Dear RCN, please stop blocking ports and lying to customers about it

By | October 21, 2014

Dear RCN,

I’ve been an RCN internet customer for five years.

You are superior to Comcast, the other provider on my street (and thank God I have access to two providers, when so many people don’t!) in many ways. In other ways, you were superior to Comcast when I signed up, but since then you’ve changed your policies and procedures and seem to be competing with Comcast on how anti-customer you can be. This is unfortunate.

Today, I am thinking about two ways in which you were once superior to Comcast, but apparently are slipping: customer service, and port blocking.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve read all the same Comcast horror stories that you have, and I’m not even for a minute going to claim that your customer service is as bad as Comcast’s. Your entire customer service organization would have to crash, burn, spindle, and mutilate itself before that would be anything close to true. But really, the experience I had today is just not acceptable. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I know a thing or two about computers and computer networks. I’ve been maintaining servers and networks and writing computer software for almost 30 years.

So when, starting last night, I was suddenly unable to remotely access my home computer from work via SSH, I knew how to track down the problem. Outbound connections from my home computer were working fine. Inbound traffic to other, non-SSH ports were working fine. Rebooting the computer didn’t help. Rebooting the cable modem didn’t help. Finally, running a packet sniffer on my home computer while trying to SSH to it from work, I saw that certain packets on port 22 were not getting through to my home computer, whereas when I reconfigured my SSH daemon to accept connections on a different port, they were getting through just fine.

In other words, some time last night, RCN apparently started blocking inbound connections to my home computer on port 22, after not doing so for at least the past five years.

You know what? I can live with that. It’s not so awful to have to use a different port when connecting to my home computer, and indeed, many people think it’s a good idea to do that so that hackers can’t bang on your SSH daemon and try to break into it. I don’t worry about that much, because my SSH daemon only accepts public-key authentication and I also run fail2ban, but whatever, layered security isn’t such a bad thing.

What I can’t live with is for you to start blocking a port without notifying the customers who will be affected. Please don’t tell me you couldn’t do that; you monitor your customers’ internet traffic, so you can determine easily who accepts inbound traffic on a port.

What I can’t live with is for your (live chat) customer service representative to lie to me, refusing to admit that there is blocking going on, telling me the problem is with “my computer or router,” and telling me there’s nothing RCN can do about it.

What I can’t live with is for that same customer service representative to refuse to escalate my complaint to someone within RCN with a clue who will actually tell me the truth.

What I can’t live with is discovering, after being given a useless runaround by your customer service representative, that another user with the same complaint was given a straight answer, including a list of all ports being blocked, by a different RCN customer service representative.

So here’s the thing… If you think blocking a port is bad for your customers, then don’t do it. But if you think it’s good for your customers, then own up to it, notify your customers that you’re going to be doing it, and train your customer service representatives so that they can answer the inevitable questions about it accurately and truthfully.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kamens

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One thought on “Dear RCN, please stop blocking ports and lying to customers about it

  1. T Donahue

    Sometime between 11 AM and 2 PM today RCN configured an ACL which blocks port 22 for transit traffic to/from my house. No prior or post-facto notice was given. They are unable to point to a statement in their terms of service which describes this policy.

    I’ve been a customer for over a year. At the moment I’m unable to perform my job.

    Gee, thanks…

    Reply

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