DSL + Bell Hell
February 27, 2009 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Just moved into a new rental house in Hamilton, ON and I'm trying to get my DSL turned on, but oh boy.

Me and Mrs. the dief moved to a new apartment last week that is a single unit that shares a house with a business, the operator of which owns the house. We have phone jacks in the unit, so I thought oh yes, now is the perfect time to throw Teksavvy, apparently Canada's best ISP, some money for dry loop DSL. I call them up, they take my money, they ship me a modem in lightning time, they have Bell come over to light up the switch last Monday, and nothing happens. No service. Figuring Bell messed up somehow I call Teksavvy back up and ask them to have Bell take a look at the line again. Bell comes out, declares nothing wrong and that the problem is inside the house with the wiring. Considering that as a possibility, I get the landlord to come out and that's where things get interesting.

Apparently the house was at one time some sort of office or switching station for Rogers and there is a *crazy, crazy* number of phone lines in the basement. Like a junction box with at least 12 lines going in. The landlord follows wires around, does his best to rewire, tries a bunch of different things, still no light up on the modem. After me trying to explain that it's phone service but there's no phone number and him just barely believing me, I'm not sure where to go from here. Someone else suggested that it might be the modem and if I plug a phone into the line I could perhaps hear noise or some indication that the DSL was turned on.

So, any suggestions? Will plugging in a phone result in noise and therefore an indication that I have a busted modem and not a bad/wrong DSL? Is it possible that Bell flipped one of the kajillions of nonworking phone lines that go into the house and is just being, well, Bell about things? Can I hook up something to either end of the phone line that will tell me if there's a break somewhere in the middle? Should I be pressuring the landlord to call a real phone tech instead of trying to do it themselves? Is this something Bell can be forced to repair or diagnose?
posted by the dief to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had a broadly similar situation, with several lines coming in and no indication of which was the right one, and Verizon was really unhelpful. Because it's a dry loop, you won't get any response if you plug in a normal phone. What I had to do was to go to the network termination box (the box where all of the wires come in, and where the wires stop being the phone companies responsibility and become the house owners) and go through every line pair, plugging the modem in until I got a response that it was trying to negotiate, indicating that I had found the right line. I then had to wire this into the socket in my apartment where I wanted the modem to live.

Kind of a pain, but that's probably what you have to do...
posted by baggers at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: Oh forgot to mention, cable internet is a possibility (and in fact the last tenants did have cable internet) but I find the very idea of bandwidth caps to be offensive and would really really rather not have to get cable.
posted by the dief at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: baggers, thanks. Unfortunately the termination box in the basement doesn't have any sort of RJ11 plugs attached to it but just has screw terminals. If I could figure out some magic way to attach an RJ11 plug to each of the terminals in turn I would definitely try it out.
posted by the dief at 8:53 AM on February 27, 2009

Best answer: The dief, what you need to do is to cut off the end of a phone cable and use the red & green wires; that's the standard (at least in the US: I think Canada is the same) for the first line. The other cables allow for a second phone line on one cable. Just strip those two wires and try them on the screw terminals in turn to find the active line.
posted by baggers at 8:57 AM on February 27, 2009

(disclaimer; I am not a telephone engineer, so don't hold me responsible if this blows up your entire phone system, etc)
posted by baggers at 8:59 AM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: If there are already wires in the screw terminals, will hooking up extra wires from the phone cable mess up anything? Do the two wires go on one terminal or to different terminals?
posted by the dief at 10:01 AM on February 27, 2009

Best answer: What you want is a tone/probe kit. You inject the tone (a warbling sound, actually) on the pair of wires you want to find, at their source (i.e. where the DSL comes in). Then you use the probe to listen for the tone and figure out which pair of wires in the house hooks up to them, and wire up your jack accordingly. They are not cheap so I wouldn't buy one (unless you plan on doing lots of wiring), but your IT department at work may have a set if they do their own wiring for network and phones, and so maybe you could borrow one.
posted by kindall at 10:37 AM on February 27, 2009

Best answer: Each of the phone lines coming in will end up in 2 wires, which you need to connect the red/green wires from your cable to, in turn. If there are already cables connected, you can connect alongside these without causing problems. However, these probably go to the business you share the building with, and they may not appreciate you plugging into their phone line, especially if they have a DSL connection that you might inadvertantly connect to.

Honestly, what I would suggest is that you ask the landlord to sort this out; he will probably need to get the phone company to figure out which wire is connected to which circuit, phone number, etc. Then you can move the cables so that your phone cables are connected to the right circuit from the telco.
posted by baggers at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: The business owner is rarely there and they have phone service but as far as I know they don't even have personal email. I've gotten the go-ahead from them to try connecting to the terminals and if that doesn't pan out I'll badger them to spend the coin on a real tech. Thanks everyone for your suggestions!
posted by the dief at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2009

Best answer: In this situation, Bell has an obligation to tell you which pair they have activated. Unfortunately, you probably have to be around when they drop by. You also have to explain the problem in detail to Teksavvy so that they can put that on the trouble ticket given to Bell. If everybody doesn't know what's going on exactly, you will just get another "everything works" message from Bell, and you'll have to start another round of stupidity.

That said, hunting for the right pair will work too. Things to consider.. There is a chance that any given pair will have an active dial tone, or not. When my Mom moved we found a dial tone and marketing message. We couldn't make any calls, of course, but the line was active. Also, DSL signal sometimes turns off automatically when an unfiltered phone is sensed on the line (unfiltered and off the hook). The signal turns on again in something like 20 minutes, or 2 hours. I'm not sure how quickly it turns off, you definitely get to hear the DSL noises at least a little. I learned this when trying to use an older, out of spec filter.

The typical phone cable from the telephone poll to your house consists of two pairs. In my house full of apartments there is a six pair cable. It does look like my six pair cable has a red/green pair, so I agree with baggers that it is the most likely suspect. If you could describe the cable that comes from the phone company, and maybe post a picture of the terminal block, it might help.

If there are already wires in the screw terminals, will hooking up extra wires from the phone cable mess up anything? Do the two wires go on one terminal or to different terminals?

Everything works in wire pairs, each pair is a phone line. The phone line pair comes into the house on Bell's cable, goes to a pair of screw terminals in the terminal block. Wires from phone jacks come into the terminal block too, and they are connected to those screw terminal pairs as well. Phone wires get connected in parallel, so you can have many wires on each screw terminal. What you have to do is identify the screw terminal pairs, and connect the DSL modem (or a phone) to one pair at a time.

To do this, get a regular old phone wire that goes from jack to phone base. Cut the connector off one end of the line. Strip the outer jacket back by six inches. Get the yellow and black wires out of the way somehow (cut them off, fold them back, whatever). Strip an inch of the insulation off the red wire, twist up the bare strands of copper, and then do the same for the green (but don't twist red and green together :P). Attach the red wire to one screw terminal, attach the green wire to the other terminal of that pair. Hook the connector end to your DSL modem (or phone). If that wasn't the right pair of screw terminals, disconnect and move on to the next pair. If you are testing with the DSL modem, each time you test a pair you have to leave it for 5-10 minutes. The light doesn't go on very fast..
posted by Chuckles at 11:34 AM on February 27, 2009

Best answer: I should have continued a bit..

Once you know which pair is your phone line, you have to figure out how to hook it up to the phone jacks you want to use. Except, for DSL, you probably don't want to bother doing that. Your DSL connection will be better if you put the modem right beside the terminal block, and run Ethernet wire to your computer (or put a wireless router down there too, or whatever).

If you have to hook up to a phone jack, that is where the tone/probe kit comes in. Your landlord might be able to figure that out though, if you can tell him which pair you want connected to a particular jack.
posted by Chuckles at 12:01 PM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: Everyone -- I got it to work! Thanks especially to Chuckles and baggers. Cut an RJ11 off of one end of a pretty flimsy phone wire, stripped the red and green, and after a couple of false starts got them hooked up to the right pair of terminals. My connection is slower than I'd like, but it might be because the wifi's in the basement or the gauge of the phone cable needs to be bigger or something, but I'll figure it out. Hooray!!
posted by the dief at 9:48 AM on February 28, 2009

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