Virgin Media Internet Connection Problem

Virgin Media IncorporatedImage via Wikipedia

I’ve been experiencing a couple of day of infuriating disconnections from our Virgin media (rebranded NTL) cable based Internet connection. During periods of connectivity I’d managed to look on-line and see that I was not alone.

Before the desperation of trying to embark on the tortuous process that is technical support on the phone I decided to do some troubleshooting myself using my own slightly sad but sometimes useful technical abilities.

I was having to unplug and restart the cable modem up to 10 times a day so the problem needed diagnosing. I noticed that during periods where there were seemingly devoid of an Internet connection I could ping Virgin’s two DNS servers so that suggested to me that perhaps this was some kind of DNS resolution issue.

I then input Virgin’s DNS servers manually into our netgear router & also made sure that the ethernet mac address showing was that of our main computer and not the router after reading that people using routers were having more problems that those where the modem was connected directly to a computer. I had also tried removing the router from the equation but the problem persisted.

So I then dispensed with Virgin’s DNS server addresses and used the third party OpenDNS server addresses input manually into the netgear router and this seems to have resolved our connection reliability issues completely.

If you’re using Virgin’s cable broadband and having similar issues it’s worth trying this solution to see if it also solves your own intermittent connection problems. Many Virgin media cabled areas are experiencing connectivity issues. In some cases it’s the local exchange, in others it’s faulty modems which can be replaced but for us using an alternative DNS service has improved our connection 100%.

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What’s New?

My partner was using Google maps and Google earth the other day to find various places local as seen from above and was amazed to find that the results probably dated from at least five years ago as our old car car clearly (ish) been seen parked outside our old address and various newer buildings do not show up. A snapshot in time. Other locations , usually US locations seem bang up to date. A prioritised snapshot of our shared environment as seen by satellites and possibly the odd passing alien.

Need For Speed?

I also found out that our Internet speed has been upgraded as part of a rolling free  upgrade of speeds across the Virgin media network. Only by looking at a map of Britain with various local markers and comments about speed did I realise that upgrades must have happened yesterday and a speed test revealed an 8.4Mbps download with a 0.5Mbps upstream speed (why is cable so asychronous. I can understand ADSL‘s disparity between download and upload).I don’t desire huge speed and these days with data limits and speed shaping in place by many ISPs it seems daft to increase speeds which encourage more data useage, only to then throttle the speeds back when people actually take advantage of those speeds offered.


Online Time

I’ve also got to play around with the oddly named Plurk, another twitter-like service with a more visual interface element with conversations and cliques (groups) placed along a timeline. Following conversations often means spinning back and forth the timeline depending on when you started or joined a conversation but if users are listened to then Plurk could develop into something usable.

BuzzwordI was also pleased to see Adobe expand their Buzzword on-line word processor via,a web based  pdf creation, collaboration and file sharing utility. The full paid version of Acrobat 9 also includes an expanded version of Buzzword as an Adobe air based option.Buzzword had been one of the most impressive web applications that I’d used over the past year.

Another View

PiclensPiclens has been a very intriguing add on that available for a wide range of web browsers including Firefox and even safari. It transforms online picture searches on Google, Flickr, picasa and YouTube by presenting them as a 3D wall that can then be browsed as a full screen 3D wall of pictures that can be zoomed into and , along and out of etc. It certainly transforms the search process on these sites.

Piclens screenshot by enda_001 under this creative commons license

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UK ISP Trio To Farm Personal Data

There are faint rumblings in the UK techie-sphere concerning a handful of the larger UK Internet service provider’s (ISP’s) signing up to a service called Phorm which will sit between the user and their ISP , in this case BT, Talk Talk and Virgin Media customers.

Net bunny

All Your Data Belongs To Me
Basically the service (in this case the service pays the ISP’s) works as a non transparent proxy and harvests your usage data, websites visited etc in order for more relevant adverts to be targeted at the user when they visit a Phorm partner’s web-site. The hoo ha over Phorm is because the company contains people previously known for placing spyware directly on computers using rootkit technology and user worries over their said ability to anonymise personal data.

Who Are You?
The company says it will ‘anonymise’ the data but really it’s based on your IP address which the EU is tentatively regarding as your personal data.Either way they need to just assign another number to your IP address in order to target their adverts.

No Opt Out?
Opt outs may or may not become available but it’s rumoured that Virgin Media may have already put the system in place as it moved away from the use of transparent proxies a while ago.Clearing cookies will not be of any benefit as a means to avoid the system and only using an anonymous proxy which will slow your surfing speed down considerably or using a true remote computer desktop would let you escape the trawling of your Internet usage bar the unlikely opportunity to opt out of the system.

The ISP’s will claim that Phorm will add a layer of user security in that it offers anti-phishing technology and even, curiously anti spyware filtering (other than their own of course) but the bottom line for many people is that their ISP is making money out of their personal data without being upfront with customers about this.

The Way Of The World?
Whilst it’s naive to assume that you can totally anonymise yourself on the Internet as many free Internet services support themselves via targeted advertising (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft ,social networks etc) in the same way that supermarket and shop loyalty cards are used to keep a personalised record of your shopping habits, it is right to be concerned about who your ISP (to whom you are already paying a monthly fee) is allowing to trawl your Internet usage data and whether they have a track record on keeping that information secure.

Everyone wants a slice of the Internet advertising pie. Maybe some are being a bit more aggressive and unethical in earning their own slice than others.

An anti Phorm website

Update: BBC news discusses Phorm

Further Update: I attended an online web chat with Phorm’s CEO Kent Ertugrul and Senior vice president of technology Marc Burgess in which they attempted to allay the fears of the main technical and sceptical attendees. Seemingly an option to opt out will become available. This opt out will last for 2 years unless you block the cookie of the domain in which case the opt out will be permanent (Interestingly BT have been saying a user would need to block

Much was made of the anti-phishing benefits of Phorm’s webwise system by the CEO and questions were asked concerning whether a user who has opted out would still have their data pass through Phorm’s servers which it was stated that they would not. Browsing information would be mirrored for analysis (presumably to prevent a slow down in browsing that an ‘on-the-fly- analysis would cause). The continuing area of contention for critics seemed to be around how the system both tracks and identifies the users browsing preferences for advertising target purposes whilst still assuring users that no personal data is retained and is anonymised.

Photo by edge714 under this creative commons license

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Carlyle May Re-Re brand Virgin

If private equity group Carlyle acquire Virgin media it may indeed remove the Virgin media branding in order to placate Rupert Murdoch and the ongoing ill will between him and Richard Branson. This would make NTL’s original re branding of its cable TV, Internet and telecoms company under the Virgin media name one of the shortest and most expensive branding disasters since the Post Office decided to re brand into the now forgotten and abandoned  Consignia. All that money and all those consultants and they still got it wrong.

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NTL To Virgin To Private Equity?

Virgin mediaFirst NTL tries to bury their chequered past and poor customer service record by spending £25 million re branding as Virgin Media together with throwing £10 million extra in to improve customer service. Then Virgin runs into trouble as the rivalry between the Murdoch Sky TV empire and Richard Branson resulted in several Sky channels being removed from Virgin’s cable service in a spat over carrier fees.

Now there are tentative signs of an approach to buy Virgin Media by the American private equity group Carlyle.

On paper Virgin media should be a lucrative cash cow of a business with its fingers thrust into many media pies however the UK’s competitive market and continued customer and shareholder dissatisfaction at the Sky debacle with many Virgin customers marching off to Sky (something Sky were probably very keen on achieving at the outset of the talks with Virgin) have left the cable TV,telecommunications and Internet company looking ripe for a take over.

A year ago a private equity approach would have been out of the question for the management of Virgin Media and they did in fact reject offers of around £10 billion at that time .

Currently despite a debt of £6 billion the company is likely to be valued at around £11.5 billion.

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Virgin Media Broadband ‘Shaping’ experience

Virgin MediaIt would seem that Virgin Media’s bandwidth throttling or ‘shaping’ is here and it’s making it hard for me to do very much. I’m not using torrents but I am listening to internet radio sparingly and uploading video content to my own space (no larger than 50Mb per day on average)plus by usual blogging and email, surfing. Over the past week or so I’ve experienced outages during the day where all I can access are a few instant messaging services and no web page or email access (this has been weekdays). My speeds this weekend have been around 1.2 Mb download with a crippling 3K/s upload speed (I kid you not!).

I currently subscribe to their L package and just cannot see how I’ve gone over the new 750Mb daily download throttling figure. I haven’t even been on YouTube. Following several years of good service it now seems that the rebranded NTL may feel themselves able to rip off their customers to a greater degree now that they hide behind the Virgin branding. They may well just drag whatever good will the brand had down and will soon be looking to re-re brand again once they’ve trashed that.Pity. Especially as the pointless hell of trying to contact customer services is clearly drawing very near for me. I may need chemical help.

I’m running a net monitor to track my usage and to see if there’s any correlation to when throttling happens.

My actual broadband test results (best result)For Sun 3rd June (throttling in action?)

Whereas Monday 4th June AM returns to these results

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The Rich and Rupe Virgin media BSkyB spat continues

Sky and VirginRichard Branson’s Virgin media group have filed legal proceeding in the high court over Sky’s withdrawl of their basic TV channels package from Virgin’s cable TV service. Virgin also hope to tackle the “onerous” rates charged by Sky in return for carrying some of Virgin media’s channels on its Sky TV service.

The proceedings are based on Section 18 of the UK Competition Act 1998 and Article 82 of the EC Treaty, which attempt to prohibit a company from abusing its dominant position.

Sky is said to account for around 70% of the UK’s pay-TV market and Virgin feel that Murdoch’s Sky TV is “engaged in a strategy to stifle competition by using its dominance against Virgin Media.”

Despite Virgin’s offer of going to a mediation service Sky have continued to withhold their basic TV channels from Virgin media customers . They have also put on hold their plans to launch their own terrestrial digital service that would allow sky channels to be received via standard aerials as opposed to dishes. Also plans to withdraw their Freeview contingent of Sky channels is also on hold while the matter is investigated by media regulator Ofcom.

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The Rich and Rupe Virgin media BSkyB spat continues « STUFFEM-Up the hill backwards