Covad & AT&T: The Odd Couple Of DSL Make Good

DSL-ProvidersMy belief is that since your home office network is your network, and under your control, it should actually be more reliable than the network that your office-bound associates a) enjoy or b) suffer. If you operate from a home office on anything more than an occasional basis I think that you should give some serious consideration to maintaining redundant sources of IP connectivity. This is especially true if you rely upon VoIP for your office phones, as we have here for many years.

Redundant IP connectivity can be achieved in a variety of different ways, each with advantages and disadvantages. Performance and price vary widely depending upon the access methods available in your area. For us the best solution has been to use Comcast Business Class cable as our primary internet access, with backup provided by a dry loop DSL circuit from Covad.

It’s important that your two sources of connectivity are different modes of connection, in our case cable & DSL. We could bond a couple of DSL lines and achieve higher speeds, but we’d be susceptible to a single mistake with a backhoe taking out both of our circuits.

I’ve walked down the street, examined the lines and know that the copper goes south down the street while the coax cable goes another direction. No one silly mistake will take them both down.

Nor are the two services identical from a reliability standpoint. While wonderfully fast the Comcast Business Class service is notably less reliable than the DSL. That’s not to say that it goes down a lot…very rarely in fact…but our DSL service has proven extremely reliable. The DSL circuit stayed active even in the wake of Hurricane Ike, when the cable service was out for almost a month.

Given this experience I was more than a little surprised to find that our DSL circuit was down about two weeks ago. Since most things we do go over the cable modem service I didn’t notice the outage at first. It was mid-afternoon on a Friday when I called Covad to investigate the problem.

The Covad (actually Megapath) support tech who took the call was courteous, quick and helpful. She was in a call center based in Atlanta, not the far-East. She tried various remote administrative processes to reset the port on the DLSAM…but none of it resolved the issue.

After about 20 minutes on the phone she opened a trouble ticket and scheduled a technician to drop by the following Monday morning. From a 4pm on Friday perspective I thought that was about as good as I might expect, although had the DSL been our only connectivity I would have pushed to have them handle it on the weekend.

The Covad tech showed up as promised at 10am and within 30 minutes had determined that there was a problem with the line down in the wiring cabinet. It wasn’t something that he could address directly so he opened a trouble ticket with AT&T. He told me that given the ticket was opened early in the day there was a reasonable chance that an AT&T technician would attend to it the same day. “Fat chance,” I thought to myself.

The week prior I had noticed that my neighbor a few houses to the south was getting U-Verse installed. At least that’s what I presumed. There was an AT&T technician working down the block for about three days. The normally means that they’re working on the copper between the local DSLAM and a new customer. My guess is that this AT&T installer had basically robbed my copper pair to get the new U-Verse installation up and running.

I was pleasantly surprised when an AT&T technician showed up around 3pm the very same day. He quickly made a few tests at our demarc then disappeared for half an hour to investigate the situation at the DSLAM. When he returned the DSL service had been restored.

My characterization of Covad and AT&T as “The Odd Couple of DSL” stems from the fact that one company has historically provided us with great customer service, while the other has put its effort into earning my distain at our every contact. However, on this occasion the entire experience of dealing with both was relatively painless.

I must give credit where it’s due. Covad still provides the quality support that has kept me using them for over five years. And at least this one time, dealing with AT&T didn’t completely suck.

  • Catul

    What dual-wan router do you use for your Cable & DSL connections?

    • Presently I use the open source m0n0wall router on a Soekris Net4801 single board computer. This has three ports and can be used as dual-wan, but I don’t just yet. I effect a manual switchover when required.

      My plan is to migrate to pfsense now that the v2.0 release supports traffic shaping when configured for dual-wan. I require traffic shaping for the IP phones, so dual wan has not been practical until recently.