May 2010 Archives

Getting Back Online

Recently, we had a lightning strike that hit a tree in the garden. We also got an electricity spike that looks like it came in through the phone line. That spike took out the DSL modem, the router and the motherboard on my PC.

While recovering from that I made some mistakes that I'll summarize here. Maybe other people can avoid those mistakes or maybe I'll remember better next time.

Lesson One -- Buy a Surge Protector

...*and use it*. We had surge protectors on all the PC equipment. The DSL modem was in another room and there was nothing between it and the phone jack. Since the incident I've bought one of the power strips that includes the protector for the phone line. It's too late for this time of course, but it's early in the year yet and we will have many storms during the summer.

Keep the DSL Account Information

... in an accessible place. I was mostly okay here, but the password I had was wrong or out of date.

Avoid "Wizard" Setups

I bought a replacement modem in a store. This was in part because I've had problems with deliveries of items requiring a signature before where I've had to drive to some remote depot to pick up the item. I hooked it up, went through the setup "wizard" web interface and ran into an authentication problem because the password was wrong.

For the record, the modem was a D-Link DSL-2320B. After I ran through the "wizard" setup once, several of the original options were no longer available. It turned out that this was the key to my problems.

Again, for the record, a way to configure the modem for AT&T DSL that works is as follows:

  1. untick the "DSL Auto-connect" checkbox
  2. leave the VPI setting at 0
  3. leave the VCI setting at 35
  4. choose PPPoE if connecting directly to a PC; choose Bridging if connecting to a home router
  5. leave "Encapsulation Mode" as "LLC/SNAP BRIDGING"
  6. leave LAN settings at default or change them to taste if you know what you're doing

Use the Pinhole Reset Button If You Run Into Trouble

It's on the back of the modem and you press it with a pen or a pin for ten seconds to reset everything to factory defaults. It seems that this is what it took to get the modem to really forget the original, incorrect password and use the new, reset password I was entering through the web interface.

Beware of Premium Cost Services

... unless you enjoy paying for someone to read you their script over the phone. AT&T's initial phone support was actually pretty good — I got through to a second level support person who knew what he was talking about and was helpful, even though I was not using a supported modem. When I called again a couple of days later, I allowed myself to be browbeaten into signing up for the Tech Connect service, at well over $100. I figured I'd get even better support from a networking pro. Instead I was connected to a newbie who clearly didn't know anything beyond the script. After a long time going through the usual rigmarole of turning the modem off and on and checking the lights, the script eventually had me do the pinhole reset, which fixed the problem.

It's possible that, had I spent even more time on the phone and still not fixed the problem, I would have got to a second level of (paid) support. As it was, I was left kicking myself for not trying this myself.

The Internet is Your Friend

... even when the problem is connecting to the Internet. If I had made better use of other ways to connect, I could have saved myself some trouble. After I got my initial connection, I figured out how to get the home router up and running with hints from forum postings. (Basically, make the modem as stupid as it can be, just a bridge, and let the router take care of the PPPoE authentication.)

Phone support in general is slow and limited. The world wide web is, for DSL troubleshooting as for other things, vast and quick to search.

In Sum

Don't do like I did. First of all, protect yourself against lightning. Don't rely on your provider for support beyond the basics (connection information etc.).

Oh, and if you do run into trouble, post so others can learn from your experience.