Thursday, April 17, 2014

Suddenly, a fair weather cable TV signal failure (COMCAST Xfinity) that takes a lot of time to fix -- did they rush system changes for new customers too fast? What about the established customers?

Cable companies have been performing a “digital migration”, and that includes Comcast Xfinity.  The company recently sent out a letter to customers explaining that some could need new converter boxes, as here.

Three times since March 1, my own XFinity cable service has suddenly been interrupted with a “blue screen of death”, as with this link.  

The first two times, the Internet was also out.  The first time, the Comcast website showed a neighborhood outage.  It was cleared in about a half hour.  The second time, the website did not admit an outage, and the upstairs television tried to reboot.  It was cleared in about an hour.  But I called the 800 number for COMCAST, was told to leave a message, and got a callback the next morning, long after it was fixed.
The third time was different, and happened Wednesday, April 17 (in Arlington VA) around 4 PM. This time Internet stayed up (although sometimes slower) as did digital phone (except for a few minutes).  Eventually, I found that a downstairs smaller TV with an older cable box could get the channels under 100, but upstairs got nothing.  The website showed me connected.  I called the 800 number and got the same leave-a-message jargon.  I tried back around 10 PM, but this time a slightly different XFINITY number which seemed to have a more detailed set of options that could reach someone immediately.  This time reached a man who checked and said there was a neighborhood outage.
This morning there had been no progress, and Internet was barely working.  I called again.  I had to try twice to get the land line to work.  I got a human being again, who stayed with the problem with a call that took 40 minutes.  I tried rebooting.  Then she checked around, saw that the neighborhood signal problem was supposed to be completed, but some signal numbers were low.  She checked with operations twice.  Finally, it was decided to send someone out. 

The tech arrived fairly promptly, in about two hours.  He found the signal strength at the source still weak. Still, he said that properly wiring standards had changed since this job had been done in 2003.  He grounded the line against any possible lightning strike (a fire hazard no longer considered acceptable).  He replaced several splitters.  He said that having too many levels of splitting isn’t good because it dilutes the signal strength.  After the work, and a reboot, the below-100 channels would work upstairs (although with some pixilation).  But the HD channels would no longer work until some more hardware maintenance was done in the neighborhood (including an amplifier at the end of the block).  That could take up to 72 hours, although it sounds like it probably will be much less than that.  If it isn’t done in 72 hours, there is a direct number to call to get it done that day.  Again, most neighborhood outages (other than lines downed by tree limbs in storms) really do get resolved within an hour or two. But not this one.  It used to be that the same tech could do the neighborhood maintenance, but not now (although maybe that’s because the response was immediate, in an emergency).   


The bottom line?  It very much appears that XFinity has upgraded its platforms to all digital without ensuring that all the hardware in many older neighborhoods would work or was compatible.  It’s the old IT problem of putting a project into production. “It if works, it’s production; it if fails, it’s a test”.  But the customer bears the loss of service in the meantime. 

Update: Later

Full service on all HD channels was restored around 9 PM, after a 29 hour partial-outage.  

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