Months ago now (I think it was October), I contacted Time Warner & Verizon because there were cables that needed to be moved because of our construction, and cables that were loose that needed to be resecured to the building. It’s a little hard to see but there’s a rats nest of cables under the gutter in the picture below.
Our contractor told us a Verizon engineer stopped by the building, but then we didn’t hear back from them.
Time Warner was all over the request – within a couple days they had a really nice engineer out at the property (Alicia) – she traced every wire, figured out what was active and developed a set of plans to reroute their wires. Within a week Time Warner’s contractors came out to do the work. It was all incredibly professional.
Alicia said that some of the cables that looked like Time Warner cables were actually RCN cables. One in particular that was hanging 5 feet off the building belonged to RCN (see picture to the right). She then pointed around the rear yards near us and pointed to RCN cables that were run in ways that were code violations.
Everywhere you looked there was a problem with an RCN cable. There’s two that stretch from rooftop to rooftop between 3 different buildings. Those were code violations. There’s one spanning an empty lot behind us that’s supposed to be about 10 feet off the ground, but it’s sagging so badly it nearly touches the ground. Then there’s one that goes from our building to the building behind us on 122nd Street. It’s loose and hanging down onto the Verizon wires.
The cable you see hanging off our building in the picture actually got worse since the picture was taken. It came loose from the corner and was only secured to the neighbor’s building – so it was hanging from side to side on our building – probably 6 to 8 feet off the building.
Another problem was that all sorts of cables (Verizon, RCN, and even Time Warner) had been run on top of the gutters of our place and the townhouses adjacent to us. That’s not allowed since it blocks water from getting into the gutter and draining properly in a heavy storm. In other words, the cabling on our block is just a huge mess.
I tried to contact RCN but got into automated phone system hell. You can’t press ‘0’ to talk to an operator and none of the menu options were ones that were appropriate for me. So I got online and found a service request form. I filled it out, described the problems but never heard back from them.
On top of that, we used to have RCN service up in Washington Heights, but about 10 years ago we had to switch to Time Warner because RCN stopped servicing Northern Manhattan. I tried to figure out whether RCN still serviced Harlem, but I couldn’t find their service area described on their website.
After all of that we came to the conclusion that the problem cables were most likely abandoned when RCN stopped servicing Northern Manhattan – it was the theory that best fit what I saw. The cables certainly looked abandoned. We even had our electrician check for electrical current in the wires. He couldn’t find any, but the wires were so thick he couldn’t be confident that they were dead – but to him they seemed to be.
A week or two ago Time Warner was installing service to a neighbor and gave our contractor a huge amount of grief because we had cables hanging rather dangerously off our building. They were saying things like “building code violation” which sorta freaked our contractor out. I tried to calm the contractor down – saying the cables belonged to RCN and I as far as I knew they were abandoned, and that I intended to cut them off the building when I had a chance.
Tuesday morning my contractor and I cut what we thought were abandoned, inactive cables off the building – one of the many cables we cut was the RCN cable. A day later my contractor gets an angry call from the RCN repair guy. The contractor tells him to call me. In our conversation, the RCN guy was flat out abusive and unprofessional. He even gave my phone number to neighbors with RCN service and then I started getting angry calls from them. The one neighbor who pursued it the most completely calmed down when she heard my side of things. Still, it wasn’t cool for the repair guy to give out my number.
Then I get a call from some manager at RCN who asked to run a temporary cable. I told him, sorry, but I’m not letting a company who doesn’t properly maintain their cables run a temporary cable – that’s just replacing one hazard with another, and given their track record I didn’t believe that they’d be back in a timely manner to do things properly. I insisted they send out an engineer to come up with a proper solution.
So this morning I met with the RCN engineer. At one point he told me “we have a really good relationship with Time Warner – we just hang our wires off their support cables.” That didn’t sound right, so I called Alicia – the friendly, professional Time Warner engineer. She said the Time Warner support cables are engineered to support the load of just the Time Warner cables – that RCN should not be allowed to hang their wires on Time Warner support wires – the additional load might cause them to fail.
I tracked down the the RCN engineer and gave him an earful. He had just lied to me – there’s no way someone like him doesn’t know the rules. He knew he couldn’t hang off Time Warner support wires – he was just trying to do things on the cheap.
I then call my attorney who told me because RCN is a public utility who has had wires on the building for years that I have to let them run their wires, but that I could most definitely insist that they be run legally and according to code. I let the RCN guy know I’d talked to my lawyer and that I was insisting they follow code when they ran the new wires.
While the RCN guys were waiting for their contractor to show up, a neighbor and her husband came up to me. They were fuming mad. It was their 3rd day without cable/phone/Internet service and it was having a real impact. I tried to explain the situation to them. I even took the husband to our back window and pointed out the problems – there’s an RCN cabling problem, there’s another, there’s another, plus there was the cable that was hanging off our building.
When we came out of the building, the guys from RCN came up and said their contractor had finally arrived, but the contractor didn’t have the tools and materials on hand to run the cables in a code compliant manner. Personally I think it spoke volumes that RCN’s contractors aren’t even capable of running wires properly. That means they routinely (and illegally) cut corners when they install cables.
Despite everything I showed the neighbor, to him I was equally at fault for his not having service. He wanted me to allow RCN to run a temporary cable. Thing is, I wasn’t stopping them from running a temporary cable – they just had to run it in a code-compliant manner. Problem is, RCN apparently isn’t accustomed to running wires in a code-compliant manner.
As much as I hate DOB for having an inane bureaucracy, through all the frustrating experiences with DOB I’ve come to have great respect the NYC Building Code. The building code exists for a reason – we live on top of each other in NYC. The code exists to protect us from our neighbors’ bad decisions.
So despite the impact to our neighbors, we’re standing firm that RCN may only install, legal, code-compliant cables on our building. At the end of the day, given their history, we don’t believe RCN when they say they’ll be back to fix the temporary wires, and we suspect the work they would otherwise do would adversely affect the Time Warner cabling. It’s not fun being the bad guy on the block, but that is what it is.
Related to all of this, last year Verizon sent us a letter saying they wanted to run fiber optic cable through our property for FiOS. But months later I was told they had given up because they couldn’t get sign-off from some of the neighbors. That’s sorta sad, ’cause it would have given the neighbors who don’t like Time Warner, an option other than RCN.
The other thing is, I work from home and completely understand how not having Internet access can be a huge problem. In fact to me it’s a big enough problem that I had intended to have dual service – both FiOS and Time Warner. I was even considering taking one or both up to business class at double the price just to ensure any problems were resolved quickly (residential service level agreements aren’t sufficient for running a business – the response time to problems is glacial). I don’t think people realize how much businesses spend on connectivity. “Always works” comes at a price and when you run a home-based business you have to realize that you need to spend good money on your Internet connection – because without it you don’t have a business. Having a single provider (especially one who’s the low-cost provider) is a sure-fire recipe for long outages.
Incidentally, we cut off the rats nest of little phone wires that were hanging just below the gutter without causing any problems for neighbors. Apparently no one has land line service anymore. The difference is that Verizon still has a really thick cable low down on the building (between basement and parlor floors). While it’s in an inconvenient position for us (it interferes with the deck we want to put on the building), unlike the RCN cable, it is properly secured to the building. I’m guessing our neighbors with Verizon service feed off of that and the wires on our building only serviced our building and maybe the one next door. So while Verizon didn’t communicate with us very well, they did send an engineer out and confirmed the wires we were planning on cutting weren’t going to affect their customers’ service.
It gets worse… The irate neighbor called us tonight and continued to yell at us. I couldn’t deal with it, so I handed the phone over to Dan. He’s usually really calm, but they really got under his skin. The conversation didn’t go very well. By the end of it they threatened to call DOB and report us. And a few minutes later I could see they had indeed filed a complaint.
We’re not worried about the complaint. At the end of the day the neighbor is complaining that we’re insisting the wiring be done to code – that’s not something DOB is going to fault us for. It was an honest, understandable mistake that was trying to resolve a building code violation, and since we’ve been aware of the problem we’ve worked with RCN to resolve the problem in an appropriate manner.
Somewhat humorously we think the reason why they’re freaking out is because the cable cut is affecting their “business” of illegally doing short term rentals of their ground floor apartment. They’re in the proverbial glass house and throwing stones – not a particularly smart move on their part.
It’s now the next day (Friday). The DOB couldn’t be bothered to do an inspection for the neighbor’s complaint (see update #1). They just marked the complaint as “can’t find the address”. We’re easy to find, so that basically equates to the DOB inspector saying “this isn’t a Priority A issue – I’ve got real problems to look into.”
I also heard from the first neighbor who contacted me (not the irate one) – she says RCN is saying they don’t know when they’ll have the issue resolved – they’re offering to refund all her money and pay to switch her back to Time Warner (she’d only just switched to RCN a month ago).
It wouldn’t surprise me if they just stopped servicing the block. My guess is that their engineer has told his superiors that every single RCN cable in the area was in violation and it wasn’t cost effective to bring everything up to code for 10 customers. Part of me understands the loss of a service provider is a negative, but given their lack of professionalism, I don’t think it’s much of a loss – they were sorta more trouble than they were worth.
Later the next day (still Friday)… I got a very nice call from the head of engineering at RCN New York. He apologized profusely for how things have gone so far. He admitted it had been at least 8 years since RCN did a proper inspection and maintenance of the cables in the area. I made it clear I was fine with their cables on our building – they just had to be done properly and not infringe on Time Warner’s equipment – he understood. Sounds like they’re in no rush to restore the service to our block. They plan to get to it eventually (and clean up the problems on the north side of 122 at the same time). The end result should be good, but it means considerable downtime for neighbors with RCN service.