Cable Company Modems

In this weeks' Crossover, Dan followed up on lingering issue he had with his home ISP. In Dan's case, he had a fairly new cable modem, otherwise perfectly functioning network connection but large files downloaded from Apple's CDNs would regularly fail. Despite Dan's months of troubleshooting, the issue was only solved when his ISP came out and replaced his modem. The only difference? A newer firmware version on the new modem than the old.

Dan's experience reminded me of a problem that plagued my home several months ago. I had Cox's "triple play" bundle that included phone, Internet and TV and came bundled with a rented modem. I hated the idea of renting my modem from the cable company for many reasons, but it was the only option using their phone service. When I ditched my cable television for an antenna and my cable phone service for an OBi box with Google Voice I saw this as my opportunity to stop paying ridiculous modem rental fees and upgrade to a better modem. Cable company modems are notorious for being a generation or two behind in technology and usually come with crippled firmware.

After doing my research I bought a Motorola SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 cable Modem. The modem was listed as compatible with my ISP, had good reviews (over 1,200 predominately 5 star reviews on Amazon). A few months later I noticed a few times a day my connection drop for about 30 seconds and reconnect. These dropouts probably started out as soon as I replaced the modem, but it took me a few months to figure it out because it didn't always happen when I was in a position to notice. Because this was my modem and I had full access to the logs I could see what was going on.

For months, I tried to troubleshoot with my ISP. Hours on the phone with tech support and three separate house calls by Cox techs, each one supposedly more senior than the last showed no problem. I even swapped out the modem thanks to Amazon's generous exchange policy. The problem persisted. After investigation of my own, I found forum reports of other Cox customers having the same problem with this and other non-company modems. It seems to be an ISP issue but of course they'll never admit it.

Desperate and exhausted, I swapped out my modem for one of the "off the truck" Cisco modems and my service has been stable ever since. Being back with the stock ISP modem means I'm locked out of all the administrative functions and have no access to the logs, apparently because it's for my own good. On the plus side, I was able to get Cox to give me the modem rather than renting as compensation for my downtime all the time we've spent on this issue.

My point in all this is that as much as it pains me to say, there may be a case for opting forthe stock cable company modem for support and compatibility. I would just encourage you to do your research. Most cable companies offer a few different modems and you need to compare their features. Personally, I don't' like the combo modems and wireless routers as they tend to have fewer features and less range than bring your own access point. If you can, ask about buying your modem rather than renting.