Helping the Cable Company Help me

Since the beginning of June I’ve been having intermittent issues with my Atlantic Broadband internet service.  When it works, it’s great (except they still won’t let my wife and I have different last names), but when it’s not it’s really annoying.

After several hours on hold, 5 or 6 visits (I’ve lost count), and them testing everything in sight, I finally started writing software to see if I can help find the problem.

At strange intervals there is a run of noise on the line that kills my service.  The noise eventually goes away and my service resumes. But figuring out those intervals has been a challenge since it turns out I don’t actually sit around 24 hours a day watching for service interruptions.

So after the last tech was unable to find a problem, and implied that it was my cable modem, I wrote a simple python script that pings Google every 5 seconds and records the response time (or failure). I setup an old Linux laptop to sit around and do nothing but ping Google 24 hours a day and record the results of each request.

I learned that my service interruptions tend to start and stop on the hour or half hour.  For example, the first night it started to be bad at noon and improved at 2:30 the next morning.  That pattern of human friendly times and data was enough to convince them to try again (although they aren’t willing to consider it’s something scheduled since they aren’t aware of any scheduled processes on their network).

So at the moment I have a loaner modem – which has ruled out my device as the problem – and they are closing on having replaced every piece of hardware between me and the nearest node.  To their credit, it has gotten much less bad.  Most outages now last five minutes (more or less exactly), and I have only have a few a day (instead of a few an hour).

Anyone have guesses about what processes run on cable networks that last five minutes and reattempt for a few hours at a stretch before giving up for roughly 13 or 14 hours?

My takeaway so far has been that if your internet provider is unable to figure out what’s wrong, offer them more data. Even if they don’t know how to use it, it them to take the problem seriously.

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