Strom’s cable Internet odyssey

How many cable guys does it take to provide me with Internet service? It sounds like the beginning of a “lightbulb” joke, but this question is pretty real for me. Turns out to be somewhere north of a dozen.

I moved into my new office two weeks ago, but it took until yesterday to get the Internet turned on there. Turns out a combination of factors, aided by some bizarre complications from Charter, my cable supplier, caused the delay.

At the center of my difficulties was my office was using a new street address that wasn’t in anyone’s database – including the Post Office. It took numerous phone calls to find the right person in the City of St. Louis – not exactly your best example of efficient government under most circumstances – before that was fixed. I think. The PO updated their database, but it took a couple of weeks before I could go in to usps.com and see it for myself. Why? Because speedy delivery of Web data isn’t in the PO’s motto.

It is amazing to me that we have such poor Internet delivery in 2010. Back when broadband meant getting 128k ISDN, the phone companies ruled the roost. You could get T1s for thousands of dollars, but you could get them just about anywhere you could string a twisted pair of copper wires. Now the USA is well down on the list of countries that have lots of broadband available to their citizens – indeed, China has more Internet users than we have total population now. And Singapore is putting megabit connectivity everywhere. What happened?

Part of the problem is that we have the absolutely worst communications customer service entities to deal with. They answer the call with “we want to provide you with superior service today” and apologize when they don’t deliver, but they never take ownership of the customer. They can’t marshal the field resources to find and fix problems in their wiring plant. And for communications companies, I was amazed at how often my call was dropped after being on hold for many minutes. Come on, people, this isn’t rocket science. (And given the state of NASA, I am not sure that is a good comparison either.)

Having cable and phone companies compete for Internet access hasn’t helped the customer either. I tried to order just a regular land line from AT&T (who is my local phone supplier here) but was told repeatedly that my address wasn’t in their database. Back to the PO problem. When the AT&T technician coincidentally showed up at my office yesterday, he claimed he couldn’t give me service because I ordered my phone using a nearby address. Yet after spending an hour on the phone with his supervisors, he managed to deliver dial tone to my office. Thanks, Roger, I appreciate that tenacity. But why tell me you can’t do it and then you can?

Meanwhile, Charter took several visits with an ever-changing cast of characters. One time I got the guy that actually laid the cable along the street and in my condo development – he brought a map showing where the lines went. While that was encouraging, trouble was, one of them wasn’t connected properly. That brought out another guy who hooked up one of my missing links. Then another woman came (who was the most entertaining tech among my crew) and told me that I was missing a “tap”. That took someone else to install the tap. Why couldn’t she install it herself? What, they have a tap specialist? Someone else needed to find the right person with a key to open the box that the tap went in. I am not making this stuff up. Then I finally had two guys yesterday that actually had to locate my line and hook things up. At least they came with the key.

All throughout this process, I Tweeted and called various Charter people, trying to plead my case. At one point, I actually tried the live chat feature on their Web site, but that was agonizingly slow and like talking to a six-year old child. There was one woman in their call center in South Carolina, she did take some ownership of my problem but didn’t seem completely in touch with the crew on the grounds around my office.

It shouldn’t be this hard. If we are going to become a first-world Internet country, we need better broadband suppliers who can take customer service to new highs, not new lows.

2 thoughts on “Strom’s cable Internet odyssey

  1. Pingback: Ah! The Vagaries of Service Provider Services | Information Technology Career

  2. I feel your pain! We have recently moved to northern Vermont, and while we are only about 5 miles from the state capital, the only high-speed internet we have is 1.5Mb DSL via Fairpoint Communications who bought out all the Verizon lines in New England a few years ago. We FINALLY this DSL line just a few months ago. It took a week for the modem to arrive, and of course, it didn’t work right outside the box. We called customer service, who said they’d send out a technician, but it would probably be another week. Fortunately, the tech showed up the next day. As it turned out, he brought a replacement modem with him – still didn’t work. Turned out that the cross-connects were wrong in the central office, and he was able to get it up and running. I will admit that the customer service we get is typically better than what you get in a large city simply because we are small, and everyone knows everyone. But having better customer service doesn’t do any good when there’s little access to begin with.

    Living in a rural area has so many benefits, but the main downside is broadband & cellular access. We are only 1/2 mile off the main road, but our street is a dirt road (like many in the state) and has only 6-7 homes on it. While cable runs along the main road, it’s not worth it to the cable company to run cable that 1/2 mile up our road. After living with 2 years of dial-up (!!!) or heading into town to stand in line for our 30 minutes on the public computers, we are thrilled to have our 1.5Mb DSL. We came from the metro DC area, where 20-50Mb cable or FIOS internet is standard, so it’s been somewhat of a shock to say the least. The Vermont legislature committed to have high-speed internet (which they identify as at least 1.5Mb in one director) & cellular access to all areas of the state by the end of this year, and as of now, it’s said that they anticipate to have this 90% accomplished by the end of the year. Our biggest hope for the future are plans to build a smart-grid in conjunction with the power companies in order to get fiber to the home.

    When I think about friends in a small mountain village in Italy who had high-speed internet access 10 years ago, and today, don’t even think about their access, I can’t help but wonder what it’s going to take to bring the US back to the top of the list.

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