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May 21st 2010 4:45 pm

Comcast came over this week because they detected "leakage".

So, this past weekend, we had some pretty major internet issues. We couldn't really figure out why things were being really inconsistent with working. On Sunday night, Comcast calls us to tell us that they had to put a "pad" on our Internet connection because they detected a "leak." They would be sending a tech out to verify this and correct the problem.

I have no idea what this means, other than the fact that our Internet service has been pretty crappy.

Anyway, the tech comes out and again explains that their main box in the lobby of our apartment has detected a "leak" and that they "pad" they put on our connection is negatively affecting our neighbors connections as well. With all this talk of leaks and leakage, I was tempted to ask the tech if they needed to use the restroom.

They pull out our cable modem and start waving this magic wand around that makes an annoying high pitched whine. After rearranging some furniture and tightening a few coax cable connections, they wave the wand around again and it makes no sounds.

"The leak was a loose cable, it should be fixed now." Five minutes later, they were gone, and our Internet was working again.

This leads me to an interesting question. If their box downstairs, as well as this magic wand can magically detect some sort of "leak", I want to know just how the hell a coaxial cable can leak RF radiation. Seriously!

It's either that, or Comcast is actually a front for the Ghost Busters in disguise and they were vanquishing some unseen ghouls that occupied our apartment.

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They were determining if your cable had "leakage" from the electrical circuit of the building present. I had this happen to me, due to a faulty cable box in the bedroom, and electrical current was leaking into the cable system which adversely affected the internet connection. It was measured in by the "wand" detecting the presence of the electrical current.
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Along the same lines (ha, no pun intended) we had a Comcast tech show up at my girlfriend's parents house because they were running "line test" to determine signal quality for hubs. Turns out my girlfriends dad degraded the signal so badly, they determined their house was causing issues for the whole block.

I was completely ready to call bs to this until the tech -- properly contracted out service techs, not your typical comcast tech -- showed me the before and after readings. He definitely did use a wand though, he actually used a tool to read the signal quality.
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Here is how it works. We as most cable systems have a leakage transmitter in the Headend where you could say the main equipment of the system is at. That transmitter transmits a signal at a specific frequency and is injected into the entire cable system. We per FCC MUST do quarterly rideouts to monitor for these signal leaks. Not only can they cause you issues, but these days with high speed internet and phone service, it will cause major issues for those two services alone. We have to file every rideout in case the FCC makes a surprise visit to our office to make sure we have been doing our job or be fined! The biggest of leaks can be on our plant. Those leaks are very large and if not fixed in a short amount of time can cause issues for Aircraft communications among others, and the FCC can and will shut down a specific area of a cable systems analog spectrum if they are causing an issue plus a major fine.

Most of these leaks come from inside the home. Over my 17+ years I find that most of these leaks come from homes that are rentals, apartments, and illegals etc. A very small amount are on the plant. Some are on underground plant that is damaged from people digging and hitting our line, and then the aluminum contacting the soil makes it erode away causing it to leak because the aluminum shielding is gone. They are the most problematic and take the longest to fix due to depth and are much more labor intensive.

Now remember the transmitter I was talking about at the main Headend site? That sends that signal throughout the entire system. If we drive down the street and our receiver, or leakage detector in our truck sounds off, we have a good idea within a 4 house area on either side of the street one of them is causing us a leak and will need fixed. We will take the hand held unit out of the cradle it sits in our truck and walk around looking stupid usually trying to figure out which home is causing it by looking at the screen to see whch are we are walking has the highest intensity on the signal leakage meter. Usually there are so many it could take a good while before we get to that exact leak due to it's size. Now due to work force we cannot fix every leak out there. There are literally thousands of them or more in a system depending of the size of the city or town. We have to fix the biggest and work our way down. The FCC makes us fix down to 20 microvolts per meter. The worst of them are over 2000 u/m or microvolts. Think of it this way if you have 50,000+ customers, then there is no way possible you can keep track of what they are doing with their connections inside their house or their business. Just people getting new TV's for Christmas scares me alone. How many around town are actually gone to tighten those connectors down all the way tight? If they don't guess what possibly another leak!

Now the one's that I can't stand are the really small ones that are way off the road which cannot be detected from the street. These may be big when you walk back to the main area of it, but there is a thing called return noise or others call it upstream noise. This is what affects your cable modems and VOIP phone services. From loose connectors, to bad store bought cables, to bad TV sets, to bad lines in attics, inside walls chewed from mice, dogs chewing on lines that we find taped up, and finding where customers have just stabbed the cable into their TV or modem because the connector came off. You have got to have a connector on all cables, and I don't mean those junky store bought ones such as the crimp ons or the twist ons you see at stores. Basically I will save you a future headache. We do not want you going out and buying anything like this. I will give this stuff out for free to save myself a nasty chase during my day in the future. The quality is not good that they sale. They sale copper braid cables that do not shield our signal in, but leak it out. Term is called egress.

You all pay enough every month for your services. No cable company out there wants you to live with bad service. There are just times where we have to make a surprise visit to homeowners requesting access inside their home to fix these issues. I have to admit I have done this so much and have got so many irritated people at me anymore I have anxiety issues even going to ask to get inside anymore. I usually try to talk them into calling in with my door tag to make it easier on them and also on myself. It will not quit till someday we go fiber to the home I imagine.
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Also may be wondering how do we determine where it's coming from. Well one of two ways if we have one near a pole. I will go up the pole and start unhooking service drops until the leak goes away. It could be squirrel chew at the pole on the service drops, or the leak is bad enough from the house we can read it all the way at the pole at our tap hookup. At the house we will go where the service hits the house and unhook connections at the house whether the splitter be outside, then we can unhook outlet by outlet until the leak goes away, then hook all the others back up again. If I can't follow the line to where it goes I will leave it unhooked and ask the customer to see if there is a TV or their modem may not be working inside somewhere.

Some times there is just a ground block where it's just one line in and one line out, which in a case like that means maybe the line may go into a basement or crawl space for example where a splitter maybe located. That makes it much harder because then we have to get inside asking the customer if they know where their connections are at so we can get access to them to start unhooking them to do the proccess of elimination to see which line or sometimes lines are causing us the issue. It can be as easy as a 15 minute visit inside or a terrible 3 hours going through their house figuring out where lines go etc to get things fixed.

In rental apartments etc. I see people running lines from bedroom to bedroom because the apartment management only allows the one outlet to the apartment, and we cannot run extras. So people will split room to room just to get service to their other rooms with cable laying across the edges of the floor going in and out of doors getting twisted and punctured when they shut the door's. It is just a big mess trying to maintain system full of this type of thing. If you rode with me for a month you would not believe the things we run into that cause all of this mess.
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