The title of this post is how I'm feeling at this point. Not surprisingly, the wiring infrastructure of Old Town is not the organized and simplified structure you'd probably find in most planned communities. Over the years the electric, phone, cable, and fiber optic services for Old Town have grown somewhat organically as the technologies have improved. While the city has kept up with things for the most part, this has left a bit of a hodge podge of above ground/underground services throughout the city.

King street and the first few blocks from King are largely underground services, while the residential areas are still largely above ground. So when a transformer exploded last week on King Street it meant some serious traffic delays for a little while, but no ugly wires overhead.

A few weeks ago we started to experience rather poor performance from our Internet service, or latency as it's commonly known. It seemed that each evening at around 6:30pm-7:30pm on weekdays our network speeds would drop from the usual of 30 mbps+ (very fast) down to about 0.2 mbps (very slow). After a few tweets to Comcast about the issues, they scheduled a tech to come out and take a look.

Just in case anyone out there has Comcast as their provider, if you ever have a problem, just tweet it to @ComcastCares. The service you will get via Twitter is far superior to the service you'll get by calling their 1-800-COMCAST number.

When the tech arrived and I took him into the basement to see the server rack and wiring setup he was immediately skeptical of our home's interior wiring. He said, "Who put this together?" I responded that I had done the install and he immediately assumed the entire interior wiring was amateur and the root cause of any poor performance I was experiencing. 

Needless to say, after about 10 minutes of interior testing and eliminating variables, he decided the interior wiring was not to blame (yeah...no kidding, buddy!!!) and the root of the issues were in the exterior wiring. At one point, while he was on the phone testing things with a tech on the other end, I overheard him say, "I'm here at the customers...um...server rack...yeah...no, I'm serious...a full rack with patch panels...no, it's really well done, pretty sick...you should really see this...it's even got lights."

The tech determined that we have two issues. The first is the fact the wiring from the node to the house is 17 or more years old, and the second is the fact the node at the utility pole is really over crowded. Take a look at the rat's nest at the utility pole where the cable node originates.

A few days after our appointment Comcast came back out to replace the wire from the street to our house. I was happy about that, but it didn't totally take care of the issues. What it did do was to add another wire to the side of our house. Now this is what the side of our house looks like.

We now have six wires hanging on the side of our house, but we only need two (cable and electric). As you may know, I'm a total wire snob. What I mean by this is that I love wiring, like the network, cable, and speaker wiring I ran all through the house, but I absolutely HATE unnecessary wiring that hangs awkwardly, sits outside of the wall for all to see, and ultimately uglifies the area wherever it is seen. I've gone to great lengths to properly conceal any wiring inside of our house, so why not outside? I now have a goal to remove all but the necessary wiring on our home's exterior and beautify the side of our house in the process.

The secondary issue is the root cause of our slowness. We're connecting to the Comcast network via an "overcrowded node." In other words, too many people are accessing the internet at the same time in the evening and choking out our bandwidth. While the new wire they ran helps some, it's still well below what we're paying for. Is it any surprise? Just look at the mess of wires connecting near the middle of this photo.

You may have a hard time seeing it, but there are at least eight wires coming off of this one point, and this one point is shared among several other poles. The more permanent resolution to our issue is to change our network access point from this pole in front of our house, to an uncrowded pole at the back of our house. But the big problem with that, the tech wanted to run a wire over our backyard. Now, he doesn't know my wife, but I know my wife quite well, and if I ever okay someone running a wire over our backyard, she won't be a happy woman. 

The technical skeptic in me doesn't totally trust this will really resolve the issues, and my concern is simply that Comcast has an under structured network infrastructure for the number of subscribers in the area. The sad news, we can't switch to FIOS (no matter how much I want to) as it isn't offered in our area. The really sad news, Comcast has a total wired monopoly in Old Town. The even sadder than sad news, there's a dark fiber line (a fiber optic line that isn't in use, but fully able to be used) sitting just outside of the front of our house. Why oh why can't I just use that for our Internet so we can have full gigabit speeds!!!!! 

So now I need to come up with a plan. I need to figure out a way to run the new cable wire from the uncrowded pole to the cable box on the side of our house. I need to do it without running a wire above our backyard, without digging up the yard or alley, and without hindering the look of our backyard in any way. I have a plan that just might work. I'm going to try to hide the wire along the wall and behind the ivy. I think I can weave it into the ivy and make the ivy disguise the whole thing. We'll see how this goes, and if I can ultimately sell Wendy on the idea. The way she is, she'd prefer slow Internet access to an uglier backyard. Only time will tell.

Have you had any Internet speed nightmares? I know there are tons of stories to go around. Are you stuck as a Comcast or other cable company customer? Or are you one of the fortunate people where you have a choice of providers? Any thoughts or other ideas than running the wire behind the ivy? I'd love to hear some.

Comments 28

Comments

anne57vt
5/14/2013 at 1:49 PM
We have Fios, and underground wiring, out where we live in western Ffx county, but I understand your pain, any kind of monopoly is a drag because they aren't driven to improve stuff to keep you as a customer when they know you have no other options.

Funnily enough, the same thing is true for Verizon wrt service, tweeting them is far more effective and better than trying to call.
Alex
5/19/2013
I'm so glad I figured out the tweet thing a few years ago. I've gotten some very responsive and professional service that way. I know it will be harder the more people that learn about it, but it was good while it lasted.
5/14/2013 at 1:57 PM
I hate the wires too. Just doesn't add to the neighborhood beauty in any way! We also have several extra wires to the house. Any idea on how to get those removed? I'd like to remove our comcast and phone wires since we have FIOS (sorry - not bragging)! I think we have at least one or two others beyond that as well!
Alex
5/19/2013
Grrrr, you Arlington people and your FIOS taunting!!! :shakes fist:

I wish Alexandria has been on the ball back in 2003/2004 and just got their franchise contract straightened out.

As far as removing wires....hrm. I guess you could call each service company and ask them to remove them. However, I have a feeling ours might come down in a storm this summer. They are looking a little wobbly already. ;-)
5/14/2013 at 1:59 PM
We are over in Groveton off of Kings Hwy and we have the choice of FIOS or Cox. We heard great things about FIOS when we moved into our house so signed up. But... its been a big disappointment. We were having issues with our TV being pixelated at times (like you get during a storm with satellite) and our internet (though we theoretically had 35 down/35 up rarely got more than 19/20. (Yes, I know, first world problems.) We recently switched the TV part back to DirectTV and switched the internet to Cox for roughly 12 hours. Not even joking. Even though we were supposed to have 25/15 and it was so slow we couldn't even load the speed test site to test how slow it was! Then Cox said it couldn't possibly be a problem with speed on their end but they could send someone out to take a look at my computer (a brand new iMac) because that must be the problem, but for a fee of course! Now we're back to FIOS and we tried upping it to 75/35. We're still only getting about 20/20 so I need to call them back and get a tech out but as you know having a job puts house issues on the slow burner sometimes. There's literally nothing more annoying than dealing with utility companies!
Alex
5/19/2013
There are few things more frustrating in life than an Internet connection that doesn't live up to your agreed speeds. All you can do it stare at it and fume.

FIOS does have more options with getting the speed up to snuff, so hopefully a few more calls and service techs will get you a good one that will work.
Matthew Ronk
5/14/2013 at 2:00 PM
We have two Internet services coming into our home since both Brandi and I work from home when we are not on the road. We have AT&T Uverse Internet and Time Warner Internet (our TV is DirecTV so there isnt any bandwidth issue with either Uverse or TWarner).

Both services are stinky. Uverse is fiber to the house and ever day between 4pm and 8pm the latency is extreme as people get home from work. The TWarner?? It very seldom is ever great. These are the only two options in our area right now.

We are also looking into building a new home and I told my wife that we will NOT be building in an area unless it has gigabit fiber to the house and fiber running through the house. How sad is it that we have to pick land based upon Internet service options??

Also, Alex … NICE RACK!! :)
Alex
5/19/2013
Why, thank you! I love it when guys notice my rack!

We don't have the Uverse option up our way, but I've heard the same thing from other people in your neck of the woods.

I wonder if you can use your two services and do some sort of a router based acceleration to combine the two into one major connection?

I'm with you on the location based on available bandwidth. Hey, Kansas City looks pretty attractive with their Gigabit Google Network.
5/14/2013 at 2:25 PM
As you know, we live pretty rurally. When we first bought our house our only options were rocket sticks, but they're bloody expensive. So we toughed it out for a long time just using data on our iPhones, and regularly going over and paying out the nose.

We thought we'd lucked out when a company said they could get us internet - whoohoo! But all they ended up doing was knocking out our phone line for three days before realizing that they were wrong.

And then a few months later Bell came out with their "Fibe" internet. We didn't have high hopes, but thought we'd give it a shot. And it works! We're out of the range for their advertised top speed, but it does alright and we're able to stream things like Netflix with no problems.
Alex
5/19/2013
My parents live in a similarly rural area, and growing up there when the Internet was new, I was always jealous of people with faster connections. I remember jumping on all of the latest technologies in the hopes of being just a little bit faster.

I'm glad you guys were able to find a good service. Makes a world of difference in today's day and age of streaming services.
Cheryl
5/14/2013 at 3:21 PM
Utilities are so much fun - and they are never wrong!

I came home one night and noticed a strip of grass in the front yard was yellow - like it had been replaced. I followed it to either end and found some sort of antenna up at the top of the tree at the curb and a new box on the house.

It seems that AT&T had installed some sort of new service for TV. When I finally go in touch with them I found out they had a work order for the empty lot across the street - oops. Never could get them to come out and uninstall anything or replace the bulbs that they managed to destroy in the flower bed. They felt they did nothing wrong and never did apologize for any inconvenience.

At one point they even asked if we wanted to hook up the service now that it was installed - they would waive the installation charge. I had a few choice words for that offer.
Alex
5/19/2013
Honestly, there's few things that make me as upset as a know-it-all utility person. I know they're making mistakes, they know they're making mistakes, but they just carry on like you're a fool and they are flawless. Makes my blood boil.

Your story is equal parts incredible and horrible. I wouldn't be a happy camper.
Kate 'Katya' Viar
5/14/2013 at 3:59 PM
Don't even start. We've been in a battle with Comcast since early December. They need to run a new line to our house, but they're simply not getting to it.
Alex
5/19/2013
Try the Tweet route. We got our new line pretty easily, but I think it's because we have a "business" account. Your line is all underground, isn't it?
lindsey
5/14/2013 at 4:55 PM
Will they even let you run it behind the ivy? I wanted my utilities hooked up towards the back of my house but they wouldn't allow it because the wire would have touched an addition on my house that juts out.

If you haven't seen it, I suggest you watch the curb your enthusiasm episode with the wire.
Alex
5/19/2013
I love that episode of Curb.

I'm not sure what they will and won't let us do. We shall see. Might need to get creative.
Jen
5/14/2013 at 8:35 PM
Yep, we're not fans of Comcast either and they're the only option in our area. Thanks for the tweeting @ComcastCares tip, I'll definitely try that next time we have an issue! Anything's better than holding for 20-25 minutes!
Alex
5/19/2013
I've often heard back on my tweet in less time than it takes to get through to a human on the phone.
Dean
5/15/2013 at 9:21 AM
While living in the FFX area, we HAD to have Cox as they were the only provider. Since we've moved up to the Boston area we got FIOS and so far have had no issues.

At one point I called the Fairfax Consumer Reporting Dept. about the Monopoly Cox had and their response was "You've always got Satellite (Dish & Direct TV". Little did they know that the HUGE trees in our yard caused really poor performance (so said our neighbors).

Maybe calling Alexandria's Consumer Protection Dept. will help bring FIOS, or anything other than Cox, to your area.

Good luck!
Alex
5/19/2013
The old "You can get satellite" is the worst! I've heard it so many times, and it's just crap. I've done a lot in the past, but FIOS isn't in the cards for us. After years of delay, Alexandria was finally ready to move and Verizon stopped installs of FIOS in new area nation wide. Too little, too late.
5/15/2013 at 11:19 AM
Good luck with this. I have faith that you will figure something out. Someone who can build such a sweet server rack can definitely solve the problem of a few wires! The extra wires are something that we have been dealing with at our house as well, we have slowly been removing them.
Alex
5/19/2013
Thanks for your confidence! I think I might need to start removing a few of our old wires that are simply not used. That will make me feel like I'm really accomplishing something.
Michael
5/15/2013 at 2:25 PM
Shortly after getting DSL service in our current house, I started seeing speeds drop off to nearly nothing with a complete loss of connectivity between the hours of around 4:30pm to 6:00pm. After finally getting a tech to come out, he determined that the problem was in the cable run behind the west-facing brick facade on the front of the house. As the sun was setting, it was warming this wall and causing a temporary short.

There is nothing worse for troubleshooting electron flow than an intermittent problem.
Alex
5/19/2013
It's so weird to figure out the things that can affect network speeds. I was working in an internship where I'd lose 95% of my connectivity every time someone would open a closet door near my office. I eventually figured out that my cat-5 cable (even before cat5e) ran above an unshielded fluorescent light, and when someone would turn on the light when they were looking for pens, it would interrupt my signal. Rather than fix the issue, we just removed the bulbs from the light and told everyone they were broken.
laura h
5/15/2013 at 4:18 PM
Have FiOS with (mostly) no issues and love it.

Do not love the fact that all the mass and tangles of wires for all my utilites come in to the front of the house - along with the meter and the fios box that the genius previous homeower let them install 5 feet off the ground pretty much next to the front door. Sigh. Couldn't look any worse if they had tried.
Alex
5/19/2013
I can't stand that the utilities don't really care about how stuff looks.
Jon
5/18/2013 at 12:24 AM
Here's what you do - run your own cable to a terminal box along the wall. Have them take that (we'll call it the customer termination) and carry their cable from your new box at the end of the wall to the pole. That way you can run it any way you see fit. Having an extra Verizon POTS line to our house I can understand your pain about too many wires (our landlines are VoIP/Asterisk now)
Alex
5/19/2013
Jon! Perfect! Thanks!

This is exactly what I'm going to do. I'll place the box on the back wall, just a few feet from the pole. They'll love it because they really won't need to run anything. I'll love it because I can run the whole thing. I'll just need to get myself some good wire to be sure my run (which will be about 60ft to my rack) won't have much loss.
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