How can I not screwed by Time Warner?
May 5, 2011 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way I can either make use of an active internet connection coming into my apartment, or avoid paying an installation fee to Time Warner in NYC for a connection that already appears to work?

I recently moved into an apartment in NYC, but I have not set up any cable or internet service. There is already a coaxial cable coming into my apartment. I plugged a TV in and it gets a ton of basic channels, so this must have some digital antenna or something flowing in to it given that I am using a very old school television that has no digital tuner. Out of curiosity, I then borrowed my neighbor's cable modem and plugged it into the same coaxial cable, and I was able to get high-speed internet.

So, I assume that the bits are always flowing into this cable -- is there anyway I can make use of that, or do I need a cable modem from Time Warner?

I even went so far as to ask a Time Warner representative at a local TW storefront if I could start service, but skip the installation fee since I have a working connection, but they said I need to pay for a truck to come to the apartment anyway. It all seems a bit ridiculous -- I was just wondering if anyone had any thoughts before I set up an appointment, wait for TW, and then pay them to screw me and then the cable into my modem.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did this once with Time Warner Cable in upstate NY with a very similar situation. They were adamant that installation was required, but eventually conceded that they could just give me a self-installation kit (in other words, a box with a cable modem in it) and we could just do it that way. It all worked perfectly fine.

You will need a cable modem from somewhere and that modem will have to be activated with Time Warner's system. It's probably easiest to get one from TWC (aren't they usually free?) and that may help avoid support hassles down the road if anything goes wrong. If you just plug a random cable modem into there, you'll be stealing cable (probably a crime) and TWC will most likely shut you down as your modem won't be authorized.

I already had signed up for service and setup the installation appointment by phone before I asked for the self-install kit in the storefront. Not sure if you have to do it in that order or what.
posted by zachlipton at 4:53 PM on May 5, 2011

I don't know about the modem thing, but as far as the tv goes, I had the same thing (instantsignal when I plugged in my tv without any service contract). When I compared channels with friends, it seemed I was getting the basic package that they were paying ~$10 for (5 yrs ago). Anyway, that free tv kept on for seven years, until i moved out in 2009. At some point, I did have them come and install cable internet (I now wish I had checked to see if there was free internet too -- did not even occur to me). The installer guy totally saw I had the free tv coming in, and totally didn't care. He just said he couldn't split the connection between the tv and the modem, since I technically didn't have tv cable. So I plugged a splitter on after he had left. Three years later, I cancelled the internet. The tv never flickered.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:11 PM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: The cable modem you borrowed worked because the mac address in already authorized in Time Warner's system. Any modem you bought would not be in the system, and would not work.

The basic cable package shows up because it is sent over the cable on the same frequency as the internet. If you have an internet connection, you usually also have the analog basic cable too. Most of the time they don't bother to try and block it.

They might be able to do a self install kit like zachlipton suggested. I've worked on the network side of things for cable companies, I have not worked on the customer side, so I don't know exactly what they would be willing to do.
posted by wrnealis at 5:34 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recently got time warner internet in NYC. I watched them install two modems, since they brought the wrong one the first time (huzah). It seems like the official installation has the following steps

1) confirm that signal is coming into the apartment (if you have a tv hooked up and display channels, you are almost certainly good on this front)
2) plug in modem
3) wait 5 minutes for it to boot
4) call in to a special line and have them "activate" the modem. This step is the funkiest. There is definitely a customer service person for the installers on the other line who takes the mac address of the modem and does something. They called it "sending a ping" and I believe it both authorizes the modem AND flashes the firmware to a special time-warner version.

If you can convince them to give you a self-install package, and somehow get #4 done either at the office or over the phone, I suppose you will be fine.
posted by Phredward at 7:31 PM on May 5, 2011

call in to a special line and have them "activate" the modem. This step is the funkiest. There is definitely a customer service person for the installers on the other line who takes the mac address of the modem and does something. They called it "sending a ping" and I believe it both authorizes the modem AND flashes the firmware to a special time-warner version.

So when I did the self-install kit, they entered the modem's mac address info into their system at the TWC storefront before they gave me the kit, so all I had to do was plug it in when I got it home. There was no call-in activation necessary. Of course, YMMV.

Time Warner Cable has one of the most sucktastic customer service operations around, even by cable company standards. If you can't get them to give you a self-install kit, I'd just keep calling back and trying different storefronts until you find someone who will do it. It's all up to the whim of whoever you happen to get. Good luck!
posted by zachlipton at 8:02 PM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: The basic cable package shows up because it is sent over the cable on the same frequency as the internet. If you have an internet connection, you usually also have the analog basic cable too. Most of the time they don't bother to try and block it.

I used to work in the cable industry about ten years ago. Here's some background info on the free service you're getting and a suggestion on how to get the free installation. The industry's probably changed a bit but I'm confident that the parts up to the discussion of sales is accurate:

The basic tier of service is just flowing to every unit in an analog system (the only kind your tv could pick up) unencrypted-- if there's an uninterrupted connection between you and the local "head end" (primary source-connected node that supplies the boosted signal to customers within some radius of it) you get the basic channels. Two things are supposed to happen when a customer disconnects service: their converter box is removed from the system, blocking the premium services and a technician shows up to shut the service off "at the tap," which is the junction box specific to your building/neighbors.

The converter signal is automated and centralized, so it always happens. The tap requires a visit from a tech and it almost never happens. The techs basically just ignore the work orders because they're too busy with installation and service calls and the cable company is fine with this. If they cared they'd hire more techs but there's been a conscious choice based on cost-to-benefit ratio that the current system of ignoring "discos" in favor of getting new customers and pleasing the existing troubled ones is proper. If on the same day a tech has a work order to install/service someone else in your building AND your disco order and he doesn't miss the coincidence, your cable may get shut ff at the tap. Otherwise it almost certainly won't. The majority of people without cable in a system that still has an analog component could have basic cable to their cable-ready sets just by plugging a coax into the wall port and their tv. You'd be amazed at the number of people back in the late 90's (before cable internet became desirable) who just as part of moving into a new place called the cable company and ordered only basic service, paying 30 bucks a month for something that was probably already flowing into their apartment for free due to cable company decisions.

If your cable company has a "field sales" department, where a salesman is given a territory and he goes door-to-door or leaflets (more on these guys in a minute), s/he may check the customer percentages in a building/street and set up an "audit" with a tech. The field sales rep decides that the customer penetration is unnaturally low and lots of people have figured out the gift of free basic, so the tech goes through the taps and cuts off all the non-customers while the salesperson leaflets or knocks on doors. The result is usually lots of irritated people who have come to feel entitled to free cable and lots of new customers who sign up on the spot or call the sales guy and sign up. But the chances of this happening to you are pretty low.

So here's where field sales comes in handy to you. Most people who want cable call up and order it. The company knows they have these people-- they are saying "hey I want to give you money! here's some cash." So the cable co sticks it to them as best they can-- installation fees, detached reps who could give a crap whether they order or not because they're paid hourly, etc. However, there's a subset of people who must be enticed to get cable-- maybe there's competition in their area, maybe they haven't gotten round to it, maybe they need a carrot to get them to commit. The field sales rep (should TW still employ them in NYC) works on commission and is the one with the carrots. In Boston, the field sales reps ALWAYS offered free installation (generally on all sets) and they offered free months of premium services (for suckers. don't do it unless you can trust yourself to call and cancel).

So what I would do is look for fliers (look in the foyers of big multi-unit buildings nearby) and see if they have the same number on them as the number you've been calling. If you can't find any, call the cable company main number and ask to be transferred to field sales and then say "hey, I live on X street in Y neighborhood and I'm looking to get cable. Whom should I speak with?" You'll get a call in a couple minutes from a man or woman who's willing to work with you or at least can get you free installation.

And yeah, if you don't care about cable beyond basic, split the line between the wall and the modem and it sounds like you'll get free basic. I worked in the marketing department, and when we were examining use in the few areas of Boston that had cable internet at the time, my boss would look at the accounts getting ONLY internet and irritatedly say that they were also getting basic cable without paying for it. Of course, the customer's neighbors with no account were also probably getting free basic, whether they knew it or not.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:45 AM on May 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the insight on all this -- so, out of curiosity I took a non-TW modem and tried just plugging it in, and of course, there was no connection this time. So, you definitely need a cable modem with a MAC address that has been activated in their system. I then tried a modem from a friend that wasn't even from the same building, but still from TW, and that worked. I also tried it with a splitter, and I was able to get both TV and internet at the same time using the TW modem.

So, it seems like there is no way around the MAC issue. I just went to a TW storefront (there is one I pass on my way to work) and they said that they don't have self-install kits in NYC. This person didn't really believe me that I had a working connection, so I even asked her manager and she said there is no way I can install it myself. Ugh. And just now I saw a TW truck parked with a guy unloading stuff -- I asked him about everything and he said what was basically said above, that I just need the modem with the MAC address, but that they require a truck to roll. He said that they are all independent contractors, so I don't know if TW even bothers with "field sales". I guess you don't really have to bother in buildings/neighborhoods where the TW monopoly is present. I just find it so infuriating that TW isn't even willing to consider a self-install option -- the only other thing I can think of is that those installs give them a chance to inspect everything, but from what it sounds like (and the way some of these cables are strung) they aren't really doing a close inspection of their hook-ups.

So, I can either wait for a competitor to hit my hood, sign up for some capped 4G situation, break down and pay for TW, or wait for a new neighbor with an unsecure wifi connection to move back into the building.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 12:33 PM on May 6, 2011

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