Monthly Archives: October 2019

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The Decline of WideOpenWest

A few years ago, I moved from a very rural area into a subdivision that was fortunate to have more options for Internet than most communities in America. Two cable providers and a telecom – WOW, Comcast, and AT&T.

When I first moved in, I was skeptical of WOW. I had prior experience with Comcast and I knew that their network was reliable in the area, so I passed WOW by and jumped on board the Comcast bandwagon.

That is, until one day I was given a reason to give WOW a chance. Comcast rolled out their enforced 1TB data caps in my market. With capped data plans looming on the horizon, I decided to jump ship and give WOW a shot.

When I first became a WOW subscriber, I was coming from a 75/10 plan on Comcast’s network and came on to WOW as a 110/10 subscriber, for roughly the same price. It seemed like a very competitive service – even though Comcast’s 75/10 was overprovisioned to 90/12, and WOW’s 110/10 service was barely overprovisioned at all, delivering maybe 115/10.

Evolution of WOW’s Services

After being a WOW customer for almost a year, they rolled out extremely competitive new speed tiers. They now offered speeds of up to 1Gbps, and the pricing absolutely blew Comcast away. They offered a 500/50 plan for $5 more than I was paying for my 110/10, so I called them up.

Despite the plan being officially for new customers only, I convinced the phone rep to upgrade my tier in exchange for paying a $75 ETF on my old contract. All in all, a very good experience, and once I grabbed a new modem and got provisioned, I was very happy with my speeds.

The whole process of upgrading struck me as a very consumer friendly practice, I felt that Comcast would never have allowed me to do the same as simply as WOW had done, and they had given me exactly what they promised.

The Golden Years

I had signed a 2 year contract when I jumped on the 500/50 service plan. For most of these two years, I had the luxury of not giving much thought to my Internet speeds. It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about while it’s in abundance, I definitely took it for granted. The monthly bill I was paying felt well worth it, like a steal in fact, for such fantastic service.

I did run into one rather advanced problem during the “golden years” of my WOW service. WOW’s network was not properly battery backed up, and during power outages, even a small blip of a few seconds, I would lose my Internet service despite having backup batteries and a backup generator at my house.

I thought that this would be a nearly insurmountable issue to get fixed, but after talking to WOW’s support, I was given direct contacts for some lead techs in my area. They informed me that they found a bad battery backup and it had been replaced. And lo and behold, the next time the power went out, my network stayed up!

At this time, WOW was to me, the ideal that every Internet provider should strive for. They owned up to and resolved issues promptly, and most of the time things just worked great. If people asked me for a recommendation for ISP, I would respond with a rave about WOW and how fantastic they are.

The Decline

I suppose I was lucky – that the decline of WOW fell in line so well with my 2 year contract. Right about the time I was thinking about asking for a new contract rate, as mine was going to be coming up, I started to experience some problems with my service.

I am a heavy user and a bit of an atypical user, as a tech savvy user and a content creator, I do a lot of uploading, and upload tends to be the first thing to go when a cable network has quality problems. Upstream signal is just more sensitive to problems than downstream.

My 50Mbps upload was degrading, to the point where it was more like 40Mbps, and during peak hours it would drop to 30Mbps.

No problem, I assumed, I would just get in touch with WOW’s fantastic support and they would get this issue resolved, just like they always have in the past.

I first called in through the regular phone support, and at first I was hopeful. The representative seemed interested in my problem and said that they would have a look and see what they could find out. But, that it was an advanced issue unlike any they had worked on before and they weren’t sure what they would find. Fine – great, let’s get someone high level involved I’m all for it!

As the weeks dragged on, I grew more and more frustrated with my intermittent upload speeds, and the latency spikes that accompanied them whenever I tried to push a lot of bandwidth outbound. It was especially frustrating for me as a night shift employee, experiencing congestion at 3AM when I know the network is not congested.

After getting nowhere with the phone support at first, I decided to reach out to the techs whose contacts I had been given in the past, to see if they could help with the issue. But I soon found that no one I had contact information on seemed to be with the company anymore.

Out of desperation, I ran a WHOIS on the IP block and emailed all of the WHOIS contacts to try to get in touch with someone at the company with some level of technical knowledge. Every single email bounced back. None of the technical contacts on the IP WHOIS seemed to work for the company anymore either.

So, left with no other options, I realized I had to go the standard route. I would have a tech visit so they could observe the problem and get a solution in motion.

The tech who came was awesome, and again seemed genuinely interested in solving the problem. We ran some speed tests and he did acknowledge that the upload speed was poor. In order to rule out anything on my end so he could get an escalation going, we brought the modem in my back yard, and he plugged it directly into the tap. We still observed the poor speeds from there. He took some pictures, went on his way, and promised to submit a ticket to have someone take a look at the lines.

Another month passed – no end in sight for my upload performance issues. On top of that, my next month’s bill arrives and I am billed for a tech visit. This is the first time in my multiple years of being a customer that I have ever been billed for a tech visit. When I inquire for an explanation, they explain that the tech “found nothing wrong” and so I was billed for the problem. I was outraged. So had anything been escalated? No, apparently not.

I was able to get WOW to waive the technician fee, but they said that in order to get an escalation going, I would need another tech visit because too much time had passed.

At this point, I feel like I am treading water, so I reach out to friends\family who know people within the company to try to get some help. Clearly having another tech out is not going to fix the issue, so what is wrong with this escalation path?

I come to find – basically barely anyone at the company is employed in my state anymore. The local work is all being done by contractors now. Things have changed from the days when I signed on as a WOW customer and a WOW employee came to do my install.

WOW’s employee structure was now beginning to represent Comcast’s but with one distinction – no one seemed to be available to escalate to and no one actually empowered to solve these higher issues. Even with my contacts at the company I could not get anyone to help me, and they didn’t know of anyone who could help me.

Giving Up

So, now, that it seemed I would be stuck in this loop of dispatching technicians who can’t fix the problem and have no one to escalate to, I decided to get out.

I looked at Comcast’s offerings, and I found the only way to get anywhere close to the upload I was accustomed to was to buy their 1000/35 package, take a speed cut, and pay more than twice the price (because I need to also pay Comcast’s $50 unlimited data ransom).

I had been looking at my alternatives and I found out that Comcast had rolled out Gigabit Pro, a very niche fiber service that provides full duplex multi-gig connectivity.

At this point, I had been using WOW’s 500/50 because it was providing the most upload speed available to me. (Their Gigabit plan was also 50 up). So finding out that I had an option that would provide me more upload was very liberating.

The price tag on Gigabit Pro was steep. More than 4x what I was paying WOW for my 500/50, but Comcast would provide me with 2Gbps symmetrical FTTH Internet.

Given that the price for Gigabit Pro was only roughly twice the cost of their 1000/35+unlimited plan, with twice the download speed but orders of magnitude more upload speed, it seemed worthwhile to me. I began to look for ways to justify this to myself and ways I could cut costs to be able to pay Comcast’s hefty price tag to get the Internet of my dreams.

I eventually started the process of signing up for Gigabit Pro. This process has taken up many months of 2019, but an end is finally in sight for me.

In the meantime, I needed a solution to my issues, because WOW was no longer reliable for even broadcasting on Twitch. My streams were interrupted multiple times a night due to connection quality problems. So, I picked up a Comcast 250/20 line to use for streaming and VoIP temporarily. It more than doubled my monthly Internet cost, but cost about the same as getting Comcast + unlimited data, so I kept my unreliable WOW connection around for bulk data use and my Comcast line is now serving as a temporary “premium” lane for my things that need to be reliable.

I look forward to having my Gigabit Pro service active before the end of the year, and finally saying goodbye to coax cable Internet – and all of the RF signal noise problems that can come with it – and saying goodbye to WOW after several years of hailing them as the best ISP in the business.

The Writing On The Wall?

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Now I can look back at the past with clarity.

Around the time WOW rolled out their new speed tiers, around the time I signed my contract with them, they also had their IPO and began offering stock.

At the time, I didn’t see this as a negative, I saw it as the company’s attempt to grow and expand.

Now, I wonder – could the sudden massive boost in speed tiers have been merely an attempt to try to gather up as many new customers as possible to boost the numbers?

What is WOW’s long term plan? Are they looking to pump their subscriber numbers so that they can find someone to buy them out?

There is a huge part of me that suspects that WOW will one day no longer exist, maybe it will be acquired one day by another cable company. I think Charter\Spectrum could be a likely future buyer, just based on what I see of the market position of the two companies.

Maybe it’s not so nefarious, maybe it was simply the transition from being a small “startup” company to being a corporate company with investors that ended up being WOW’s downfall.

I feel that this employee review I found on Glassdoor from someone who says they have worked for WOW for 10 years most likely accurately sums up the state of affairs:

The Future?

As long as WOW remains independent and in business, there is the potential for them to fix their systemic problems. It’s not extremely likely, but management can change.

I would be open to giving WOW a shot in the future, but I will no longer recommend them to people (and I may warn against them in fact). I would be very leery of ever signing another contract with them.

Your service may still be fine, the network by you may have a good tech taking care of it still, but I feel that overall that if you have good service from WOW, your days are probably numbered. The people who made the service good seem to be seeing the writing on the wall and leaving.

I believe that the most likely outcome for them is acquisition by another cable company.

Either way, I most likely won’t be a part of it. I don’t have any plans to go back to cable from my fiber line anytime soon.