Monday, March 14, 2011

Comcast Customer Support and Internet Speeds

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Comcast is notorious for its poor customer support. My experience with them has not been totally inconsistent with most of the terrible things I've heard. Back when I initially tried to get internet service ordered, one customer service agent at the Baltimore service center even went as far as to say that another agent (via Comcast online chat, who asked me to visit the service center to verify my identity) lied to me about being able to pick up a self-install kit. Whether or not I should have been able to is besides the point; I think it's quite something if Comcast calls itself a liar just because an agent made a mistake in what they thought was possible. In general, I've found that things one customer service agent tells me may no longer apply with the next agent. The level of consistency, or rather lack thereof, can get to be extremely frustrating.

About a month or two after my Comcast service was initially connected, I noticed that the sustained download speed I was getting was inconsistent with the tier I signed up for. I signed into the Comcast online chat support service, explained that I believed the modem was not receiving the configuration file for my level of service, and had the issue resolved very quickly.

More recently, I signed up for a promotion for a higher tier of internet service. Between about 5-6 customer support agents including a supervisor, none were able to get the correct modem configuration file sent. Most of them claimed that the issue had been fixed and I had to wait 24 hours for the change to take effect. In one of these cases, waiting 24 hours resulted in my modem returning to the Comcast walled garden (unregistered modem). When I attempted to go through the first time registration process, I was told by the online system that no service tier was on my account number. Fortunately, phone support was able to restore my previous tier of service fairly quickly.

After about the 6th agent in trying to get the correct tier of service, and a callback to my voicemail saying that no internet billing codes were on my account, some neuron in my brain fired reminding me that Comcast had a Twitter account which was staffed by an effective support team. I did some quick research online to gauge others' experiences, and decided to give it a try. I e-mailed the address listed on the Twitter page since I don't use Twitter, and within 15 minutes of my request I received a reply saying that the issue was fixed. I checked and indeed it was fixed! So if you are a Comcast user, I highly encourage you to use Comcast's Twitter support team, whether by Twitter or e-mail.

In Comcast's defense, however, if you are using wireless and feel that your internet is very slow, and you are living in an apartment complex, try a wired connection first. It is very likely that your speed is low due to interference from neighbors' WiFi. Most people only have wireless routers and laptop wireless cards that operate in the 2.4 GHz frequency range, in which there are only 3 non-overlapping WiFi channels. In my building, I can see more than 30 access points of varying signal strength from where my laptop sits. That means all of these 30 cause interference to some degree in the 2.4 GHz range, and that doesn't include interference from microwaves, portable phones, and Bluetooth devices which also operate in the 2.4 GHz radio band. My solution was to get a dual band wireless router, which includes the ability to operate in the 5 GHz frequency band in addition to 2.4 GHz. Although 5 GHz does not penetrate walls and bend around obstacles as well as 2.4 GHz does, it has many more non-overlapping channels (20). Not being able to penetrate obstacles as well can also become advantageous if everyone had a 5 GHz-capable router since the degree of interference from neighbors would also be reduced. Dual band wireless routers are more expensive, which is probably why most people don't have them, and will also require that your laptop have a wireless card that can talk 5 GHz. Generally, if the wireless card says it can connect to 802.11a networks, it can do 5 GHz. 802.11n can be either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, so if you have a card that says it can connect to b/g/n, that's likely to mean only 2.4 GHz, and a 5 GHz wireless router will not help you. Over a 5 GHz connection, my laptop can get the same speeds to the internet as a wired connection can (30 Mbps downstream, 6 Mbps upstream), but over 2.4 GHz, speeds are much slower (about 4 Mbps downstream, 5 Mbps upstream).

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