Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Comcast (and maybe other telecomms) check MAC addresses on Ethernet cards, "force" wireless router use to help manage bandwidth abuse "transparently"

Here’s some scuttlebutt on how Comcast (and maybe some other vendors) are handling the “controversy” of overage by a few customers (the surcharges or cutoffs discussed earlier).

Recently, after I had some instability problems in the high speed Internet, they told me that my land Netgear router from early 2006 was at “end of life.” True, an outdoor splitter had deteriorated in February’s snowstorms and needed to be replaced. But the company ships you the new Cisco cable modem and Netgear wireless router, with some instructions that leave some holes unanswered. I covered this last week on my “IT Jobs” blog (it was a job).

I found that after connecting the cable modem (which as I wrote there requires a call to tech support for the account to be reset), other computers would no longer connect to the Internet on the wired modem connection. That seems to be because Comcast cable modems (made by Cisco) now check (or, have Comcast’s servers check) the MAC address (Media Access Control Address) on your Ethernet card. They only allow you to use one computer this way. If you don’t want to use wireless and your computer breaks and you get another one (even temporarily, as during a warranty repair) you have to call the company’s tech support to “re-provision” your connection. That’s what Geek Squad told me today at a Best Buy store visit.

So you follow the directions for Netgear and set up the wireless home network (another post today on the IT blog).

What’s the point? I think it helps Comcast (or any similar competitor) manage excessive use by a few customers. Say you have a fraternity house with land connections and multiple kids running BitTorrent (maybe illegally) and chewing up bandwidth from more “casual” consumers, leading to slowdowns in service. Wireless is good, but the responsibility for correct and heavy use shifts to the consumer.

It is true, that even with the router on, the “wired” connection to the “original” computer is about 50% faster than it was before, and is much less prone to slowdowns during heavy usage periods on business days.

The fact is, even average consumers have to become more tech savvy to keep good service, even for ordinary use. The Kids (“Our Kids”, who some of us taught and raised) have taken over.

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