Saturday, May 30, 2009

Managing a failing Canadian videotron cable connection

Many of the posts in this blog are of interest to very few people.

That's not an accident. There are some who subscribe to this blog, but it's really intended to be a set of references that work with Google. My most appreciated posts are often my most exotic. It's a big world now.

This post is very exotic. It will be of interest only to foreigners supporting a Canadian, well, maybe Quebecois, Videotron customer.

The background is that my mother, who lives in Quebec and is quite disabled, has an archaic Videotron modem. It was old when they installed it -- as a minimal-charge ($30/month for cable internet access) customer she may have been given a recycled model.

Her cable modem is now well beyond its service life; it's dropping connections every 1-2 weeks. The connection can be restored by power cycling, but it is very hard for her to get to the the power strip. More importantly, this is a typical way for a router/modem to fail. The connection drops will increase over time until the modem fails completely.

The device needs to be replaced. I thought I could just buy a new one during one of my periodic check-in visits. Wrong. This is what I learned ...

  • You cannot buy a replacement for a failing Videotron cable modem. Actually, I did buy one at Future Shop, but that was a bad mistake. What I bought appears to have been forgotten inventory. Happily Future Shop did accept the return. Videotron should contact their past resellers and ask them to return their inventory. (Amazon US, by contrast, sells DOCSIS-compliant cable modems that are reported to work with many American ISPs.)
  • Videotron has two sorts of retail outlets in Quebec. One sells movies and the like, the other sells services to new customers. Neither variety provides support, neither variety will accept an old device to exchange for a new one. I think if you discontinue Videotron service that it might be possible to return an old device to some of these outlets.
  • Videotron "rents" devices. I'm not quite sure what that means. There's some complexity about a $99 fee that might be charged if one leaves Videotron, but maybe that's not charged if you return the device.
  • Videotron's support model is entirely on their installers and onsite visits. You can do small things with their reasonably well staffed support people, but device problems require a visit. The usual routine is to call on one day, the service call is the next day. So someone has to be home. They will typically phone a brief time before a service call. I have a hard time imagining how people can arrange to be home like this.
  • Videotron has a well staffed support line but many of the staffers are very new. Even the managers are fairly new; they were all flummoxed by the Future Shop device I bought -- that was before their time. (Just to make things harder on Videotron's support staff, I am effectively unilingual English. Quebec is a French province/nation with a slowly shrinking English minority. All of the service people are speaking to me in an alien tongue.)
Update: When the Videotron service guy arrived, he confirmed all was well outside. He seemed at first mildly skeptical about replacing the modem -- until he saw it. He claimed it was 15 years old, which I think is impossible. Maybe 8. He put the tiny new one in place and started to leave -- until I showed it didn't work. Yes, dead out of the box. So we pulled another toy out, and that one works.

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