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Usually, if the cable modem is being installed by a technician, when he arrives at your residence, he calls his dispatcher and tells him or her the HFC MAC address of your modem. If you look at your cable modem, you will see a string of numbers on it somewhere starting with 00-90, 00-20, 00-00, or something similar. (Those numbers vary with the manufacturer of the modem).
If you are doing a self install, you are usually instructed to call your cable company and read the number off to them. They then bind it to your account and activate it.
Every cable modem manufactured has a unique MAC address (just like every network card or network device). This MAC address is bound to your account, and if your account is active, the cable modem is allowed to talk on the network.
After your modem is provisioned or activated, you then hook it up to your cable and plug it in.
(Continue on to Modem Boot Up...)
Charter Cable in my home town started using reverse provisioning. When I moved I took my cable modem with me to my new house. When I plugged it into the new house (and a different network segment)a page poped up on my web browser asking me to either enter my account number so the system could see if I was paying for internet service or to click a button to order internet service. Once I completed the reverse provisioning I have not seen this page again. I though this was pretty ingenious. Your site is great, thank you!!!
My cable company (Time Warner/Road Runner) representative didn't tell me about activation. He just gave me the modem and a splitter, told me to take it home and connect it and my TV cable box to my incoming cable line, using the splitter, and I'd be all set. Well, that part was easy, but then my modem wasn't allowed to talk on the network. So I connected back to my DSL account (which I'm going to drop) long enough to get on tech support chat with my cable company and they told me what the problem was and how to fix it. I called my cable company (at 8 pm on a Friday evening, but evidently it's available 24/7), worked my way through the voice prompts, got to an actual human, and told her my story. She fixed me up right away. The whole experience was very annoying, though not serious in that the issue was resolved. I wanted to add this to the FAQ in case others experience the same glitch.