Monday, August 22, 2011

How to solve your cable/internet outage with a drill

This Sunday evening, after spending the day out and about picking up some wedding stuff, getting dinner, etc., my fiance and I came home to find that our cable and internet were out. A quick reboot of the cable modem told me that just like 2 times before, when hooking up the cable for the newly arrived neighbors, the cable guy disconnected our cable.

For some reason, the local Time Warner Cable installation guys have some bad paperwork and think that there is no paying customer in my apartment, so when they come to connect someone new, because there are only 5 jacks in a cable box for 8 apartments, they disconnect me.

In the past, this was a simple problem to remedy. I would go down to where the external box is, open it up (because no cable dude bothers to lock it), add a splitter and a splice, and I'm back up. But not this time.

This time, there was an obstacle. Seems the Time Warner Cable dude locked the cable box, forcing me to call up Time Warner Cable. The conversation went something like this...

Me: Hi, my cable and internet is out.
Customer Service: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Is it both your cable and internet?
Me: Yes. A new resident moved in today, and the local installer plugged them in. As has happened the last two times someone has moved in, the cable dude has disconnected my cable.
(we go back and forth about my account information)
CS: Well sir, I am very sorry to hear that. I'll go ahead and give you refund because you've had so many outages.
Me: Thank you. In the past, I've just gone down there, opened up the cable box, and reconnected the cable myself. This time, the cable guy has locked the box, putting me six inches away from where I need to be to fix the problem that he caused.
CS: We can send someone out there to get this problem resolved as soon as possible.
Me: Great, when can he be here?
CS: Well, it looks like I can get someone out there on Tuesday, how does that sound?
Me: Not sufficient. Your service guy disconnected my cable, like they have done twice before, this makes it number three.
CS: I'm sorry sir, but that's the soonest I can get him there.
Me: It will take a cable guy five minutes to show up, unlock the box, reconnect my cable, and leave. He doesn't even need to knock on my door to tell me it's done. Or, he can just unlock the box, and I'll take care of it when I get home tomorrow.
CS: Sir, everyone just needs five minutes of his time, and I can't take any of our personnel off their current calls.
Me: Well, I guess you leave me with no choice. I'll just have to drill the lock and reconnect my cable.
(a short interaction that I can't remember where the customer service dude may have suggested I not do that)
Me: You know what, you don't need to bother to send someone, I'll be taking care of this. If you can send someone tomorrow morning, I recommend you give me a call at the phone number listed on my account soon, because I'm going downstairs right now to resolve this. Thank you, and goodbye.

That was probably not the most prudent thing to do, but I was tired and annoyed that we lost our internet access for the 3rd time because their technicians have bad paperwork. In the past, I've even caught a tech disconnecting me (I was surfing the net at the time), and had them plug me back in.

So, what did I do? Exactly what I said I'd do. I pulled out my drill and drilled a lock for the first time (read farther down for my method). It went pretty well. The low-quality lock body was no match for my $5 bit set and $30 Ryobi.

Upon opening the cable box, I discovered that the cable guy was being particularly malicious, and had cut the splice that my cable had been using to connect (my cable line is about 8 inches too short to connect to any of the jacks directly, so I had been using a cable splice that some other cable guy had left in there). Thankfully, there was another piece that was long enough, but there were no more available jacks, and I was fresh out of splitters.

A trip to Home Depot (2 miles from my apartment) got me two splitters (a spare for next time :P) and a bunch of stuff we need for the wedding. A quick disconnect, some screwing in, and we were up. Going back inside, cable and internet were back on. Woo.

The updated box with note:

The note reads:
Cable guy/gal,
Apartment 3 is a paying
customer until at least
June 2012. Please
stop disconnecting me.
  Thank you :)

I'm hoping that the note and drilled out lock is sufficient to keep me connected. Time will tell.

My method for drilling a lock:
I used a 1/4" steel twist bit and drilled in the center of where the key goes (not the center of the mechanism, see the picture farther up). When I would get far enough in for the drill to vibrate a pin into the bit, the drill would sieze up and kick (I have a keyless chuck drill, so my bit would slip). I would reverse the drill, use a bit of wire to scrape the pin out of it's hole, and continue. This lock had what looked to be 8 or 9 pins, though I didn't count as I removed them.

After I had all the pins out, and could see straight through into the box, I swapped to a 5/16" wood spade bit, jammed it in the 1/4" hole, and pulled the trigger. Anything that was left in the locking mechanism (springs, etc.) were sheared off, and the mechanism spun freely.

Once my internet was up, I had a chance to check videos of the "proper" method: drill out the pins themselves, use a screwdriver to turn the mechanism while you tap the lock to get the pins to adjust enough so the lock can turn. If you fail there, you just drill out the entire lock. On the one hand, I'm a bit sad that I didn't discover the "right" way on my own. On the other hand, putting a 1/4" hole into a lock does feel really good.

Update: an update to this saga is available here.


  1. Fuck yeah! Damn the man.

    I wonder what sort of "note" the CSR put on your file after that conversation!

    You're likely be going to getting some prime google action from folks looking to steal cable in their apartment buildings! (even more so now that I've posted this comment)

  2. You should have welded it shut after that. Problem solved.

  3. You might not know it but you just spent a whole lot of money.

  4. Replace the lock you tight bastard. A crappy panel mount like that will run you a few dollars and your serious crime will be mitigated when they take you to court.

  5. Next time, pick the lock.

  6. gotta agree with everyone here. you made several mistakes. you told the CSR that you were going to do it, you destroyed the lock (vandalism) and you left a note proving you did the crime. you will most likely get a hefty bill for this.

  7. While people are giving you flak and invoking the Specter of Legality, you probably don't have much to worry about. The cost of a lock is cheaper than the PR nightmare that would ensue if they come after you.

  8. AWESOME!! I have had people do that to me... usually stealing it though. But with my Company (Bevcomm) all is tagged and labeled.. They should replace your Red tag with and active service tag.. Red is universal disconnected service tag.. You probably wont receive any backlash from this.. but if they do ask them if they would like to lose a customer due to lack brains.. If in doubt Preform an audit .. takes 3 mins of the techs time... IDIOTS! Good Job Dr Josiah!!

  9. Make sure to do the follow-up post where they charge you for destroying private property and tampering with the cable.

  10. Good for you. I don't think your in for the trouble everyone is commenting about. They've gone out of there way to inconvenience you. You've attempted to rectify the situation in the past to no avail.

    The information about the red global disconnect tag sounds handy. Maybe the same technician that unlocked the box for you could move it to one of those 2 unused cables?

    Also try and get the rest of the building on your side. I'd hate for them to think your causing problems.

  11. You might not get in trouble.. I think those boxes are owned by the apartment itself. The act of breaking in to steal cable is a crime that the cable company can get you for, but since you didn't you probably just have to deal with your landlord.

  12. write your account number on the note. that way cable dude can easily call in to mothership to verify that you're legit.

  13. Read what happened in the update: