Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I For One Welcome Our New Knology Overlords

Not really, but I am always looking for an excuse to use an obscure Simpsons reference.

Anyway, it is official.

Knology is now Lawrence's local cable-based broadband provider. The old Sunflower home page redirects to a new Knology Kansas page. I guess I need to update the sidebar links on the blog.

The natives are showing signs of restlessness.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who knows? Sam knows.

The Broadband Observer has become friends with Sam. Uncle Sam, that is, or at least the Federal Communications Commission part of it, who is helping run a first-of-its-kind national three-year study of broadband connectivity and performance in America.

These are real, scientifically sophisticated automated regular tests of connectivity, bandwidth quality and speed that will be used to gain an understanding of what actual broadband performance is being delivered to customers. Over 100,000 users nationwide, subscribing to hundreds of providers and tiers of service are being studied, and the results will show if consumers are actually getting what they pay for, as well as what the true broadband infrastructure in America is like.

I am excited to be one of the people selected for this test. The test works by having a special NetGear router with custom firmware attached to your broadband connection. It regularly tests the connection and uploads statistical information to the study's managers. The owner of the broadband connection being tested (me) also gets to see my own data, which I am definitely interested in!
You can learn more about some of the technical tests if you are curious.

Watch for future posts about the SamKnows testing as I learn more about the process and find out some preliminary results.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Odds and ends: Waiting for Knology, U-Verse hits a rough spot

It's been a while since I have written here, mostly because not too much has been happening in the Lawrence broadband arena. Knology officially completed their purchase of Sunflower Broadband although as of yet there have been no changes to the technology or service offerings for Lawrence consumers. The only change of note was a rather aggressive swinging of the layoff axe as Knology decimated one of the best parts of Sunflower, their local customer service. Impact of these cuts (and any changes in services and branding) will probably become apparent later this Winter, and I will try to write about it here when it happens.

Ironically, those changes might be happening right around the same time that Mr. Observer himself might be shopping for a new ISP. Our 18 month long U-Verse experiment is showing signs that it may be in trouble. You might remember that last summer, which was the last time I really talked about U-Verse, service was humming along without any problems. This has mostly continued since then, with occasional glitchiness that usually resolved itself after a few days. The main problem we have had over the past year is internet slowdowns where our speed has dropped drastically, on its own, for a few hours or even a few days before magically correcting itself.

However, in the past week, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse, with significant VDSL signal problems, including random router reboots, dropped signals, and numerous line errors - more then we had ever had before (hundreds of millions of corrected blocks in a day). Topping it all off, our internet speed sometimes randomly slows way down for hours at a time before returning to normal. When this happens, speed tests to multiple sites show average speeds of less then half of the 24/3 we are paying for, with ridiculously high ping times (over 150 milliseconds) even to the local AT&T switch behind the VRAD (these are normally in the range of 40 milliseconds when things are working right).

AT&T has already tried numerous remedies; they've swapped our in-house router (the residential gateway), cleaned up our outside wiring, and even switched our connection port on the VRAD itself, to no avail. My suspicion is that there is likely a problem with network management or a network device in the AT&T network itself (this would account for the slowdowns and terrible ping times) and perhaps something wrong with the local line as well. The problems with the AT&T network itself probably affect other customers, but I would imagine most do not notice it, as they are not as technically inclined as I am and probably do not have the higher-speed internet tiers in which a slowdown would be way more apparent.

It just seems very weird that an installation that has been rock-solid for over a year would suddenly fall apart like this, without any obvious causes. AT&T is coming back out today, and my expectations are very low, both based on the intermittent nature of the problem, and past experiences. I am expecting a bunch of "shotgun debugging" - I predict they will try to replace the router again, and run more line tests that will show things to be "clean" and it might work for a short while...and then, ugh. This is nothing against the service technicians themselves; to a man, they have all been as helpful and courteous as possible - they just haven't been able to solve the problem!

We've been spoiled by a year of troublefree service, and the joys of 3 megabits upload speed and no bandwidth caps, but if these issues can't be solved, Sunflower (or I guess Knology) might be getting another look.

As a side note, I am really glad we do NOT have U-Verse for TV now. Slow internet stinks, but you can live with it. But I have to imagine that the television service would have just been decimated by all these glitches and we would probably have been forced to miss a bunch of our favorite shows.

PS: I would think an issue like this would be something AT&T would be very interested in solving, especially if it does involve something higher up in their network infrastructure that may potentially affect many people. I know that the different parts of AT&T are like islands, and the guys who come to your home to troubleshoot do not work with the network engineers, or the line repair guys. I've been told that is the corporate nature of AT&T, which is sad, because just like in medicine, sometimes you need to approach a problem from many different angles and get teams from different departments to work together.