FiOS TV Has Drawbacks

I signed up to have Verizon install FiOS TV in my home on May 29th. Newer SFNL subscribers may not realize that I’m lucky enough to have 15Mbps FiOS FTTP (fiber optic to the premises) broadband at my home.

I adore my FiOS broadband service, and so it was a natural extension to consider expanding it to FiOS TV (digital and HD) cable-TV-like service when it became available in my hometown.

But when the FiOS tech arrived to install it, I learned two things that the salesperson neglected to tell me:

1. Verizon uses your broadband access for on-demand TV, downloading the channel guide, and other data transfers specific to you or your town. Verizon says that they have a way to increase the bandwidth for these downloads so that it doesn’t take away from your Internet service, but I’m not buying that. I’m willing to listen to them explain this, but so far, no one I’ve talked to at Verizon can offer one. (In fact, in my latest conversation on the subject, a Verizon Encore customer rep supervisor got angry with me saying that I didn’t need to know how it worked, it just did. In my experience when the customer service people get defensive about a technical question, there’s a problem.)

2. Verizon expected to either install a new ActionTec router for my broadband (connected via coax) or for me to run a new Ethernet line from where my router is down to the FiOS box in the basement. Neither solution was acceptable to me. I might be willing to run the Ethernet line down there, but only if Verizon is willing to explain how my broadband service will not be affected by my kids’ regular use of on-demand programming.

The thing is, I asked my salesperson about any possible degradation of my broadband service prior to the installation date. So it’s not like this is a last-minute concern on my part.

Bottom line: I wound up declining my FiOS TV installation; Verizon needs to do better with its FiOS TV service. The vibe I got was that I was an idiot — just take the service and be quiet. But it’s not like Verizon has a long history of serving digital entertainment content. I’ll stick with my cable company.

A Scot’s Newsletter reader who already has FiOS broadband and TV gave me some insights about his experience that confirmed my concerns. Here are some excerpts from two messages he sent me last week:

“Verizon installed an ActionTec MI424WR router. The router has very respectable hardware specs, but the routing firmware still has a few bugs. The firmware is Linux-based and appears to be based on Jungo’s OpenRG (Residential Gateway) product, but I cannot find mention of the specific version ActionTec/Verizon is using on Jungo’s website.

“One major flaw in the firmware is that it uses a connection tracking table of only 5,000 entries. On the surface, 5,000 connections doesn’t sound like a problem for a home user. However, what actually happens is that each connection creates two entries, one outgoing and the other incoming, effectively reducing the limit to 2,500. That’s still not so bad. The problem occurs when a connection is not properly closed by both sides; when this happens, it leaves one or both sides of the connection stuck in the conntrack table with a five-day time-to-live value. Now the limit is something like 2,500 connections over five days. Apparently gamers and P2P users can kill the connection table in a matter of hours. At that point, the router will not even honor DHCP requests on the LAN, requiring it be rebooted. I have yet to manage a whole week without needing to reboot the router.”

About my concerns about degradation of my bandwidth, the reader writes:

“On the on-demand front: The router has a rule to set up IP addresses and QoS (quality of service) for the set-top boxes. [In other words, you can set the priority of various streams of data based on the IP address. Each node on your network, including your set-top boxes, has its own IP address.] But like you, I don’t see how they get around taking the bandwidth from the normal level of service, unless the upstream throttles know to let it through. If it were simply the QoS priority, what’s to keep someone from giving their PC a priority? The only other way would be to give their video-on-demand server an exemption from being throttled.”

This was exactly my thinking. Again, if someone at Verizon can tell me how it is that the service opens up a wider pipe whenever on-demand video is being played, then I might consider FiOS TV. But I don’t like the fact that some of the TV stuff is occupying my network. I don’t like Verizon’s intrusion there. My LAN is my LAN, not their LAN. All they provide is the broadband connection and television programming. Verizon’s assumptions may work fine for unwitting consumers, but I don’t think us computer folk are going to be happy with this kind of setup.

One point that needs to be made: Our anonymous reader (he’s written to me many times, so I know him, but he asked to be unnamed this time) doesn’t hate his FiOS TV service. He also, though, said it might be interesting to test what happens to his broadband service when he’s got three on-demand shows running to his three set-top boxes.

I’d certainly like to know about that.

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