Verizon FiOS: Tribbles Make for Troublesome TV

Verizon FiOS TV's problems are like tribbles

Remember the Star Trek episode entitled The Trouble with Tribbles“? Remember how the furry creatures ingratiate themselves with the crew, then multiply so rapidly they nearly overtake the ship?

FiOS TV is like a tribble. With apologies to Dr. McCoy, FiOS TV is born pregnant with problems.

I spent most of 2006 and part of 2007 negotiating with Verizon to bring their cable service to Southborough, MA. I’ve never blogged about their negotiating tactics, which defined mendacity, because I believed strongly that competition would be good for the residents of the Town and if I went public, it would piss them off and we’d end up with no agreement.

Finally, in May of 2007, after a public hearing in which VZ execs promised great service and technology, we agreed on a franchise and VZ began offering FiOS TV in town.

I had high hopes for the system. I had been an early FiOS customer for voice and Internet and both had been rock solid. In particular, the Internet connection was fast and extraordinarily reliable (if a little too nanny-fied; VZ blocks port 80 on dynamic IPs and in the early days of FiOS VZ insisted on pretending it was DSL by requiring routers to support PPPoE to connect).

But TV has been an unrelenting disaster. There are three intersecting areas that combine to make FiOS TV unremittingly infuriating.

First, billing. The bills are really from three separate companies: voice, data and TV. Errors compound each other and take months to resolve. Representatives misrepresent available options and pricing (resulting in VZ insisting that I am their prisoner now for two years when I am certain I only agreed to a one-year package deal).

How’s this for a nightmare? To get back the Internet speed I was promised on the one-year-deal-that-morphed-into-a-two-year-deal generated a $139 disconnection charge. If you can make sense of a VZ bundled bill, please let me know. I think you’re a genius.

Next, technology. During the licensing process, we specifically asked VZ about their technology (see this “issuing authority report” and a memo from me to the committee complaining about their non-answers).

Now, I know why they obfuscated. They have the most fiendishly complex system imaginable. It could have only been designed by a former monopoly. You could only love this system if you think Soviet design and engineering was underrated.

They use several different “optical network interfaces” or ONTs to connect the network to your home. Older ones, like mine, bring 802.3 Ethernet into your home along with coax cable and twisted-pair voice. Newer ones bring only coax into the home along with voice.

In either case, you MUST bridge the cable and Ethernet networks using a bridge called a network interface module because their set-top boxes speak coax for programming and IPTV for on-demand using a protocol called MoCA. And the set-top boxes use plain old IP for the interactive guide.

(Lost yet? Stay tuned for when we talk about service.)

How do they ever get this mess installed? They give their installers a multi-function router containing so many functions I can’t remember them all. But for fun, let’s see what I can remember off the top of my head.

This thing is an Ethernet switch, a router with a DHCP server, a firewall, a wireless access point using 801.11g set to default to insecure WEP connections, a NIM to bridge the coax and Ethernet networks, among other things. It tries to connect to the VZ network as a DHCP client or as a PPPoE client. And, best of all, it has an back-door open port to allow VZ to completely mess it up for you with updates you don’t expect. You cannot use your own equipment, precluding the possibility of putting a VPN or more effective firewall on your network.

Oh, and when you are watching on-demand movies, getting blasted with 20Mbits of IPTV content while you simultaneously surf your 5M/20M Internet connection, you can watch this consumer-grade device almost smoke.

VZ network designers tried to hide their network technology mashup by cramming so many functions into a single box that you almost pity the electrons consumed in this overmatched device.

But the real prize for Rube Goldberg-ness goes to the Motorola HD DVRs and the interactive program guide. VZ had the time and money to send customers beautiful marketing brochures touting the new features of a IPG they downloaded over the summer. But apparently, they didn’t have the time to test the software. The Internet is alive with people suffering problems with this software, and I’ve been bitten worst than most.

That brings me to the last issue: service. No human being can service a system this complex. That means that everyone at VZ involved in servicing this mess is simply guessing. Nobody, apparently, has a clue. Through bitter experience (and some serious reading of the dslreports.com forums), I have a better picture in my head of what’s going on than the poor shlumps who have to deal with customers.

Once VZ upgraded the guide, my DVR starting hanging. I called about this, and was told they’d ship me a replacement. It never arrived. Then I called again. They sent a guy out. He threw rocks at the people who said they’d ship one, replaced mine and left.

Thing still hangs, refuses to record, deletes recordings, etc. etc. Called on a Friday night. Service guy — obviously hacking the problem — factory resets the device remotely. Now, it can’t even tune a channel. Dead HDTV on NFL opening weekend.

Third guy comes Monday to replace the box for a third time and tells me it’s the “levels”. (Old phone guys miss copper with its certainty of volts and ohms.) Box promptly hangs.

Guy calls me today to tell me they think it’s the IMG software (Really?) and a fix will be out “soon”.

On the positive side, VZ techs speak English well and are polite. These guys (and the one hot-looking woman they sent) are not grease-monkeys. They’ve just not been trained. Who could be?

VZ is birthing tribbles at a Malthusian rate.


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One response to “Verizon FiOS: Tribbles Make for Troublesome TV”

  1. […] Verizon here before for a number of things. As long ago as 2007, I took FiOS to task for the kludge of technology¬†inside the home, in contrast to their elegance of a fiber network on the ONT . I’ve whined […]

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