How to set up cable internet with self-install?
March 21, 2020 9:05 PM   Subscribe

My house has a lot of coaxial wires in a box on the wall. I think there may be existing but deactivated cable service. How do I set up cable internet for my new work at home lifestyle?

I think the people who lived in this house before me had cable, but I do not have cable and have never signed up for it in this house. I have a cheap-o DSL line that was always sufficient for me until the era of Zoom conferences. I desperately need faster internet, but I don't want to have anyone into my house to set it up. The phone company wants to send techs to my house to upgrade my DSL or switch to fiber, but we really don't want to have anyone in.

I went my local cable company's website and they seem to think that I have existing service at my house that I can "self-install." This is great! I could pay them, they could flip a switch, and then presumably I would have internet somewhere in my house.

But where? There is a coax line that seems to come off a pole in the alley and into my basement. The line then runs into a box in my basement that is a huge mess of coax and other colored wires (CAT-5?). Here are some pictures of the mess. [The last picture is probably the best for orientation]

I am only guessing, but I think that a single coax comes into the house, goes through an amplifier (which is plugged into the A/C), and then runs into a 3-way splitter with 3 coax-es coming out. Those 3 coaxes then go into the wall and each one comes out somewhere in my house, probably near where the prior people had their TVs set up. There are some coax outlets in the wall in a few places in the house - one in the kitchen near where you would normally have a phone set up. I have no freaking idea what all of the blue and yellow cables are - they end in a million different twisted strands, many of which are capped off - I plan to ignore these, but any insight would be helpful.

Here's my question - does this look like a functioning cable set up? Is there any way for me to test it short of paying comcast and purchasing a cable modem? Assuming the cables all work, is it easy or hard to set up and configure a cable modem starting with a system like this? I assume I will plug the cable modem into the coax jack in the wall and then run an ethernet cable to my laptop and use a router IP address to get into the modem and configure it? Any tips or insight appreciated, thanks.
posted by Mid to Computers & Internet (4 answers total)
 
It was probably functional at one time but there are a bunch of parts missing. The coax distribution box is usually used to run the main drop from the cable company to what looks like two separate locations somewhere in your abode. One may have been the cable modem for internet and the other could have been a tv via the amplifier The Cat 5 or 6 you see needs to have connectors and something called a switch to plug in to. The hardware is missing here. The long white splice connectors were standard issue phone wire splicers about 40 years ago.

You can get public wifi from your local cable company no doubt but it's speed is marginal.

Since this is an expedited schedule that's important to you and unless you want to spend a lot of time learning to be technical you're going to have to let someone knowledgeable in to set this up.
posted by ptm at 9:36 PM on March 21


"Self-install" means they send you the equipment (just a cable modem/router if you only sign up for internet — though you could probably buy your own too if you let the cable company know). Getting equipment from the cable company through UPS could take a few days, but maybe you could just buy something in person if your area isn't totally locked down yet. It looks like you have three rooms in your house that would have live coax plugs in the wall that you could plug a router into. Choose the best location and you should be good to go!

Ignore the CAT 5e wiring for now. Since most of the internal strands aren't connected to anything, I'm guessing that your house uses CAT 5e cables to run the telephone wiring drops, and thus these aren't relevant to your cable service. On the bright side, you could reterminate the phone jacks throughout your house for ethernet and put a wired switch in your basement. (I did this at my house and have wired gigabit everywhere!) On the negative side, this is a pretty time-consuming project and removes all of your phone jacks.
posted by stopgap at 9:51 PM on March 21


You're pretty close. It depends on the cable company and your final setup desire. There can be 2 boxes to plug in. One is the cable modem which turns the coax into ethernet. The second is the router which plugs into the modem and gives your wireless. You 'can' skip the router and plug a single computer into the modem. Or your cable company might use a single-box solution that has the cable modem built-in to the same thing that does the wireless. (or wired, most routers have both wireless and 4 or so wired ports that you could use).

The hard part is figuring out which jacks in the wall are the ones that your cable connection feeds. Probably living room and bedrooms? The trivial way to check it to do the blinking lights test with the modem part. Screw it in and plug it up and watch the idiot lights. They'll probably come on in some order and do some blinking and then settle down. It might take a few minutes, but if they stabilize and don't blink in some repeating pattern or change to orange/red... it's probably working.

The benefit of having the tech come out and do the install is that they have doo-hickeys (it's a technical term) that they can use to make sure that the cable to that room has really good signal. And they have the boxes and numbers of the equipment and a back-door into the registration stuff and can take 5 minutes and say "your done".

It does look like you have a bunch of wired ethernet ports going places, but that could also just be phone lines where you'd have to replace the jack-in-the-wall to be actual ethernet (RJ11 vs RJ45 plugs and number of wires punched down).
posted by zengargoyle at 6:24 AM on March 22


If you’re in a Comcast area, they should just give you a wireless router and modem in one device. Should be really simple. If you don’t use the coax anyway, I’d suggest just pulling coax from the input on that splitter and plug it right into the modem/router in the self install kit. The splitter just degraded the signal coming in and you want the modem to have the best signal levels possible.

The wireless router they have is usually pretty good. My in-laws have one and I can get speed tests around 280m on my iPhone in the same room and still close to 200 on the 2nd floor. Your results may very but suffice to say, don’t worry too much if getting Ethernet to a computer is complicated, the wireless should be substantial. After all of this settles down you might be more okay with someone coming into the house to help set it up the “right” way then. It’s worth a try to do the self install though. Worst that happens is you calm for help and if they can’t walk you through it over the phone you have them out then or send it back.
posted by zero point zero at 11:13 PM on March 22


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