Dumping my Comcast cable modem

Comcast is one of America’s most reviled companies. It’s not hard to understand its obnoxiousness when you realize it lives off government-granted monopolies. While people conceded vast powers to the FCC because of the questionable threat that it would throttle competing video streams, the real problem has remained untouched: its widespread status as a local cable monopoly. For broadband I have two choices: the cable monopoly (Comcast) or the phone monopoly (Fairpoint). When Comcast raised my rates, I planned on returning to Fairpoint once their strike was over. The delay wasn’t because of moral opposition to strike-breaking, but levels of service that had fallen from poor to almost nonexistent during the strike.

However, after the strike Fairpoint didn’t even say on its website what it’s charging for broadband. Their website says “‘High-speed Internet’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.” That’s true, and that’s all they tell you. Considering that the reason I’d left Fairpoint was its tendency to drop connections, I decided they aren’t interested in new broadband customers. So I’m stuck with Comcast.

However, “stuck” doesn’t mean “totally stuck.” $10 of my $54.99 charge has been for leasing a cable modem. This amount has actually gone up as the device has aged. Once I decided that I wouldn’t escape Comcast quickly, I looked into replacing it with a purchased device. This was pretty easy for me, but describing what was involved may help some others. If you have Comcast Internet service and plan to keep it for a year or more, you should definitely escape that ridiculous lease.

The first step is to look at Comcast’s list of approved devices. There are lots of choices, many of them not too expensive. Just make sure you pick one that will keep up with the service level you’re paying for. You might want to check which manufacturers have been caught putting spyware in their devices, but that’s a matter for a different post.

Linksys DPC-3008 cable modemI bought a Linksys DPC-3008 for about $60 from Amazon and set it up. It has just a single Ethernet port, so to keep things simple I connected my main computer directly to it. At this point you have to be patient. If I’d waited long enough, maybe ten minutes, it would have redirected any URL I entered to the Xfinity activation page and I probably could have done it online. But I thought that it wasn’t going to do that, so I called Comcast service. A successful battle with the phone tree led to a real person, who transferred my call to another person.

One of them, I think it was the first one, asked for the last four digits of my Social Security number (my “social,” as people call it when they’re trying to beguile you into handing over confidential information). I declined firmly and wasn’t pressed on the matter. (Why does Comcast make its customers’ Social Security numbers available to its support people!?) I had a bill at hand, so I gave my account number and they were satisfied with that.

Before connecting the device up, I had already copied the serial number and MAC address from its underside. Having these numbers available is important; it’s annoying to read tiny print off the bottom of a connected device while on the phone.

The woman who handled my setup was initially confused because she had the model number listed as a Cisco rather than a Linksys. Apparently it’s both. After asking some questions to make sure it really was what I was saying, she went ahead and did whatever magic occurs to recognize the device. (Comcast makes no secret of its back door to your modem.) There was a slow reinitialization and then I tested a well-known website (cnn.com, but any reliably accessible site will do), and all was well.

The next step was to get my wireless network working again. I’d previously put my Netgear Wi-Fi router into bridge mode, meaning it simply passed all traffic through to the cable modem. I connected up through it and my computer worked, but my Wi-Fi devices couldn’t find a local network. I went fishing on addresses like 192.168.1.1 and 10.0.0.1 and couldn’t find anything. Then it sank in that this box really was just a modem and had no IP address or browser-accessible service. Not really a problem; I just had to take my router out of bridge mode.

However, putting it into bridge mode had lobotomized it. The router now had no IP address of its own to talk to. The only option was to do a full reset on it, which for some reason took several tries at holding the recessed button in for 10 seconds. I then had to re-enter all the Wi-Fi settings, but it worked.

The last step was to return the Comcast device. Fortunately they have a shop in Nashua, so it was a short trip for me. I brought a recent bill for any account information they might need, and an Ethernet cable just in case they insisted that one belonged with the modem (they didn’t). My bill should now be reduced by $10 a month.

I hope this level of detail has been helpful rather than frightening. I will say that the Comcast people I talked with were polite and competent. They’re probably impressed by anyone who doesn’t take their anger at the company out on them.

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