Musings of a Skeptical Super Nerd & Gamer



2 Days with Road Runner Lightning

2 Days with Road Runner Lightning

2011-04-12

Well, I was right. Indianapolis now has DOCSIS 3 offered by Bright House (BH), under the tier of Road Runner Lightning. It costs $30 more than the Standard tier, but promises vastly improved speeds. Mine is up and running as of Sunday, so is it worth it?

The Good

The good is that Road Runner’s new tier lives up to its promises. I’m a pretty practical person, so when someone offers 40 Mbps, I mentally take off 20% for overhead. Sure, a solid wired network will have a lot less and a wireless environment full of interference may have more, but that’s a solid rule of thumb I live by. Yet, while Bright House claims 40 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up with Road Runner Lightning, my actual tests come in pretty damn close, at over 38 Mbps down and 3.9 Mbps up. That’s more like 5% overhead, which is outstanding for a consumer service, especially at peak times of day.

Now, I should mention that a quick wireless scan notes over 30 active networks in my apartment complex, every single one of them an AT&T customer. I’m the single Bright House customer. Sure, there may be customers with Bright House TV or phone, or maybe they just don’t have a BH wireless router, but the point is your mileage will vary based on your location, the quality of the cabling in your building, and other factors.

The price also isn’t terrible. I was already paying for the upgraded 20/2 tier, so an extra $15 a month to double that is well worth it in my opinion.

The Bad

Bright House is a small company versus the likes of Comcast. This has both ups and downs. Specifically, Bright House offers ZERO promotional packages at this point. You won’t find a discounted price, free install, or anything. Their customer service also varies from outstanding to atrocious, as do the contractors they hire. My installer was five hours late. Five hours. However, Bright House is waving the $50 installation fee because of this. Yes, take note that even though the install process is a quick modem switch (<10 minutes in my case), no self-install option is available at this time. Bright House claims this is so the tech can check the quality of your line, however this is a bogus excuse given they can draw all those numbers from your current modem remotely. Likewise, this silly policy delayed my installation by two days, given I live near an office and would have gladly picked up the modem Friday evening.

A friend installed the same day experienced similar issues; suggesting Bright House is not staffed for a sudden increase in installations. Sadly this doesn’t even make sense because Bright House isn’t advertising Road Runner Lightning yet. While I’ve been aware for months and pre-registered, they have yet to reach me. Rather, through sheer luck, I was on the page wondering if there was any news when I discovered the new tier was live. I called them and set everything up.

Another bad note is that Road Runner Lightning is new, very new. This means many things, such as poor documentation, confused customer service reps (CSR), and crappy equipment. I had one CSR who was able to give me my modem/router (no dedicated modem is available at this time, only all-in-one routers) password immediately. A call a few hours later asking for the same information (more info why below) resulted in the rep having to ask a supervisor for permission, two transfers, and about 20 minutes of time. The tech I ended up with was nice and generally knowledge of networking, however he admitted I was only the second Lightning customer he’d dealt with, so we were exploring my router together. He said the training and documentation thus far is…lacking.

Even the speed isn’t clear. Some pages on Bright House’s website list Lightning as a 40/4 service, while others put it as 40/5. This disparity also exists in the paperwork I have and the techs I’ve spoken with; no one was able to clarify my actual upload, a difference of 20%, until I had the service and tested it for myself, confirming it’s only 4Mbps up.

The Ugly

The modem/router. Period.

Motorola SURFboard SBG6580

I hate you.

I’m currently running one of Bright House’s newest offerings, the Motorola SBG6580. Now, I want to make it clear the device itself is very good from everything I’ve noticed and read. The hardware is excellent. While my modem is currently locked onto four channels, it supports eight. This means the device has room to grow if Bright House offers a higher speed tier in the future. It also comes packed with all of the new stuff you’d expect: B/G/N WiFi, GB Ethernet, internal antennas, a basic firewall and parental controls, etc. Where it falls flat is how Bright House has artificially retarded it.

First off, the device doesn’t come with the Motorola default password (to manage the device; BH does provide the WiFi key), but rather a random numeric only one set by Bright House. They also don’t give you this password, requiring you to call technical support and specifically ask for it. This is annoying, but soon enough I was in.

My first impression is that the UI is poor and terribly documented. Entire pages of options are summarized in a brief paragraph, meaning you’re stuck wandering Google for answers. Other options just don’t make sense due to proprietary wording and just plain poor English. Despite this, I soon had it configured to play with, as I was ultimately planning on putting it in bridged mode and resuming use of my D-Link DGL-4500 gaming router, mainly due to its extreme level of existing customization including QoS rules, etc.

My first major hassle was that I changed the password and quickly discarded the default one. After all, why would I need it? Well, because Bright House has a timed script which resets certain settings back to default. I confirm this isn’t based off rebooting the device or sudden power loss, but a seemingly random period of time. Sure, I can change certain firewall settings and other items, however you cannot change the Wi-Fi’s network name or encryption password, the routers management password, or other critical features. Well, you can, but 10-15 minutes later they’ll revert back to default. This resulted in a second call to BH seeking the default password.

The Wi-Fi is limited to channels 1-7. The default password is only a combination of eight numbers; easy to brute force. The wireless encryption key is likewise short and relatively simple compared to what I prefer. Simply put, every vital setting I want to change on the device is locked down so I cannot. This sucks.

Thankfully, after disabling the wireless and turning off “NATP” mode, the device bridges fine and acts as a simple modem. In short, BH has taken an outstanding device and ruined it. If you know the difference between a modem and router, then you will be well served using a dedicated router of your choosing.

So?

In the end, Bright House’s new Road Runner Lightning is a great service, only failing in policy. BH needs to train its techs, clarify things like the upload speed, and not dumb down their router. That said, if you’re patient enough to suffer through and have a solid router of your own, 40/4 Mbps is sweet.

Unless you’re living in Japan, in which case you’ve probably had faster Net for five years now.

10 comments

  1. Luke /

    I may be moving to Indianapolis from Pittsburgh and ran into this article while trying to research ISPs. I have FiOS 30/30 here ($55/mo) and was sort of surprised to see that Bright House appears to be the only game in town – and as such is predictably super-expensive. Is this right?

    After using the Lightning service for a while are you still satisfied with it (given that your modem is in bridged mode)? From what you hear is it still a pain to set up? I don’t seem to see an Internet only plan; they’re bundling me into at least TV (we use VoIP). Any hope on the horizon of any FTTH in the area?

    • Don’t count on Fiber; the monopolies here are very strong, so there’s no real pressure to compete.

      That said, in the metro area (not within Indy lines; I’m just outside Indy proper) you have Bright House and AT&T. Road Runner tops at 40/4Mbps for about $65/month (depending on your bundle/discount). AT&T hits 24/3 for about the same price.

      Inside Indy proper you have Comcast and AT&T. Comcast is the reason Bright House finally offers Lightning here; they’ve both recently rolled out DOCSIS 3, but Comcast is offering a lot more speed topping at 105/10, but costing $200/month. Assuming you want to stay in the same price range as Bright House and AT&T, you’ll find Comcast offering 20/4 for $70 and 50/10 for $80 a month (it starts at $80 then goes up after six months to ~$100-115).

      In short, the selection and pricing here is pretty bad, but that’s what you have to select from. Upload is the key sticking point, at least for me.

      Regarding my service I’m happy with it. We dropped Bright House TV for a variety of reasons so have AT&T TV and BH Internet, so I know you can get service without bundling; they’ll just raise the price. The setup really isn’t that bad, just make sure they bridge your modem if you want to use your own router, which I highly recommend.

    • Luke /

      OK; I ended up buying a house in Butler-Tarkington serviced by Bright House instead of Comcast. I can’t figure out why it’s one and not the other, but my understanding is that they don’t actually compete. Looking more closely at the options, Bright House has 20/2 Mbps for $65 and 40/4 for $80. There’s something for $50, but that’s something like 10/1, which I had in 1998.

      AT&T has U-Verse/DSL and I can get 18/1.5 (unshared) for $53/month but I get new customer discounts that put it at $38/month for the first six months with no contract. There’s supposed to be a 24/3 service for $64/month, but I’m 246 feet too far down the line (2,246 ft. vs 2,000 ft.).

      AT&T has the advantage of price and that it’s not shared bandwidth, but has 60ms average local pings (due to interleaving) and without access to the 24/3 service, has sorry upstream bandwidth. I’ll probably stick with it until they want $53/month then re-evaluate Bright House.

      Comcast has nice deals and speeds. I wish I could chose them, even though they’re one of the worst companies I’ve ever had to deal with.

  2. BB /

    As the Engineering Director for a company that does facilities design work for Bright House, I assure you that a home visit is necessary. In many locations upgrades to the tap feeding the home must occur for DOCSIS 3 to operate properly.

  3. BubbaMac /

    Wi-Fi limited to channels 1-7? So only two non-overlapping channels (one and six)? That’s a pretty tough nut in an apartment complex, isn’t it? Is 802.11n over 5 GHz available from Bright House or do you have to do that with your own router?

    • Bright House’s customized SBG6580 does do both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, however not simultaneously; you need to pick one or the other. This is great if every device you have supports 5 GHz, however if you have an iPhone, Kindle, etc. (or just some older systems), you’ll need to setup a second access point to handle 2.4 GHz traffic. At that point you might as well just supply your own router which can do both.

      Unfortunately, yes, limiting the channels to 1-7 is a big pain in the butt in a busy environment (especially with so many routers these days using multiple channels). For example, in my home there are no less than roughly three dozen networks nearby spewing interference. I have to kick my DGL-4500′s radio from Low to Medium (I always set my radios as weak as possible to be polite to others and as a security precaution) just to get a stable signal in the neighboring room (<20 ft.).

      I’m actually in the process of moving to 5 GHz. Soon I’ll be replacing my DGL-4500 with D-Link’s newest flagship router, the HD Media Router 3000 (DIR-857), which is basically the next-generation version of my 4500. It will let me do 2.4 and 5 GHz simultaneously, so it’s just a matter of replacing/upgrading older devices for a verified 3-4x performance increase. At least until 802.11ac ruins the 5 GHz band.

  4. Mike Linski /

    After dealing with Verizon customer service and their FiOS I would rather put up with the slower speeds of Bright House.

    Seriously, the only reason you need faster Internet service than 10 Mbps is for heavy downloads. Lag is not that much and your real limitation is your patience.

    That said, sure, I would rather be like every other developed nation with 100 Mbps service, but we live in a wonderful capitalist society where greed is rampant and we are going to be stuck at whatever speed providers think they will make money at.

    Regardless, Bright House doesn’t give me that many problems.

    Verizon however literally lied about the costs so I cancelled, never got a refund, but got a new account after a manager said that they would honor my original agreement. Then after four months of no refund from the old account they credited it to my new account.

    Later after poor service including the inability to fix a web page I cancelled again. They owed me a new refund but instead said I never paid an old bill – the one they earlier credited me for from the original refund.

    They attacked my credit and everything. I had to subpoena my records because they would not send them to me. After I got them I had to call the credit agencies and they finally dropped the matter.

    Verizon is a nickle and dime company with inept customer support.

    Even though they have faster speeds their modem/router is still 10 Mbps and its internal DHCP scope is 192.168.1.100, 101, 102, etc., which you can’t change.

    You can use your own modem; all you have to do is have them activate the service and run a line, but you have to get the right tech to do it. It took me four days to connect my gigabit router while their set-top TV boxes ran on their router.

    Verizon feels like someone gave a company a pile of money and 10-year-old equipment without any knowledge on how to use it. Also, as I said, they couldn’t even fix my web page. The premier computer and networking company couldn’t even fix a web page.

    They stopped using contracts because of competition with Bright House yet kept the same business model of ineptness and abuse. I pity the poor sap that has to pay a huge fine for early cancellation or suffer until their contract runs out.

    I would rather accept the few little inconveniences with BH than be put through the grind of Verizon’s corporate greed model.

    • You mention some interesting points, Mike.

      I’ve always wanted FiOS. Unfortunately, Verizon does not offer it in my area. The only friend I’ve known with it was satisfied. He got 25/25 Mbps service for a little more than I’m paying now for 40/4 Mbps. (When I moved TV service to AT&T my Bright House Internet went up to $80/month.) 25 Mbps upload is an amazing offering of which I wish I could take advantage.

      40 Mbps download is great, especially when downloading a 25 GB video game. That said, I upload a lot; remote desktop so I can access my systems from work, Carbonite backups, VoIP, video games, etc. 4 Mbps is great if I only do one of these tasks at a time, but with two roommates it’s virtually guaranteed we’re overlapping heavy usage. Should Verizon offer service in my area, I’ll get FiOS simply for the vastly superior upload speed.

      That said, it sounds like you had some major trouble on the business and customer service end, to which I simply can’t speak.

      Router wise, every ISP these days seems to be offering crap. As I mention above in my original post, anyone with the technical knowledge should use a personal router they find to suit their needs, period. This avoids the hassles I had regarding Wi-Fi and security settings, as well as issues like your DHCP problems.

      I am a little stumped regarding your web page comment. Except for a few odd scenarios like Verizon hosting your website on their servers, they simply have no way of breaking, and thus fixing, problems with your website. I’m interested, so please feel free to toss up any further details you have. For example, were you a business customer utilizing other services?

    • Mike Linski /

      My problem with their webpage was that they didn’t use my old ID which reflected that I paid all my bills. As a disabled vet, I pay all bills online. When I got the new account they couldn’t associate my name with the new account and with that I could not be billed or pay it. If I paid over the phone they charged me $3. So, I had to have someone go pay it in my name or break out the wheelchair.

      I went through not hours, but days, with techs that transferred me back and forth after waiting a long time on hold. Also, I had to give my password over and over as well as explain my situation every freaking time to a new person. One representative would not even give me her name or manager and hung up on me.

      This is why a hiccup while watching TV or sometimes slower Internet speeds are worth putting up with Bright House. Their HD is great and honestly, can you tell the quality difference? HD doesn’t cost any more with them and they have channels for which Verizon wants me to pay.

      The clincher is that in my five rooms I can use just the television while Verizon made sure that you need to rent their boxes for every television. So, if you have a four bedroom house you aren’t getting their $79 bundle. Also, HD boxes are higher in price even though HD is now standard. I’ve even had more outages with Verizon. Add all that together and you get an irritating rash. Verizon “just doesn’t get it!”

      No one is saying give people crap for free, but if you’re going to pay out the nose for a product than it had better be good because competition is always around. Previously they had a sure thing with contracts and monopolies. Verizon actually lobbied to get a hook into my area because Bright House had a contract to be somewhat exclusive. They came under the premise that they would be superior, offering higher quality while remaining affordable.

      Very little of that promise has been honored. They have weaseled their way in and are nickle and diming the hell out of their customers. Recently they even got caught screwing with their employees retirement funds. Many customers are waking up and that’s when they went to the no contract scheme. Yet, as I already stated, they still use the same crappy business model as if people will still put up with it.

      I dropped them and told them to get that crap off the side of my house and dig up their cable off my property. I think they weren’t expecting it and I hope more people do the same thing and maybe they will change. Seriously, if you owned a business how I just described would you expect the customers to be pleased? Go on YouTube and there are dozens of examples of the same crap I am describing. Research it; I’m not an isolated case.

    • Luke /

      I agree that Verizon will nickel and dime you.

      Additionally, I had a problem when I attempted to switch to VoIP and drop Verizon’s phone service. I didn’t have a Triple Play package because I added phone and TV after a couple of years of Internet only access (they came online separately in Pittsburgh due to franchising I suppose). I was out of my one year contract and checked with multiple representatives to make sure that dropping phone service wasn’t going to interrupt anything else. “No problem,” I was told.

      Well, on the day that phone service died, so did everything else. It took a day of speaking with customer service to find out that the call center wasn’t correctly trained on this issue. It was a problem mostly because no one could figure out what had happened to the account. Some manager with a Pittsbugh-local phone number finally sorted it out. The service was awesome though.

      I don’t understand the complaints about their “modem.” You get an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) and they give you a Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) router. You only have to use the router to provide guide and on-demand functionality to your TVs. I set up my Apple Airport Extreme as the router without any problem and just stuck their router as a bridged device ahead of it. It took a couple of hours for the Airport Extreme to get an IP address due to MAC and DHCP issues, but there was no problem after that.

      All in all, uploading and downloading multi-gigabyte files to my university at 3.5MB/s (this is what I actually saw) for not much money per month was incredible. Prices have gone up, but FiOS is probably still the best consumer ISP in the US. SamKnows shows they’re consistently above their promised speeds and with very low pings.