Time Warner slings free Maxx upgrades to counter Google Fiber


— 1:35 PM on May 21, 2015

I've been chronicling the slow progress of Google Fiber moving into my metro area, my city, and eventually, into my house. Since Google Fiber started building in the Kansas City area, a funny thing has happened: competition. Even before the Google announcement, we had the option of AT&T U-Verse or Time Warner Cable in my neighborhood. Then Google did its thing, and AT&T later announced the rollout of its own fiber product in parts of the metro. Meanwhile, my incumbent cable provider, Time Warner, has raised the speeds of our cable Internet service several times at no extra charge.

I get the sense that we're pretty fortunate around here, all things considered, compared to a lot of areas in the U.S. One thing we have that many others don't is a real set of options.

Anyhow, I mentioned the other day that the timeline for Google Fiber service turn-ups in my neighborhood is disappointingly slow, even though the fiber's already in the ground. The wait for 1000Mbps up- and downstream was gonna be pretty rough at a continued pace of 50Mbps down and a pokey 5Mbps up.

Happily, we got a notice in the mail (yes, via snail mail) the other day from Time Warner telling us about yet another speed increase at no cost.  This is part of TWC's new Maxx service offering. The "standard" service tier jumps from 15Mbps down/1Mbps up to 50/5. Our "Extreme" package rises from 50/5 to 200/20. And the fastest package goes from 100/5 to 300/20.

Not bad, really. And the change was apparently active. I ran down to my office and did a quick speed test, and sure enough, performance was up. Downstream reached about 110Mbps, and upstream hit about 11Mbps. We have a relatively new modem, from the last couple of years, but the notice said we might need to swap it out for a newer one to reach the full rates. I quickly hopped online and ordered a swap kit, which TWC promised to send out to my house free of charge.

That was on Friday. Then, on Sunday, our Internet service simply stopped working. From what I could tell after some poking and prodding, our home router was fine, and our modem was synced up to the cable network fine. It just wouldn't pass packets. What followed was a weird combination of good and bad.

Somehow, I found TWC's customer service account on Twitter and decided to see if there was an outage in my area. They were incredibly quick to reply and ask me for more info about my TWC account. I provided it, and they soon informed me that my modem had been quarantined in order to alert me that I needed to upgrade my modem to get the full speeds available to me.

Yes, they straight took down my service to let me know that I needed to order a modem I'd already ordered.

If only we had... information technology that would allow companies to target only appropriate customers with these messages. If only other forms of communication existed than a total service shut-off. If only... wow.

Anyhow, the Twitter rep took my modem out of quarantine and explained that most users should see a web-based message about the reason for the quarantine—along with a form to order a new modem and a means of getting the current one out of quarantine. It's just that "some routers" block that message. My excellent Asus AC2400 router was one that did, it seems, likely due to good security design.

Again, wow. I think competition has made TWC aggressive without really making them customer-focused. I suppose it's a start.

Regardless, my new modem arrived yesterday and I installed it. The process was a little clumsy, but I muddled through. The end result was a full realization of our new service speeds. Speedtest.net tells me I can reach 216Mbps downstream and 21Mbps upstream, just a little better than the advertised rate.

Man, four times our old upstream and downstream speeds is gonna make the wait for Google Fiber much easier. Heck, I'm not sure how many servers out there really sling bits to consumers at 200Mbps—other than,  you know, Steam. Maybe other folks with fast connections can enlighten us about that. My sense is that, for purposes that don't involve upstream transmissions, what we have now may not differ much in practical terms from fiber-based Internet services. Didn't happen how I expected, but I'm pleased to see it.

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