Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Clouded by Comcast

A few weeks ago I spent five straight days in Internet hell. Most of this time I had a very poor connection, and about a third of the time no connection at all. Having bundled my phone with Comcast, I also had no phone! After some ten calls to Comcast, and two visits from their service people, I was back online. More or less.

And therein lies this tale, which is not really about my problems, or even what I learned, but about why depending upon the Cloud is such a bad idea. You might even call the Cloud a lie.

I didn’t realize how much of a cable system is a kludge. It was originally built as a download system only (for TV). Consequently, all the technology to make it two-way has been cobbled on top of the previous technology. An add-on, when what they needed was a redesign for the newer, more-complex, combined functions. No wonder cable has all these problems.

For example, I didn’t know I couldn’t split or even splice these cables the way I used to for TV. Splicing does not work properly with Internet. I also mistakenly used a cable surge protector (between the cable and the modem). The package said you need to. It lied. The reason, as explained by the serviceman, is the connection is one-way, i.e., only good for downloads!

Here’s what I learned about cable and the Cloud. The entire cable system is so complex, so dependent on so many different factors, that it’s amazing it works at all. In my case there were three major factors creating enough noise to make the Comcast signal marginal at best. (1) I had a bad outside cable coming to my TV (the insulation had worn off). (2) I had the above mentioned surge protector inhibiting my uploads. (3) I had a couple of splices between the surge protector and the modem.

After all these were fixed, the modem was discovered to be defective! That wasn’t all. Somewhere out there (the serviceman said even a mile away), Comcast had made a change that lowered the strength of my signal. Up to this point it was strong enough to overcome most of my problems. Then I fell into Internet hell.

Here’s the most important thing I learned from this debacle. Internet Rule Number One: Speed of connection is meaningless if you don’t know the QUALITY of that connection. A bad or even marginal connection can negate whatever your speed appears to be. Think of it this way: a speed check is just a snapshot. A quality check is the actual speed of a real down- or up-load. Over time.

A familiar ad says, “What happens if your computer is lost or stolen? Protect your data in the Cloud!” But you can’t access it if your computer is lost or stolen! It’s like the backup in your safe deposit box. Secure, but not always accessible. And that’s why the Cloud is no place to run your business. It may be safe from some problems (theft at your site) but it’s not safe from problems out there (earthquakes or Internet crashes). And even when it’s safe, it’s only as accessible as the QUALITY of your Internet connection.

Technically, my problem was a marginal signal to noise ratio. If the ratio is too close, the noise inhibits the signal, making it marginal, ineffective, or even non-existent. Signal to noise has always been the critical factor in the transmission of information (from old-time telephones to new-time cell phones). If cable is your lifeline to the Cloud, good luck.


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