Our phones went dead yesterday. Unfortunately, that's becoming a common occurrence, and it has caused us to be very ticked off at Comcast because we've been without service a lot.
Turns out maybe it's not their fault.
Oh, it was their fault originally. I know that because they had techs out here three times fixing things. But this particular outage isn't their problem because I can plug a phone right into their modem jack and it works fine. It's distributing to the rest of the house that's the problem.
It's not my problem. This is a new house; it's all under warranty, so I just called Customer Service (for the community, not Comcast service) and the usual guys showed up to take a look. I demonstrated the immediate symptoms and they shook their heads and left, saying they'd be back later with tone injectors and so on to trace it all down.
The Comcast modem sits in my closet. That may sound strange, but that was the only place where a cable connection and a phone jack were close together. It also keeps it out of sight and keeps it separate from my other Comcast modem for Internet. This makes me happy and also will let me switch to Verizon FIOS without confusion if I want to.
So anyway: a line runs from the phone jack on the modem to the wall jack, and that distributes phone service to every other wall jack. Except right now it doesn't. I suppose I could wait for the CS guys to come back, but I wanted to know myself, which should be an easy enough thing to do consider the tools I have in my trunk for testing network cables etc.
Well, yeah, except for "in my trunk". My wife has gone off to medical appointments and will be gone all day. No car, no trunk, no tools.
No... not exactly no tools. I poked around in unpacked boxes and came up with a voltmeter. The cable leads for it were a little harder to find but a bit of rummaging turned those up. An AA battery from the closet and a quick check - yes, the continuity test works. OK, good so far. But the test leads were way too short to reach from one phone jack to another. Hmmm..
More rummaging turned up a mostly empty spool of telephone wire. Not much left on it, maybe 15 feet, but it just might be enough. I couldn't find a wire stripper, but careful use of scissors can strip the outer jacket and you can strip the inner stuff with your fingernails. I found a screwdriver, took out the phone jack in the closet and wired one end of my spool to it.
That brought me tantalizingly close to the other phone jack, but not quite close enough. I could reach the wire and the jack with the voltmeter cables, but I couldn't easily hold everything in place and see the meter. I went back out to the garage and started digging again.
Ahh, here's just the thing: Molly bolts. A nice screw head to sock down the wires with, and a tight place to jam the voltmeter leads. Perfect. A bit geekish, but it works.
I could now comfortably work at the other phone jack and quickly found that while the green and red had continuity, yellow and black were open. But wait: it's the green and red that have milliamp voltage when the modem is plugged in, so they must be carrying the line. And there's something else wrong: green and red are shorted: I can read continuity right across them (with everything unplugged everywhere). That doesn't seem right..I made sure my Molly's weren't touching.. nope. This puppy is shorted in the wall somewhere.
While ruminating over that, the CS guys showed up. I showed them what I had and they looked confused. "It's not supposed to be wired like that. Solid blue should be on the red."
Ok, that's fine with me - I didn't wire it. But it still shouldn't be shorted. He agreed. We pulled all the wall plates (there are only three, fortunately) and rewired as he wanted it. Still shorted, and still no distribution of dial tone.
We then totally disconnected all wall plates, leaving bare wires hanging. Still shorted.
I asked him why my yellow and black had no connectivity. "We don't wire them in". Oh. Good to know, I guess.
We did observe some minor damage to the wire at one jack. There was enough extra length to cut it back. Bingo, short gone. Momentary jubilation as we hooked the plates back up. However, though the short was gone, we still had no dial tone. It's strange because I now have connectivity on each wire and no shorts. I keep double checking myself because it makes no sense..
That's where it sits now. I can connect a phone directly to the Comcast modem in the closet, but that's it. That's a bit inconvenient but at least we do have a phone for emergencies. CS guys will be back tomorrow or next week to hack at it more. I can live with it.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2009-11-07 Anthony Lawrence
Technology is both a tool for helping humans and for destroying them. This is the paradox of our times which we're compelled to face. (Frank Herbert)