To Assume is Human, To Know is Divine

This is a brief history of wasted time, effort and money by one of THE LEADING (their words) Cable Internet Companies – it serves as a good third party reference, and litany of errors, that show how ASSUMPTIONS can affect bottom line profit in any organization.
It also shows why it is essential that Regulatory Engineers and Professionals MUST always seek good, known, reliable data and must not rely on third party information. Thus, it explains why we must be the “doubting Thomas” who needs to see and touch before we accept ‘facts’.

He did not assume

For more than a year, we have had internet reliability and bandwidth issues and received numerous visits from technicians. The last three visits were different:

One technician removed the incoming splitter I had installed to feed the modem (a Nighthawk C7000-100NAS) and a 20dB amplifier. The amplified RF fed to a 5-way splitter and to TV’s across the house. He then rewired almost every connection. Except for the TV in the guest bedroom for which he suggested we used a ROKU, without explaining why he was unable to get a basic cable channel to that room. There was no explanation of what he had done and no wiring diagram. In the words of Queen Victoria, “We were not impressed.”

The penultimate Technician checked outside to find the two incoming boxes. One was locked by a rusted padlock – he cut off the padlock to access the internal wiring where he found “Exhibit A” – a “trap”!

To electronics engineers it is a narrow band rejection filter, installed in 1992 to prevent reception of Premium (paid) Channels. Up until that visit the ‘technicians’ made wide-band power measurements and did not verify the frequency response of the incoming cable – had they done so they would have noticed a huge dip in power levels at certain (trapped) frequencies. Their assumption that a strong (wide-band) power level equated to a good signal was WRONG!  We do not know the effect it had on our (new) digital signals; the only safe assumption to make was that the filter was better OUT than IN!

Today’s visit from another Technician – who brought the Time-Domain Reflectometry equipment I had requested for the last several months, included a higher level of skill and commitment.

He checked the integrity of the incoming line and that there were no dips in the power-frequency Spectrum. The incoming line was ‘clean’ and would support 100 Mbps.

He did the same using diagnostics built into my modem and Gigastream Router.
Now we KNEW that the problem was not internal wiring or the feed to the house. THEREFORE we had confidence in the next step – WE KNEW to look elsewhere.

The Technician called his “Back Office”: together they discovered that our house was covered by two Internet Accounts – the Account I took out to provide Internet service when we moved here several years ago – there was a NEW second Account taken out (this month) by our HOA (Home Owners Association), the two contractual and technical configurations were incompatible and this latest issue could only be resolved by me requesting our (personal) internet Account be migrated to the HOA Account. (Otherwise, I would lose all the customized setting relating to our account.)

So, ask me if my internet is working in accordance with our contractual agreement?
The answer doesn’t really matter – the point is how we progressed from knowing only that there was a problem to knowing where the problem lay and from where the solution needed to come.
How many times do we ASSUME that information given us in test reports; implied by Safety Marks; or contained in data sheets is correct?

In regulatory Compliance, we cannot make any assumptions. When we sign the Certificate of Conformity – the Release Paperwork or the Declaration of Conformity – WE are legally responsible for the correctness and compliance of those products; it a customer is killed then we can expect to answer in a court of law.  Possibly to First Degree Manslaughter, Negligent homicide, Corporate Manslaughter. (In 2008, a company (in the EU) convicted for Corporate Manslaughter received a fine of £385,000 plus costs.)

Good Compliance Engineers do not assume; we may even carry out spot checks or re-examine an ‘Approved’ product* – we do, after all, have the power of life and death.

The difference can come down to doing our job OR making unproven assumptions.

*In the 1980’s I review a number of products that my company was going to re-badge – All the products were Listed or had some other approval – ALL had some non-compliance. One of the products had a potentially lethal non-compliance.   Many companies fail in their Duty of Care and assume that a Listing or a CE Marking is an adequate safeguard – I suggest that before ANY COMPANY re-badges or incorporates a third party product into their portfolio that they get their Product Safety Engineer to conduct a full review and re-test.

Whatever the cost it will be a lot less than defending a criminal action and the potential fines.