July 27, 2007

Cable Broadband Question

Time-Warner provides me with fine cable modem Internet service during the day and evening, but about ten o'clock each night for the last few weeks, reliability falls apart, with intermittent outages all night long. The support desk claims that this is because their signal to my house is too strong after other users call it a day (and, implicitly, if I'd just go to bed like a normal person I wouldn't be having this problem). It's easy for my computer to sip from the firehose when everybody else is sipping too, they say, but not when I'm drinking alone (metaphorically speaking). They want to send a man to put a device on the box where the cable comes into the house that would reduce the signal strength.

Does this make any sense? If not, how should I fix it?


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

19 comments:

James said...

Try using a splitter, it'll reduce the signal. I think that's all they used to fix my cable once.

Bill said...

First check your speed here: http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/ to see if they are telling the truth.

Sometimes service providers "throttle" your bandwidth when you are downloading something "too fast". I have trouble with this from time to time on my wife's PC (not an issue on BSD or Linux).

Here's some background for you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandwidth_management

You actually have a few options here:

1. Let them install the device (I wouldn't -- it might not work the way you want it to)

2. Control the bandwidth yourself (this is what I would do) with a free program http://bandwidthcontroller.com/trafficShaperXp.html or on your router if it allows this.

3. Get a fiber connection. This would be my dream, but alas, they do not offer it in my neighborhood. If it is available in your neighborhood, you are a lucky man and should take advantage of it.

tommy said...

It sounds odd, but yes, your signal can indeed be too strong (either in terms of frequency or amplitude).

If you are curious about your signal strength, you can check here. Click on the "signal" tab.

Let them try and assist you on this.

Anonymous said...

Radical experiment:

Cancel cable. Then, toss your TV.

Though painful at first, this move will eventually increase your quality of life greatly. Trust me on this.

MPS said...

Cable broadband has always been relatively more sensitive to the traffic of your neighbors, but this is the first time I've heard of this "throttling" phenomenon/problem when a single user is "drinking alone".

Aside from the tinkering of the cable folks on your existing broadband connection, perhaps you may want to look into a DSL connectoin or, if available in your area, a fiber connection like Verizon FiOS (I believe it is available in parts of Southern California).

DSL or fiber will give you a more dedicated connection that is not subject to the usage whims of your neighbors (and that's true even with lower-bandwith DSL - the trade-off is a a slightly smaller pipe but a consistent speed and connection - one that I personally find good for me).

Of course, the downside of DSL is that you often have to have a land phone line (don't know if you have one - you were a SunRocket victim like myself). While "naked" DSL is available in some areas without a local line, it is not common.

It also may not work out financially, although for us, the $26 local land line (including taxes) plus ~$17/month for cheap VOIP service (we're transitioning to ViaTalk) turns out to be a good value (we also need a land line for our security system, and converting to cellular or internet monitoring isn't cost effective for us yet). The Local line + VOIP price comes out to be about the same as a typical monthly charge for a cable company digital phone (TimeWarner here starts from $40/mo. before taxes/fees).

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, I don't get cable TV, just cable Internet service. So do deprieve ourselves of the Hitler Channel and VH1's New Rock of Law.

tommy said...

The cable company probably wants to set you up with an attenuator, Steve. These are pretty common.

So do deprieve ourselves of the Hitler Channel

You aren't missing much. You can only watch four part series on the Hitler Youth or the same episodes of "Women of the Third Reich" so many times. It's only when truly important world events occur and must be covered (like the death of Leni Riefenstahl) that they seem update their coverage.

Mark Seecof said...

That story is bogus.

There's not much your neighbors can do to affect signal strength in your house. The cable system is engineered to avert just that!

(I suppose you might notice it if a close neighbor unscrewed his cable hookup at 10pm and left the unterminated coax dangling in the wind--but the problem would be electrical noise in the cable system, not excess signal strength.)

Anyway, it is unlikely that placing an attenuator in your drop will help you. If it did, that would only indicate that something else in the cable plant was screwed up (for example, a distribution amplifier might be plugged into the wrong outlet, so that it got powered up nightly by the clock-switch that controls the parking-lot lights).

However, I can imagine a variety of other possible explanations.

(I assume you've ruled out interference from activities scheduled for 10pm on your end, like network backups, virus scans, even running the dishwasher every night with the cable-modem plugged into the same outlet, yes?)

Perhaps your cable operator is downloading programming to all the "digital set-top boxes" in your neighborhood after 10pm. Perhaps the cable ISP has found a way to save money by reducing Internet bandwidth from 10pm to 6am. Perhaps the cable ISP has sold much of its late-night bandwidth to some business doing remote backups over the network, or is doing something similar itself. And so-on and so-forth.

If I were you I'd try to talk my way past the first line of tech support. The periodicity of the annoyance is a strong hint that you do not have a "terminal equipment" (cable modem) or drop problem. Ask the help desk to send a message to a supervisor in the department that actually provides the Internet service requesting a return call.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone has hacked into your computer & is downloading all the websites you've visted for the day along with every keystroke...

bill said...

Try using a splitter, it'll reduce the signal. I think that's all they used to fix my cable once.

-james


James is right about the splitter. You should probably try that first.

Freddie Turnill said...

I worked on a Cable Modem support line in the UK for several months and I haven't heard that intermittency occured due to the "signal being too strong"
When there is less people using your connection the available bandwith within your Local Area Network (LAN) increases not decreases.
The first thing to look for is what the lights on your CM are indicating. Look at them when working normally and see if this changes when you start to have problems.
When working normally the CM should have, depending on the model, ( I worked with Motorola and Scientific Atlanta CM's) should be for Motarola
solid lights for Power:Receive:Send:Online:
with "activity" flashing.

The first thing you should do if you want to diagnose connectivity problems is to remove the router if you have one as this will only return a 192.xxx.xxx.xxx IP or 0.0.0.0 address.
The PC and the CM need to be directly connected by an ethernet cable into your Network Card. This will give a true reading of the IP address obtained by the PC.

This is obtained by 2 methods.
One go to Network Connections in the Control Panel and double click your LAN icon and see if you have a "Valid IP" address which depends on the IP address alloted to your Time Warner group but usually something beginning maybe 80 or 82 but definately not 169 which means you have lost your connection nor 192 which means that if you have removed your router you are only getting as far as your CM.
First try a reboot in the correct sequence after turning off the power first and leave for 30 seconds or so.
You need to leave the CM to reboot completely before turning on the PC.
Going into Programmes,Accessories gets you into Command Prompt.
Type in IPconfig., This will tell your Default Gateway address and then Ping it.
Type in "ping" (leave out the " ")then a space and then the IP of the default gateway and see if you Recieve as many as you have sent. (usually 4) If OK then ping an external IP address.
Many sites block pings so you need to know which ones will accept. The only reliable one I ever got a customer to ping was the BBC.
Ask your BB supplier if they know a site which doesn't block pings( don't bother with Microsoft)
So type in "ping" then a space then bbc.co.uk then hit enter.
If you have connectivity you should get a sent 4 received 4. If you have loss or slow TTL then this would indicate you have a problem.

Ring the Support line up and ask them to see if they can ping your Cable Modem's Private IP address which will begin with a 10 or a 172 which are internal network addresses. You wont see that address. If they cannot tell you your Private IP and then for them to ping it from the agents PC then it is highly likely that the Network is having problems.
If they can ping your CM's Private IP address they should tell you what speed which should be anything from 8-30+ ms. The higher the milliseconds the slower the connection. If it is high they should ask you to disconnect your ethernet cable from between the CM and the PC and then they ping. If a large difference this indicates you have malware on your PC.
Also SNR or signal to noise ratio is important. Ask them if they can tell you what it is. If the information is unavailable to the agent this indicates a network problem. If the SNR is 29 or below they have problems. The higher # the better.
There is plenty more but if you sound like you know what you are talking about it will make the agent more wary and hopefully not try to blag you.

Anonymous said...

Does every PC in your house have the same problem?

Could some PC in your house have been captured by bot software (malware)? Perhaps your Internet link is groaning under the load of spam rushing through it (not by your command) all during the night.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone has hacked into your computer & is downloading all the websites you've visted for the day along with every keystroke...

Normally I'm a little suspicious of conspiracy theories, but Mr. Sailer has a high enough profile, and is sufficiently hated by The Left, that I wouldn't necessarily dismiss that possibility out of hand.

There are people out there who would give anything if Mr. Sailer's keyboard strokes led to, say, a child pr0n site, or email interaction with a child pr0n-ist.

And remember, The Left wasn't above releasing Clarence Thomas's video rental records [hoping, again, that there would be something untoward about his video rental habits].

Anonymous said...

Most likely it's on their end. I had the same problem with Comcast in Northern California. For many months my service would become very intermittant between midnight and 2:00 AM. I called them repeatedly, and eventually they sent out the cable guy. Everything checked out.

The second guy they sent out told me they were in the midst of a huge network reorganization, and the signal was dropping as they reconfigured switches, routers, and other equipment. I asked him why they didn't tell me that, and he said "Well the customer support people don't get told about this kind of stuff."

Eric

jedster said...

You should get DSL or FiOS which I believe is available in the Los Angeles area -- and could replace your TV as well. With either of those, you could also dump your phone company and use Vonage, which is both cheaper and superior to standard phone service when used via DSL or FiOS. (Typically it's not as reliable on cable, however.)

Barring that, you should definitely push to go past tier 1 customer service. You could call up threatening to cancel your service and demand that someone comes and visits your home to check out what might be wrong.

You could also stop using the computer after 10pm at night; it would make the authors of that night-time study happy.

As a member of "the Left" I certainly appreciate the power ascribed to us by the conspiratorial commenter. Frankly, however, unless Sailer is secretly downloading illegal porn or conspiring with some right-wing terrorist group, there's not much that could be exposed that would damage him in our eyes.

His public writing is a sufficient testament to his character!

Mark Seecof said...

More for your other readers, Steve, than for you: forget the splitter.

The fact that your cable modem works much of the time strongly suggests that you do not need an attenuator, because if the signal (really, the voltage level) on the cable actually were excessive, it would be just as excessive at 8pm as at 10pm.

(Attenuators are used in CATV plants because some of the houses that share a distribution amplifier are closer to it than others. When the "cable guy" cranks up the distribution amplifier to provide adequate signal strength at the far end of the block, the houses nearest the amp get too strong a signal (the signal fades as it travels farther down the physical cable). The cable guy will install attenuators at the houses closest to the distribution amp to moderate the signal strength they get. Too weak a signal gives a washed-out TV picture and prevents a cable modem from decoding the data stream. Too strong a signal has analogous effects (TV picture shows ghosts due to "adjacent channel bleedover," and the cable modem gets checksum errors due to insufficient discrimination). The cable guy has a meter to help him set the power level in the proper range. The power level at each house has nothing to do with the number of TV's in other houses or whether TV's or cable modems are turned on or off.

(Note also that the "signal level" is not the same thing as the data rate for the cable modem. If a too-strong or too-weak signal interferes with your web-surfing, it's only because it interferes with the transmission/ reception of the datastream. The way the internet works, the data is broken into "packets" of (generally) 64-1500 bytes each, and when some are lost to garbles, they get sent again after a delay. If a signal problem causes you to lose 10% of your packets, then it could take, say, 50% longer to load each web-page (the response isn't linear for reasons too complex to rehearse here).)

It's true that a splitter will act as an attenuator-- each of N (e.g., two) outputs will deliver slightly less than 1/N'th (e.g., half) of the signal (power) available at the input (the splitter circuitry itself dissipates or reflects a small amount of the power). So you can use a two-port splitter as a 50% (3db) attenuator just by hooking your TV or cable modem to one of the outputs. (Be sure to terminate the other output.)

There are two (main) kinds of splitters: one-way, and bidirectional.[1] The one-way kind will block the upstream signal from your cable modem, so whether it provides the proper degree of attenuation or not, it will cut off your internet service. The bidirectional kind lets signals through in both directions (required for cable modem). If you neglect to terminate unused connections on a bidirectional splitter, electrical noise will enter your cable and ruin your web surfing experience. You can terminate a connection with a 75-ohm terminator cap or by running some coax from it to an extra TV, cable-modem, or FM-radio 75-ohm coax (unbalanced) antenna input. In fact, you should terminate all connections even with one-way splitter's, because otherwise many of them will generate signal reflections into the cable which will hose your reception or cable-modem performance.

I've already explained why you likely do not need an attenuator. But if you are determined to experiment, and choose to use a splitter as a makeshift attenuator, please choose a bidirectional splitter and make sure to terminate the unused ports, or effects other than attenuation will skew your results.

[1] There are all kinds of fancy splitters which you will almost never see.

SFG said...

Normally I'm a little suspicious of conspiracy theories, but Mr. Sailer has a high enough profile, and is sufficiently hated by The Left, that I wouldn't necessarily dismiss that possibility out of hand.

He was on the One People Project's list.
I'd scan for malware if I were you, Steve, even if it's unrelated to your cable troubles.

Glaivester said...

Radical experiment:

Cancel cable. Then, toss your TV.

Though painful at first, this move will eventually increase your quality of life greatly. Trust me on this.


And how will this fix his internet reception problems?

Bill said...

If you neglect to terminate unused connections on a bidirectional splitter, electrical noise will enter your cable and ruin your web surfing experience. You can terminate a connection with a 75-ohm terminator cap or by running some coax from it to an extra TV, cable-modem, or FM-radio 75-ohm coax (unbalanced) antenna input.

-Marc Seecof


Obviously you have never heard of duct tape and chewing gum...

:-)

But if you are determined to experiment, and choose to use a splitter as a makeshift attenuator, please choose a bidirectional splitter...

Well duh!