Everyone has a DSL horror story. Here’s mine.

Last Tuesday I started noticing that my DSL connection was really slow. When I looked into it a little, I noticed a cyclic pattern:

  1. Ping times to the router at the other end of the DSL line would start out OK, at around 20ms.
  2. The times would slowly increase, sometimes getting as high as three seconds (that’s forever where I come from) with increasing levels of packet loss.
  3. Times would then decrease sharply to their original levels, and the process would start over.

Experience has taught me to associate this behavior with an overloaded router. The queues get longer and longer, until they reach a high-water mark where the router starts dumping packets until it gets back down to a low-water mark. If the router is persistently swamped, this will result in exactly the sort of cyclic pattern seen above.

Because this was the same time SoBig.F was going around, I figured this was just virus-related and would clear up after a few days. I was going to be in Baxter State Park in Maine for five days anyway (I’ll post about that soon) so I decided not to worry about it. When I got back Sunday night, though, I noticed that the DSL line was completely down. Something different must have happened.

Yesterday I called Verizon…from work. Naturally, the guy I talked to tried to punt because I wasn’t actually sitting in front of the machine, but I assured them that I had done everything that would be in their little script so maybe if he’d play along I could give him the answers from the morning’s tests and we could find the problem. He grudgingly went along, and it turned out to be true that I had anticipated the entire script. Then he said that it looked like a problem that was known to be affecting customers with static IP addresses, but they weren’t doing anything about it until people called in. My first reaction, naturally, was outrage that they’d sit on a known problem like that, but I kept my cool and had my account added to the existing ticket for the problem.

Last night I tried again. The lights on the DSL modem had changed, but still no ping. This morning, same thing. When I called in, the automated system said my problem had been resolved. Yeah, right. The first real person I spoke to basically didn’t get anywhere. We checked some cables, power-cycled some things, etc. and then he referred me to someone on the business-customer side (even though I’m a residential customer) who might know more about my particular situation. She quickly determined that my account had been changed from a static IP address to PPPoE. That didn’t seem like something they should have done without letting me know, but I really didn’t care much. I have a hosting service to deal with inbound traffic, so everything I do at home is outbound anyway; it doesn’t really matter to me if my home IP address (which is just the router/AP/firewall anyway) is static or dynamic. So I set up PPPoE and everything worked.

So it’s all resolved now. I find it slightly amazing that Verizon would sit on a problem until customers called in, or switch their service from static to dynamic without so much as a notice, but things work now. Pretty soon I’ll be back to my usual posting habits both here and elsewhere.