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.


  1. I love this blog. Just moved to Larry from Wichita. Started out with Sunflower but dropped them almost immediately due to their unacceptably low upstream caps. Their most expensive package was still too slow for me to game online reliably. Switched to U-verse which has been much better (for less $$) thus far. I do get the occasional tv channel freeze (switching to another channel and back usually fixes it) and once in a while gameplay gets laggy, but I don't have the tech knowledge to test my connection like you have and overall performance has been much better. I'm in the 6th & Kasold area.

  2. I ditched Knology just before Christmas when they announced the axe would fall upon the local customer support team. THEY were the reason Sunflower Broadband was really great for me, and I found it abhorrent that they'd farm out my local customer support to South Dakota - instead of downsizing that (obviously bloated) division. I didn't want to talk to someone, who'd never been to Lawrence, about my service problem.

    I won't go back...

    I first investigated UVerse because it works great at my girlfriend's house. I couldn't get it, despite my backdoor neighbor having it. I went with AT&T DSL instead and I asked him why I couldn't get UVerse. He didn't know, BUT he was one of those smart installers that really wanted to know why - so he found out for me.

    He spoke with the engineers that are working on UVerse here in Lawrence and they notified him that they'd halted selling the product in some areas due to some growing pains they were having with the system. They were finding that symptoms, such as the ones you mentioned, were happening. The engineers are "working on a solution" and he said they put me on a list to upgrade to UVerse when it's been solved.

    I don't know all the technical specifics about UVerse as it compares to cable and DSL. I know there are relay boxes and the house's distance from the boxes is a factor for proper service. I know that AT&T has a lot more UVerse boxes up than they are using because of these growing pains they are working on.

    This is the extent of what the installer told me and what I understood of it.

    I hope yours is a more simple fix and you get back to proper service soon.

    For me, I'm happy with DSL for now - it runs Netflix just fine and all 4 of the home computers and other wifi devices.


  3. U-Verse working fine in SW Lawrence. Sorry to hear of your troubles!

  4. Also, not sure why people talk up the local customer support provided by Sunflower. In my experience, Sunflower provided some of the worst customer support I've had from ANY company, not just an ISP.

  5. i live in east lawrence and i am sick of knology! i looked at the uverse packages and if i get the family tv package plus the hd add on, i can get phone cable and internet for $30 less and get all the premium movie channels in hd which i dont have now. i need uverse in my area now!

  6. Had EXACTLY the same issues you were having with similar troubleshooting including changing the port on my VRAD. During the troubleshooting we replaced the residential gateway and were not able to even authenticate it. Turns out the period was during a "maintenance window" and they were pushing new software/firmware to the VRAD's. Seems like a number of upgrades simply failed or deteriorated their service. That said I regularly get a time out around 1AM every morning that lasts for about 2 minutes.

  7. "I ditched Knology just before Christmas when they announced the axe would fall upon the local customer support team. I found it abhorrent that they'd farm out my local customer support to South Dakota."

    Farm it out to South Dakota? Where do you think you are calling when speaking with AT&T..? South Dakota still posses Midwest work ethic, something that is a rarity these days.