Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Comcast's DIY modem and router changes (home user): A Canterbury Tale, perhaps

Well, welcome to the world of DIY installations of cable Internet equipment changes.

Recently, my high speed cable connection started slowing and stalling, and a Comcast technician did get most of those problems to go away by replacing outdoor splitters, which admittedly could have been degraded by the February snowstorms which had covered them.

But I was told that the Netgear all-in-one router-modem was at “end of life” and no longer supported. At any time, the item could stop working, because software changes are being made to the network for newer equipment and it might not always be downward compatible. So Comcast ships separate modem and wireless router. (Wired routing is no longer supported; I guess the assumption is most customers have big houses to move their laptops around in.)

The shipment included a Cisco 2100 modem, and a separate wireless Netgear router, that is not to be opened until the modem Internet connectivity works. The directions in the booklet say to connect in the commonsense matter, but to use the CD to establish your connectivity software and establish your Comcast email account. I wonder, why do I need to establish the email account; I already have one.

So what actually happens when you connect the modem is that Windows Vista first goes through its routine to recognize it (pretty straightforward), and then, if you skip the CD and go to Mozilla (or any browser) something interesting happens. True, you don’t need the CD if you already have Comcast Internet (common sense). Comcast intervenes on top of the home page (Google for Mozilla) and inserts its own Comcast Activation website url. It prompts you to turn off your anti-virus software and firewall (not a good idea). I leave it on, and neither Windows firewall nor Webroot Spysweeper anti-virus objected. It goes through the Install wizard (after “run”) and “I accept” license business (I don’t recall that earlier Comcast modems required this). Then when you go into Mozilla again it gets a system error and tells you to call the 800 support number.

Well, after about twenty minutes, Mozilla works on all websites (they have to change the settings on the account), so I try Google chrome. My site navigates fine because it has no cookies or special stuff; but I got to Google blogs (my blogs linked there), and it intercepts with the Activate. So somehow Blogger is “different” – or Comcast is looking for cookies that most commercial sites and providers like Google and Facebook use, and overlays them. I try Internet Explorer and the same happens.

So as I exit, it tells me to reboot the machine. The restart takes unusually long, because Vista seems to have to run a lot of extra stuff after a modem install. But finally it comes up and everything works.

There’s one other thing. Cisco has a CD, too, and it warns you about how to use the modem with a USB instead of Ethernet cable. I don’t know why you would want to.

Tomorrow I’ll play with the wireless router. But this is a lot of customer time to accommodate a Comcast “system upgrade”. I do have to say that the connection seems “faster”.

Nobody thought of writing up the documentation as to what to do if you were an existing customer with existing email and a wired router. That’s just systems analysis.

Update: June 4:  Comcast at Best Buy says that all this relates to Comcast's decision to switch all its land broadband to cable modems. More will appear soon on the Network Neutrality blog.

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