Mac Musings

The Dark Side of Cable Modems

Daniel Knight - 13 June 2000 -

I was pretty excited to learn AT&T, our local cable provider, would be offering cable modem service in our area. For some inexplicable reason, Michigan's second largest city (Grand Rapids) has become something of a technological backwater. It was only this year that we finally got cable modems; DSL may be coming this summer.

I'd been using ISDN for about a year when the cable modem guy installed a new line and a SURFboard cable modem. Using a Mac, it was very simple to configure TCP/IP and have everything running beautifully.


Fast didn't begin to describe the experience - until AT&T decided, about six weeks after installing service, to put a block on the line to prevent TV signals from getting through. Service has been poor ever since. It's sometimes fast, but too often simply nonexistent.

Needless to say, we're very disappointed by this. AT&T expects us to pay $39.95 a month for this service (once the 90 day $19.95/month trial period is done). If we do have a DSL option by then, I'll probably cancel AT&T @Home service.


We're hoping to improve things by signing up for cable TV at about $12 a month, which will also improve reception for most channels. Just basic service, mind you. The cable company is coming out on today to remove the TV block on our connection.


In a particularly boneheaded move, one which they will hear about in a letter, they have the gall to charge $8.95 to put a new trap on the line, this time one that blocks the channels I don't want. It's like a penalty for not signing up for anything special. I don't want the extra channels, so I get to pay AT&T to put a device on the line that prevents me from receiving signals I don't want to begin with.

They're also charging a $22 reconnection fee, even though we've never had cable TV service in the five years we've lived here. Sigh.

I hope this trap won't have the same negative effect on cable modem performance and availability that the first one did. Time will tell.


What's really frustrating is that AT&T never asked us if we wanted cable TV when I ordered cable modem service. They asked if we had cable TV, but never offered to sign us up when I said we didn't have cable TV. I would have signed up then and there for basic service.

They never asked us if we would like to sign up for cable TV service before installing the trap that blocked TV signals and ruined cable modem performance and reliability. Nor did the person who installed the block give us the opportunity to sign up for cable TV.

It's like the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Or it may be deliberate, a way to "encourage" people who want cable modems to sign up for cable TV by ruining modem performance, and a way to stick us with installation fees for cable TV service, since the cable modem offer included free installation.

Stop the AT&T Internet Monopoly?

All of it speaks volumes of big business more interested in taking your money than providing wanted services. Which is as big a reason as any that I'll take a long hard look at DSL when it becomes available here.

Right now, unless you're willing to pay over $1,000 per month for a fractional T-1 line, AT&T is the only game in town offering fast internet access. Until DSL arrives, they have a functional monopoly in the residential market.

There are billboards all over the area decrying AT&T's internet monopoly. I have to laugh - AT&T does not have an internet monopoly. There are dozens of options for dialup internet service. There are probably a dozen choices for T-1 and related high speed services. The only monopoly AT&T has is cable modem service, which is a very small part of the overall ISP business.

Whether that's true or not, they certainly act like a monopoly. Monopolies can act like the only game in town, because they are. Near monopolies like Microsoft have done it for years. They don't have to worry about service, reliability, or even their reputation - they're the only game in town.

That's going to cost AT&T a lot of cable modem customers when DSL comes to town. I'd gladly pay $40 a month for fast reliable service. After just a couple months with a cable modem, I'm already tired of the way AT&T operates.

I'm pretty excited to learn they should have some local competition for high speed residential internet access this summer.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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