f l a m e . o r g

organized flames

Your cable company owns you

Posted on April 23, 2008

Well, OK, perhaps not entirely… yet.

This is actually a rant on something cable modems allow your cable internet provider to do to you.

They restrict access to your own hardware.

Why would they do this? Paranoia. A while back, there was a security hole in a network monitoring tool called Simple Network Management Protocol, or SNMP. This security issue allowed people to crash other people’s modems, break into their own and change upload/download speeds, and other nasty things.

All of these have been fixed. However, people are still breaking into their modems to “uncap” them – change speed settings. They just don’t use SNMP to do it anymore. They’ve become more advanced and use things like internal serial ports or JTAG ports.

So, why do cable companies still restrict access to SNMP, and worse, to some of your modem’s diagnostic features? I suspect it is because they don’t want to have to answer questions about why they suck. They hide the real details of what your modem is doing from you.

Why is this a big deal?

For one, I own the hardware, but my cable company configures it against my wishes. I can understand rate limiting – I pay for the fastest service already – but I cannot understand restricting diagnostic tools.

For two, I have spent, in the last 6 months, perhaps 40 hours debugging a cable internet issue with techs from Cox Communications. After many, many rounds of techs who report “all signal levels are good” I finally got a real live network engineer on the line, who, in 5 minutes, could look at all the statistics on my modem. And solve problems.