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Dial-up and Broadband


© October 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I've talked before about my reluctance to get involved with home users. There are several factors at play here - for one, home users are most apt to have detestable Windows as their operating system. That's enough to turn me off right there.

But there's more. Home users often have old, weak equipment, are more apt to not be behind firewalls, may not have anti-virus software.. it can get pretty ugly.

And then there's the matter of money. Home users don't want to pay my normal rates, and I don't want to discount down to what they do want to pay. That's another reason that stands by itself.

But..

I just find it hard to say no to people that need help. That's especially true when the people asking are my neighbors or other folks I see socially.. I just can't say no to them.

So, when someone who lives here in our little retirement community asks for help, I do what I can. And I do it for free because some of these people scrape by and while others may be doing far better, I'm not going to try to figure out who has money and who doesn't: I'm just going to help. I do tell them that there are a few people here who do "computer service" for a fee and that my "free" services may be delayed because I'm busy; I tell them that I really dislike Windows..

So I was in our community library when a women asked "You are the Computer Guy, aren't you?". I admitted as much and she went on to tell me that she "couldn't get email since she had installed Comcast". That sounded sufficiently removed from a Windows problem that I didn't even bother with my "I hate Microsoft, but.." speech. I simply agreed to try to help her and we set a time and date.

Notice that I didn't ask any questions. This woman graduated High School two years before I was born and I'm no spring chicken myself , so I was surprised she even cared about email. I didn't think I could query her for technical hints about her problem.

Besides, even if I'm dealing with a twenty year old, I usually don't ask a lot of questions. I'd rather see for myself.

When I came to her house a few days later she brought me to the computer. It was an old Gateway with a humongous CRT and a Comcast modem sitting beside it. Nothing was plugged into the Ethernet jack of that modem and there wasn't any NIC in the machine anyway. This was dial-up.

The first thing I did was ask to look at her Comcast bills. I wanted to make sure they weren't charging her for Internet. They weren't; she had only TV and telephone. We talked a bit about whether she wanted to add Internet service; based on how little she uses the computer we decided that she did not. She'd stick with her Earthlink dial-up.

I then attempted to bring up the dial-up link but it immediately told me "No dialtone". As I heard no dialtone myself, I had to agree. I traced the phone line; it was plugged in.

But it was plugged directly in. Back when DSL was all the rage, we'd have to put DSL filters on any modem or fax lines. Is the same true for Broadband? Darned if I know, but it seemed like a good bet. I called Comcast and asked. The rep said he had no idea but that he'd turn me over to the High Speed Internet group. I pointed out that this was NOT High Speed Internet, this was phone. I figured nobody would know anything about modems, so I asked if a fax line needed a filter. "Oh, definitely", he said.

Definitely? Well, then shouldn't they have provided one? "No, we don't provide filters", he answered. Nice.

I went home to do some research. The Internet let me down on this: I could not find out if Comcast Broadband Digital Voice needs a filter on modem lines. Aww, the heck with it: for the cost, it's worth the try: I found an appropriate device at Radio Shack, printed out the page and took it back to my neighbor, asking her to pick one up next time she was out. I went home.

An hour later she called me. Well, she had been four months without email: I guess she was tired of that and ran right out to get the filter. I returned to her house, plugged it in, and tried the Earthlink dial again.

This time I could hear the dialtone, but the dialer still complained. However, this time it warned about a "stuttering dialtone". I picked up her house phone and yes, it was stuttering.

"You have voicemail messages", I said. "No, I don't", she retorted instantly, and pointed at her answering machine.

Ah, yes, this is a road I've been down before. Comcast and Verizon offer voice mail, but some folks like their old answering machines. Does Comcast shut off the voice mail in that circumstance? Nooooo... they leave it on, and anytime their service isn't working, or any time the answering machine is otherwise engaged, messages go to their service. The "stuttering dial tone" turns on to alert you that you have a message.

I explained that. She still insisted that she'd never been told about this. She probably wasn't. I showed her how to dial her own phone number to get the messages - indeed the service had never been activated, but that doesn't stop it from storing messages. I went through the setup and then turned it over to her to listen to her messages, some several months old.

After clearing those out, the dialer was happy and we got a connection. Old mail messages starting flowing in - 185 old messages, which really isn't a lot considering that she'd been disconnected for four months.

I left her patiently waiting for that to catch up. I still don't know that I needed that filter; it could have been coincidence, but it doesn't really matter: it's working now.


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