Dear PoPville – Cable/Internet Question


Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I recently moved into a row house in the Bloomingdale area and have encountered a problem that I’ve never faced before: a lack of internet service options. The owner of the home, from whom we’re renting, had a DirecTV/Verizon DSL combo package that we have determined does not suit our needs. We looked into switching to Comcast (yes, I know), only to discover that the blocks to the north and to the south are “wired for Comcast cable internet,” but ours isn’t.

Neighbors clearly have Comcast cable TV, so it seems like a simple equipment installation at a Comcast hub or something. They’ve offered to come out to see if we can be connected, but in the meantime we have discovered that we are also outside the service area for RCN and, as expected, FiOS. Have any other readers encountered this before? It seems fairly odd, given the prevalence of Comcast in this city and the degree to which various providers are competing for limited consumer pool. (I should note that we’re much more interested in internet service than TV, so this isn’t so much an issue of “who has the best/cheapest service.”) Any help/information would be greatly appreciated.”

64 Comment

  • The antenna on my roof provides me with about 14 channels of HDTV for free. The downside is no ESPN, so no Monday Night Football at home.

  • Comcast should be able to do a quick install on the street to make you internet ready. I recently moved into an apartment in Petworth and the first install guy came out and said that nobody in my unit had previously had cable/internet (really?) and they would need to send somebody to set it up. It was easy, but a pain b/c it meant three installs – the original when they said it was a no go, then the street, and finally the real deal. Even with that, it only took about 5-7 business days.

  • This helps tremendously with OP’s ‘lack of internet’ problem.

  • I have experienced the same thing. I have lived in two different neighborhoods in my 9 years in DC (MtP & Adams Morgan) and my connectivity/cable options were limited in both locations. While in MtP, RCN was the only option available in my building. Comcast eventually moved into my area but this was after about 7 years of only RCN.

    Currently, my street in Adams Morgan is Comcast or Direct TV through Verizon but not FIOS (also Verizon). I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a common experience for a lot of folks. It seems to be, as you said, street-to-street and block-to-block in terms of provider availability. That said, I learned not to assume universal access to all of the big name providers.

  • I’ve lived in different houses and apartments all over the District, and when it comes to RCN, there is no rhyme or reason to their availability or lack thereof. Very frustrating when you can’t take your provider with you when you move.

  • I’ve heard good things about Clear Wireless Internet, and am thinking of switching myself. You don’t need to sign up with one of the big providers (thank goodness) and it’s relatively affordable at $35/month for everything.

    Looks like they have great coverage in Bloomingdale. (http://www.clear.com/coverage)

    • I use Clear. $40 a month, and very good service. They do a pretty good job, as long as you are close to a tower. I have heard of throttling in the past, however if there were four of you, I know they have upgraded packages closer to 50 or 60 that likely wouldn’t be throttled.

    • Can you tell me more about Clear? I just checked out the website and it looks reasonable price-wise. Are the speeds fast enough to stream Netflix or Hulu? Or is it better for average Internet usage?

      • I have Clear now and it generally works pretty well but I sometimes have speed issues. Netflix and Hulu usually work fine but occasionally crap out. I have problems getting a good stream rate with a subscription sports package though.

        It’s good for us since we just want internet (no TV) but I would probably switch if we ever get cable or satellite.

    • Clear SUCKS. I can’t wait to get rid of it – so slow. And my best friend lives in Bloomingdale and lasted only a few months on Clear before giving up in disgust.

      If you’re a casual internet user it might be ok but the speeds and reliability just don’t compare at all to cable/dsl. I was seriously disappointed.

      • clevelanddave

        I’ve got Clear and it isn’t bad- we must be “casual” internet users- not a lot of video, etc, and we must be near a tower. Worth looking into and it isn’t expensive (ours is a limited access plan that runs 25 a month all in). Works for us. Might work for you. Then again, it might “suck.”

  • You might want to look into CLEAR — it’s supposed to work from any location

  • I’m getting ready to cut the cable. We only really need internet anyway. Netflix can get what regular TV does not and Google Voice will suffice for a home number.

    • I did this about 6 months ago and haven’t regretted the decision. I went with Verizon DSL for internet which is fine for my internet needs. I stream Netflix to my TV with Roku (which also streams Hulu and some other stations I haven’t explored). After the $75 initial investment for the Roku, my monthly bill dropped from $140 for cable/internet to $45 for internet/Netflix.

    • OP here. This was actually our intention — cut the TV and stick with internet. However, we discovered — and the house’s owner quickly acknowledged — that the Verizon DSL (which is the fastest package they offer) wasn’t even fast enough to stream YouTube or Netflix. There are four of us, with an arguably-above-average appetite for bandwidth.

      • That’s not true. I have Verizon DSL and stream both Youtube and Netflix through my playstation over the home wireless network with zero problems.

        • That’s what’s weird: I’ve had xDSL in the past (not Verizon), and it’s been just fine (assuming one didn’t need to download huge files, etc.). I think this isn’t a Verizon/xDSL capability so much as a localized problem with our particular service.

          • I have never used DSL, however they may have different tiers of services (e.g., 5mbps vs 10mbps). If the the bandwidth is limited to a lesser tier, it might be difficult to stream, especially with three other folks on the shared IP…

          • JT, is this a situation where you’re (say) renting in the basement and the owner is upstairs?

            I wasn’t clear whether the DirecTV/Verizon DSL package that you mentioned the owner having was something you could opt into or out of (if you were sharing the house with the owner), or if you had the option to quit it (like if the owner wasn’t living there).

            A while back my Verizon DSL service experienced a marked slowdown, and when a technician eventually came out (after some testing over the phone) he was able to determine that the modem had gone bad. Maybe a similar service call (in conjunction with an analysis of whatever tier/speed the DSL is supposed to be) could help?

          • Their highest tier is 3Mb, if that gives you any idea. I’d love 10, or even 5, if it were offered.

          • anon: The owner was the previous occupant while he was renovating the house; he has since moved out. There is a tenant in the basement, but he doesn’t have access to the wifi. We simply kept DirecTV/Verizon because it was already hooked up when we moved in, and we wanted to maintain internet service of some sort while we explored our options. Apparently we have the highest speed tier they offer, but it still lags terribly

        • It might be true. I lived in MtP in the recent past and we were going to get Verizon DSL until they told us that we were too far from the nearest node/substation/whatever-they-call-it to get the highest advertised speeds.

          We went with Comcast instead of low-speed Verzon DSL.

        • With DSL your bandwidth is constrained by your physical distance to the phone company Central Office (CO). I have had quite good DSL in previous houses. DSL service at my current house is slow enough that only one person can stream video at a time. C’mon FiOS!

      • I’m in the same boat, but there’s only two of us. DSL is almost adequate for low-quality Netflix streaming when it’s only one of us home, but when we’re both using internet, it’s impossible.

        • I have Verizon DSL and have something streaming on Netflix while doing internet-based stuff on my computer with no problem. It takes a moment longer to load the Netflix movie/show compared to when it was hooked up to Comcast but I can wait the extra 15 seconds at the beginning (no problems once it gets started) to save $100 a month. According to Verizon, my DSL speed is 3.1-7 Mbps.

      • I’ve had mixed results watching Netflix in Petworth with Verizon DSL. The usual stop/load/resume issue with movies in midstream.

      • I had Verizon/DSL?DirectTV and switched to Comcast and until they bring FiOS here, I’m perfectly content.

        Where in Bloomingdale are you? I find it VERY hard to believe Comcast’s claim. Did you ask your neighbors??

  • Just stick with DirecTV and get Sunday ticket. Then have me over on Sundays for Eagles games. I can bring guacamole.

    Deal?

    • Sherlock Homes — a friend in Petworth has directv, is an eagles fan and has me over for games. I love guacamole. Maybe I could talk to him and work something out for you. :)

  • OH! And there’s the free neighborhood wifi network in Bloomingdale, also. At one point they had plans to use local homes to boost the coverage area for a municipal-type network, but not sure where they came down on that. Big Bear and Rustik both use that network, though, and the owners might know more about how to get in touch with the folks running it.

    It’s pretty grassroots, if I remember correctly.

    • +1 – I forwarded this thread to ANC Commissioner Hugh Youngblood, who I believe is quarterbacking that project.

      • If you hear anything, or know folks involved, I know I am very interested in being a part of that network. I live across the way in Eckington, but we’re all neighbors (and in the same ANC). :)

  • We ran in to the same issue as the OP when we moved into our house (except Comcast didn’t even want to come out) and we went with CLEAR and have had no problems. Set up was easy, and it’s definitely comparable price-wise.

  • I have internet through a verizon home phone line, no cable tv.

  • Not to go off topic but I’d be curious to know what others are paying for Comcast service. I’m pretty sure I’m getting ripped off but don’t know what to do about it.

    I pay $140 a month for digital cable, HD, DVR, HBO, internet. Pretty standard package for the most part.

    Anyone have any other cable/internet options that are much cheaper? Any tips for negotiating Comcast down?

    • Get rid of DVR, HBO and HD? Oh, and cable altogether?

      But, really, if you even somewhat seriously threaten to leave, my experience was (years ago) that they will cut the bills in half. Or at least significantly. (I ended up leaving anyway, and have never regretted it.)

  • Comcast won’t service my place because a previous tenant didn’t pay their bills, so we’re stuck with Verizon DSL/DirecTV. I’d go for anything else, but nothing else available and Clear is actually slower than DSL.

    It’s abominable that in the capital of the United States we have such limited, and terrible, options for Internet access. Shoot, you can get 100Mb for cheap in Korea, but not here?

    • It’s largely because cable companies pay off – er lobby – local / federal government for monopoly rights.

    • I haven’t dealt with this yet myself (as I have Verizon DSL for Internet), but Comcast told me the same thing with regard to a previous occupant not paying bills.

      For the moment I’m not planning on getting cable TV, but I’m assuming that if I change my mind later, they would probably relent as long as I showed them my settlement agreement. (I had to do something similar with Washington Gas in order to activate gas service at my house.)

      Maybe Comcast would relent in your case if you sent them a copy of your lease, showing that you’ve been renting at that address only since x date?

  • Depending on the building or neighborhood, sometimes individual units must be wired. For instance my building is wired for Comcast but my actual unit isn’t (stupid developers), so I had to get RCN. You will need to have a Comcast guy come out to wire your apartment. That your neighbors have Comcast is an indication that you have the service in your area.

  • Verizon DSL with DTV (which we have) and Comcast are the only options where I live.

  • Well, I have comcast cable/internet and while I know its a pain not having access to anything, I can say with certainty you ain’t missing much.

    I’m in CH and my cable/internet is off for about 2 days a month.

    When it is working, my internet speed is for crap. I pay for the 25 Mbit service, the highest I’ve ever gotten is 12 and I average 9.

    The only reason I haven’t gotten rid of them is that every time I call to complain they knock more money off my bill which is 50% lower than it was when I started with them 2 years ago, AND I have showtime/HBO/cinemax.

    I can’t wait for FIOS

    • yeah…it will be a long wait too.

    • How are you testing your internet throughput? It can be tough to test in real-world conditions.

      I find the best way to test connection speed is via BitTorrent.

      Simultaneously downloading 6-8 well-seeded torrents will usually max our your connection.

      Remember that due to the bits/bytes conversion, a 25Mbps connection delivers a max throughput of 3.125 MB/sec.

  • Clear is good, cheap and reliable. Not the fastest (I used broadband before in my college, definitely not comparable) but as long as the most “intensive” thing you’re doing with it is watching a Netflix movie, you’ll be fine.

  • I believe you can force Comcast to install cable to your place because they have an obligation to provide to all households as the original monopoly for cable tv in the district. Check with the DC Public Service Commission. http://www.dcpsc.org/ You may or may not have to pretend that what you want is cable tv, get the wire installed, and then cancel the cable service and keep only internet if that’s all you want. (I had the same issue but was the first occupant of a unit that had never had phone service. I had to order a landline to get Verizon to install it, then had the option of getting DSL through the Verizon line and canceling the land line phone service. That’s because Verizon is regulated principally as a phone company, not an internet service company.)

  • Comcast told me that my house “didn’t exist” when I initially called to have it set up, and they refused to come out and install anything. I assured them that it did, because I was inside it at the time. The customer service rep hung up on me. I called back 10 minutes later, spoke to someone else, and there was no problem at all.

    • CLASSIC Comcast experience. Which is why I cancelled my service with them and went to Directv for tv and verizon for internet.

      To wit: comcast once charged me for a pay per view movie i didn’t order. I called and insisted they credit me for it. And they did. So my next statement showed a credit for “bill correction/credit”. But then my next statement recharged me for the same amount. I called and they said I had watched yet another pay per view movie (which I hadn’t). What was the name of the movie? I asked. “Bill Correction/Credit”, she said. I asked, do you honestly think there is such a movie? And she hung up on me.

  • I don’t believe lobbying and/or monopoly rights are the issue. The issue is that the physical cables themselves were privately installed and are privately owned. Outside companies don’t have access to those privately-owned networks.

    Here in G’burg, our cables were installed by CableTV Montgomery back in the late 1980s and are now owned by Comcast.

    Presently I have Comcast internet, which has been excellent for us for the last twelve years. Right now we get the ‘performance internet’ service – 50Mbps – for something like $65 per month. I wish the service was cheaper, but I can’t complain about the speed or reliability.

  • Clear wire is a defendant in a massive class action. The plaintiff alleges that their service is like a bandwidth ponzi scheme.

  • to clear up the DSL speed issue, the highest tier you can subscribe to is 15 Mbps for the download side using Verizon DSL. having access to this tier depends on a) how close you are to the CO (or Central Office) which is usually some not so well disguised multi-level bunker-like building and b) the equipment at that CO. 3 Mbps is not the universal top tier for Verizon DSL.

    in downtown DC in the Penn Quarter, we get close to 15M for download speeds on DSL because we’re close to the switch on H Street. it’s been rock solid in terms of up-time having gone down less than 5 times in 6 years.

  • Can someone tell me where the nearest Central Office for Petworth is? My Verizon DLS internet is always out and customer service can never help.

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