReadWrite article, Just How Bad Is Your Internet Connection?, that I wrote in October 2013. Movement from upload speeds of just over 5 Mbps to over 20 Mbps in March 2016 was very noticeable. However, the change from 230 Mbps downloads speeds to over 350 Mbps is not noticeable since the delay or PING has stayed the same and my upload speeds are stuck at the nearly the same or slightly lower than what they were in the spring of 2016.
The real challenge for me is that my Internet service is getting more asymmetric. Download speeds are increasing but my upload speeds are down slightly. The ratio of download speed to upload speed used to be ten to one. With my new DOCSIS 3.1 modem, the ratio is now fifteen to one. Upload speeds are critically important for video conferencing and for people like myself who move large files across the Internet. To anyone who runs a business from home or manages websites, upload speeds are very important. Download speeds are important to people who want to watch video not run businesses.
Unfortunately, getting better upload speeds or fixing how fast a webpage loads is not as simple as swapping out a modem. There are a lot of factors but a key one is that the architecture of a typical cable modem installation hooks us to shared bandwidth and to a network that is a hybrid copper/fiber network. My experience would be a lot better if I lived in a neighborhood with Fiber To The Home. My communication services would also be a lot cheaper if that was an open-access fiber network with multiple service providers instead of a monopolistic network.
I do work for a company, WideOpen Networks, that builds open access FTTH networks so I might be biased but I am also right in that they provide significantly better services for less money. I hope one day to live where I can to be hooked up to a true FTTH open access network. It is the future.