Thursday, March 11, 2010


I'm probably the only one here who likes Comcast.

To be fair, I haven't been with them long.  The dew is still on the rose, I'm still paying the promotional rate, etc.  Still, it feels like a huge breath of fresh air compared to before, and so far I'm very pleased with what I've gotten.

So, some background:
When I first moved to California, I had two choices for Internet.  One was DSL through AT&T, the other was billed as "T1 Internet" through a local Bay Area company called Space Age.  I was thrilled at the idea of getting a T1 connection, and the price seemed reasonable, so I sprang for it.

Well... it turns out that this is a T1 to the property, not a T1 to the unit.  Speeds were decent, but far from remarkable, and actually seemed go get worse as the years continued (though part of this might have just been my increasing expectations).  Even stuff like watching Hulu wasn't as smooth as I would have expected.

The other really annoying thing about Space Age was that they don't give out public IP addresses; when I'd previously had service through SBC DSL and RoadRunner cable, I was able to run my own Apache web server, SVN repository, SSH server, and other useful geeky things.  I use Linux on my public-facing servers and lock them down pretty strongly, and... I dunno, it's just really useful to have.  So, it was super annoying to not have access to this from a more expensive provider.  I went back and forth with them for a while shortly after signing up before I gave up.

I was periodically tempted to switch, but always ended up staying.  The first big reason is that I hate AT&T.  Historically, SBC has been my least favorite company and AT&T my second-least-favorite, so when they merged it was as if Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il had formed an alliance.  The second, more positive reason was that Space Age had phenomenal customer service.  When you called, you got the one particular guy who did everything.  He'd come out to the property to fix stuff, and always knew what was going on.  When things went wrong (and they periodically did - we sometimes lost Internet access for upwards of a week), he would leave long, detailed explanations of what the situation was, what to expect, what we could do, etc.  Infinitely better than the standard, anonymous incompetence that I've come to expect from larger service companies.

More recently, my options expanded.  When U-verse came, I realized that I could get drastically faster speeds at a slightly lower price point, or equivalent speeds at a drastically lower price, than I did with Space Age.  I might have signed up, except that (1) I still hate AT&T; (2) it's tremendously complicated to get just Internet access without phone and TV service; and (3) they charge about $150 in "setup" fees.

Then, Comcast came.  They drilled and installed some new jacks.  A bit later, I got a flyer encouraging me to sign up with them.  It offered special promotional fares which had expired the previous week.  Since I'm not sure how long I'll be around here, I decided it would be more complicated than it would be worth to switch, so I stuck with Space Age.

And then, I couldn't.  I walked home one day and found a notice taped to my door, simply stating that as of the following Friday, I would have no more Internet access.  Aaaaaaaaaaaa!

I frantically jumped online.  Losing the Internet wouldn't just be an annoyance; it would keep me from being able to work.  I quickly re-researched my options, found that Comcast still looked better than AT&T, and pulled the trigger.

A few things did worry me about Comcast.  They let you pick a stand-along Internet option, but the language on their web site indicated that the pricing was only available in connection with cable television, and I couldn't see anything that said what the monthly price would be if I got it alone.  Also, I couldn't complete the order online, but would need to do one of those bizarre chat IM things to finish it.  So that was annoying, but still way better than, you know, actually calling someone, so I went ahead with it.

It ended up being one of the smoothest transactions I've had in a while.  I got the advertised price, even without any add-ons.  I was delighted that they didn't even try to upsell me (except for one bogus warranty thing, but there was no pressure even there).  Everything was pleasant and comfortable, and I got my service appointment scheduled.

There was some question at the time about whether I'd be leaving on a business trip to the East Coast that weekend or not.  I jotted down a 1-800 number they had for scheduling stuff, just in case I needed to leave.  I was a bit worried about that - the earliest appointment available to me had been about 10 days out, and if I missed my scheduled day, I would hate to lose access for another 10 days.  It all ended up being moot, as I was in town and available.

My time range was 1pm-3pm.  I got a call from the technician a little after 10am asking if I was available to do it then.  I was all like, "Yeah!"  At the time I was making an almond-pear slump, and liked the idea of wrapping everything up in the morning so I could take my standard hike that afternoon.

They arrived, and after a little initial confusion (the apartments in my complex are not very logically numbered), they got to work.  They did some magic outside that I didn't see, then came inside.  I had bought a Motorola cable modem from eBay so I wouldn't need to lease anything, and had already connected it to the computer.  I had thought that they would connect to the new outlets that had been drilled a few months earlier, but we eventually found that the signal was coming in through the old Space Age outlet.  Strange!  They installed the Comcast software, and we spent several minutes typing in character recognition challenges and clicking through disclosures.  At the end, they opened up the speed test web site, and I saw that we were at a blazing 21Mbps (above my paid "maximum" of 15Mbps).  W00t!  It hasn't been as fast since then, but every time that I ping it it is drastically faster than the old Space Age connection.  Upload speeds are very constant at right around 3Mbps.  I can smoothly watch Hulu, grab new Ubuntu ISOs, and generally geek out.

And, the price seems pretty good.  My younger brother has tempted me with tales of a mythical Chicago cable company that sells good Internet access for just $9.99 a month.  Comcast definitely isn't that, but still... with Space Age I was paying $39.99/month.  In my 6 month intro period I'll be paying half that.  Once that's done it shoots up to $42.99... three bucks more than before, but things are SO much faster that I don't mind.

Plus, I finally am a first-class citizen on the Internet again!  My services aren't currently running - there wasn't any point in keeping most of them up during the interregnum - but I can ping my box from the outside and pull up my default Apache page again.  That'll be great.  I actually have had to occasionally pay for hosting services on some personal projects in the last 5 years that I totally could have hosted myself if only I could connect home.  Mmmm, it feels good to be real again.

So, that's that.  I don't have illusions; after the first time that my connection inexplicably breaks, or I find I'm being throttled for no reason, or I am mis-billed, I'm sure I'll join the ranks of Comcast-haters.  Until that happens, though, I'll cheerfully be a lonely voice proclaiming that they're offering me a good service and I'm happy to have them.

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