by J. P. Arnold
Despite what the cable company might tell you, your premium channels and high-speed Internet access are not controlled by a switch hidden inside Adelphia headquarters. In fact, these services are always running live inside the mysterious cable junction boxes that are littered around the average neighborhood or apartment complex. During a recent service visit, a friendly cable company employee proved willing to educate me on some of the simpler aspects of Adelphia's inner-workings. This article attempts to describe the interior of the typical apartment complex cable junctions and provide some rudimentary guidance on the function of the enclosed hardware. While this information is specific to Adelphia service regions, potential for broader application exists.
There are currently two components to the standard Adelphia residential cable junction point, here referred to as the "main" and the "mess." The main is the trunk line connecting the residence(s) to the Adelphia service web. It comes out of the ground, appearing as an unpretentious coaxial cable feed. This feed is housed in a stand-alone, green metal case approximately 12-inches high and 4-inches square. From the behavior witnessed during this service call, no special equipment is required to access this case - aside from a pair of steel-toed boots.
An ordinary coaxial cable connector joins this main feed to another metal case - the "mess" - so named for the appalling spaghetti of wires inside that dole out bandwidth and programming to the neighborhood. In this in stance, this second box required a special tool to open, reminiscent of the lock-lugs on a tire rim. The case is clearly constructed by the lowest bidder and is vulnerable to any number of household tools.
The cable jacks inside of the second box were all carefully labeled to coincide with the apartments to which they provided service. As previously mentioned, the wires themselves don't know who is paying for services. According to the employee, access is provided or restricted by means of filters. For those customers who only pay for cable television, a filter is placed on the line to prevent Internet access. While this filter could not be closely examined, it appeared to be a Model ETN, EMN, or ESN negative filter, produced by Eagle Comtronics (eaglefilters.com). For those who desire only high-speed Internet, a multi-channel negative filter (probably Eagle's Model 10M) is placed on the line to block television signal. Negative filtration is the process of interrupting signals to prevent unauthorized use. This supplements the positive filtration device - the cable box - which removes encryption from signals so they are readable by the end-user. As a visual memory aide, Adelphia places a special blue tie-wrap on the lines of customers who have elected to pay for both Internet and television programming. These lines have no filters attached. There may also be metallic silver tags inside the box; these have been phased out of use and, according to the technician, no longer hold significance.
In an apparent effort to sabotage attempts to tamper with this system, Adelphia employees supplement this setup by installing a bewildering chaos of splitters and splices. Why? The main cable feed needs to be shared between all the members of the apartment building it services - the ones who want just TV, just Internet, or both. This means that the main line must be split into three distinct service facets and then spliced into the particular customer's apartment. In addition to atrocious signal loss, this forest of wire provides ample opportunity for tinkering.
Theoretically, if someone wanted to secure unpaid access to cable television, it would be a simple matter to run an extra piece of cable from one of the in-place signal splitters to the cable jack labeled with your apartment number. You might choose to connect using either the full-service or the television-service-only split. Either will get you The Sopranos so long as you own a cable box. This method appears relatively risk-free. In general, cable technicians do not know/care who is paying for access in an apartment complex. Based on this service call, they also do not care to closely inspect the work done by other people - whom they assume to be authorized individuals - inside the junction box.
Free high-speed access is somewhat more difficult. As I write this article, I am not aware of any method that an unauthorized user can use to access Adelphia's high-speed service without a MAC address interrogation. If it were possible, however, it would be wise to first locate a rightful high-speed user by searching for the blue tag on their cable feed. When the interruption would not be noticed, disconnect his/her cable, transfer the blue tie-wrap to your illicit splice, and then replace all the connections. This far-from-foolproof method at least insures that your splicing job will appear legitimate to casual inspection.
If you need to install a new splitter, use caution. Any splitter introduces signal loss: 3.5 dB for a three-way, 7.0 dB for a four-way. These signal losses are cumulative and, in the case of an Adelphia high-speed connection, any loss greater than 10 dB renders a connection useless. A TV signal should not be affected by adding a second or third splitter, but any Internet connectivity will suffer repeated dropouts. Remember also that residents frequently split the connection inside their homes - another potential source of signal loss and tampering detection. If you, the legitimate user, are experiencing connection dropouts or a fuzzy TV signal, call your cable company and request that a technician check your line for this type of hardware signal loss.
According to the technician, Adelphia is planning to consolidate the main and the mess into one junction box. The technician seemed to think that this change would alleviate some of the spaghetti inside the box. In any event, the act of consolidation is certainly a window of detection that unauthorized cable users should consider carefully. In the Colorado area, this migration is scheduled to occur "sometime in the next two years." It may already be underway in some areas.
This article represents some entry-level information on Adelphia hardware and service procedures. It can be used to add to the reader's knowledge. It should be used responsibly.