TekSavvy - Third Party ISP Issues

I've been a TekSavvy customer for over two years. I was tired of the slow connection and ridiculously low caps that Rogers had put on my connection. I wanted to cut the cable for TV and use Apple TV exclusively but I knew that 60GB in bandwidth wasn't going to cut it. TekSavvy offered a 300GB cap which was perfect.

TekSavvy is an ISP but they don't own the very local infrastructure which connects to my house, that's owned by Rogers for cable and Bell for telephone/DSL. Starting in 2002 the CRTC established policy for the administration of third party access to Canadian cable television systems for data services, referred to as third party Internet access (TPIA). Years later this would come into fruition. in 2012 I changed from a Rogers cable Internet connection to TekSavvy and in the process disconnected my Bell phone service and Rogers cable television service.

The transition was relatively painless but took a few weeks as I recall. Rogers wasn't procuring spots fast enough for TekSavvy and there was a waiting list for me to get on board and then some time for my house to be "ported" from Rogers to TekSavvy. 

For almost two years the service has worked without major incident and I noticed only the occasional outage. Then in November and December I noticed outages had become more frequent or at least I noticed them more as I had transitioned to working from home. These drop outs would generally only last a few minutes but were unacceptable as they interrupted service and caused resets in some of my persistent connections. I suspect it also caused significant packet loss as well.

I contacted TekSavvy technical support on December 23rd and started to describe the problem. After getting familiar with the modem diagnostic pages it was determined that my return path channels (frequencies for sending / uploading data) were dropping out. I wrote a shell script to ping Google's name servers at regular intervals and quickly determined that I was getting random disconnections for minutes at a time. The modem would lose all of the return path channels and the error log would fill up. The modem would re-tune and the channels would return only to have one or two of the three channels start to drop off. I disconnected all splitters to no avail. No amount of power cycling or resetting of the modem helped. Clearly an issue.

TekSavvy arranged to have a Rogers technician appointment scheduled. The technician arrived during one of our bitterly cold winter days and guessed that it was either a bad splice near the modem or a faulty filter at the box on my house. After removing the filter and replacing the cable all I could do was wait. But within 24 hours the problem showed itself again. 

Over the next three months I repeated the process of troubleshooting with TekSavvy and having them scheduling new appointments with new technicians from Rogers sub-contractors such as Wirecomm. We replaced the modem but experienced the same problem. Technicians repeatedly tried to take the easy way out and say that cables were not connected properly or not tight enough. The second technician said he believed the problem was not at my house but in the neighbourhood and he would escalate to Rogers maintenance but nothing came of that. In each case Rogers would send a message to TekSavvy saying the problem was fixed even though I had almost immediate proof from diagnostics and pings that it was not. This meant resubmitting diagnostic screenshots to TekSavvy and going around again in the circle. TekSavvy was running out of suggestions. At one point they suggested finding a neighbour who had a Rogers cable connection, placing my modem at their house and testing the connection. Not only a burden for my neighbour but difficult to diagnose due to the unpredictability of the disconnects.

I insisted to the fifth and rather reluctant technician that he check the connection at the distribution pole behind my house but he said the weather (truthfully a sub-zero blizzard) prevented him from doing so and dispatch would reschedule. Rogers dispatch never called and after another go-around with TekSavvy a sixth (again, always a different technician) showed up and it took some convincing for him to check the distribution pole.

It's worth noting here that Rogers on site technicians keep no ticket history, at least not for TekSavvy customers like myself. Each time I had to personally explain the issue and in many cases explain in detail how it can't possibly be my router if the modem is dropping return path channels randomly and how it must be a cable issue if we've tried a new modem. Technicians really try to do the bare minimum at the house and aren't willing to explore connections away from the house unless pushed to do so.

The sixth technician stated that because the distribution pole was in my neighbour's yard and they weren't home he couldn't go look at it and I had to get their permission first. He said he would have dispatch call me to reschedule for a Saturday morning. I wrote a note to my neighbour informing them of the service and talked to another neighbour who actually had a better access path to the pole. I think that Rogers and Bell have access rights to their equipment but I wasn't about to challenge at this point.

This time dispatch did call and on Saturday the seventh technician arrived. Again, he had no ticket history, but I had run out of patience. He arrived near the later half of the service window when I had to drive my son to skating lessons. I briefly summarized the problem to date and basically stretched the truth saying the previous technician was going to completely replace the cable from the distribution pole but couldn't due to access permission which I had granted from my neighbour. Truthfully he was only going to inspect it but I had enough with rescheduling. 

As luck would have it the new cable seems to have solved the problem. After seven technicians visiting I finally have a stable Internet connection. I'll need to return the replacement modem I had to purchase from TekSavvy to get a refund as they don't provide test modems. They did provide pre-paid postage so I'm not out any money. TekSavvy also credited me for a month of service.

I'm grateful the CRTC ruled that third party ISPs have access to the existing infrastructure but it comes with a significant challenge. Clearly the incumbents who own the infrastructure don't want to be challenged or under cut by third parties renting their lines. Bell, Rogers and other incumbents have enjoyed an oligopoly for some time and they aren't just going to let it go. If I was still a Rogers customer it would be easier to short circuit the troubleshooting such that I wouldn't need sever technicians to determine that my local distribution cable was faulty. I could escalate within Rogers quickly to get it solved. As it stands, TekSavvy has no direct communication channel with senior Rogers technicians or their managers and must resort to a prescribed system that ties their hands. I admit, if replacing the cable didn't do it I was going to switch back to Rogers just to get the problem solved. (Bell or TekSavvy DSL wouldn't cut it. For some reason it only has slow speeds at my house).

TekSavvy's customer service reps are good at what they do. They are very nice, competent and answer the phone promptly. I don't wait on hold as long as I did with Rogers and they genuinely seem to care about any issues you're having. The problem is that they are limited in what they can do with a third party's infrastructure.

 I haven't yet determined what the municipal rules are for installing say fibre optic cable in a residential neighbourhood are but I suspect it would be met with heavy lobbying from Bell, Rogers and possibly Toronto Hydro.

Third party ISPs either need to start investing in their own local distribution network or find a independent vendor with dark fibre to the home. You can't run a reliable service on a competitors infrastructure.