On Bandwidth and Blood Pressure
Sometime in the late 1990s, I worked at a large, global IT services company called Inacom. I was shipped all over the US, from Irvine California to Jacksonville Florida to Kalamazoo Michigan. I built networks, connected banks, merged IT shops, and did all manner of other stuff I thought was exceedingly fun. At one point, I ended up at American Express to replace a colleague named Rich. I just couldn’t wrap my head around why he was leaving; he said he wanted to move to Colorado to become a botanist. What?!
Back in that day, Lexcom - my local telephone company - was my only ticket to the internet. Dial-up was my only option. I employed a recycled 386 (yes, you read that right) desktop as a NAT gateway / firewall. This provided internet access for my two desktops, and allowed me to manage inbound connections to my mailserver. Yes, I ran my own mailserver on a 386SX running linux. And I hosted customer mail domains on that same machine. This was back when most folks thought AOL was the internet, and oldbies like myself were still mostly using Compuserve. This mostly-connected dial-up connectivity was expensive, and slow. And this lasted a few years for me.
TWC came down the road with their Road Runner cable-based service, and I signed on to check it out. It wasn’t a lot better, but it was an improvement from a speed perspective - a whopping 2Mbps. Unfortunately, service was unstable - and it was clear that their support folks really didn’t care. TWC eventually offered “better” support service for businesses, but their prices were ridiculous.
Lexcom eventually caught up and offered a similar service to my area, along with static ip addresses for businesses. So out went RR and back came Lexcom. I obtained 4 static addresses and something like 512kbps/64k speeds. Not much to brag about, other than the static addresses. But the service was stable. I had a few issues with their modem hardware over the years, but a local call to Randy in their support department usually resulted in a fairly quick fix. Over the next several years the speed (very slowly) increased and I ended upwith 8Mbps/1Mbps service. I was still handling corporate mail and a whole slew of simple websites for customers, and had begun hosting a couple of databases for them as well. While the speed was less than stellar, the reliability was enough to keep me onboard. All the while, I kept eyeing the latest TWC offerings. A few times I even called TWC, AT&T, and a few others to inquire about their plans. Almost all of them promised more bandwidth, but nobody was able to touch the 4 static addresses. And in most cases they were unwilling to tell me what my bill would look like after their special trial period was up.
Along came Windstream, who had been busy snapping up local telco providers - and Lexcom was on their list. Any time I had any type of issue from then on, even if I called Randy’s local number, my call would get rerouted (to Texas?) and I would spend the next minute or three trying to navigate Windstream’s voice menus. Over time, the local numbers disappeared and I found a number of toll-free numbers to call. It was never made clear to me, even to the present, which number was correct. It seemed that no matter what number I called, each of which required navigating the infuriating voice menus, after the requisite 15+ minute wait I found myself talking to someone who said I had reached the wrong support team. And very many times, after having been transferred to another team and waiting another 15+ minutes, I was told I had reached the wrong team. Again. So I was transferred. Again. And waited. Again.
And when Windstream purchased Lexcom, I lost business class status. The last several times I have called Windstream for support, the cause of which has always been something wrong on the Windstream side, the best they could do after my wasting an hour on hold and answering the same questions repeatedly for the various incorrect support teams I had been connected with, was to have a technician call me back for a visit the next business day. This was, again, my story today.
For the last couple of years, I have called periodically asking when I would be offered service with bandwidth on par with offerings from the other available carriers. The answer has always been that no information was available. And I have called the competition and asked about the availability of static addresses - nothing available other than leased lines, slower speeds, and other less enticing options. Meanwhile, some neighbors were enjoying 50Mbps or 100Mbps speeds from TWC. So I’ve been trying to figure out a way to move all my services offsite and change carriers without spending even more. Seems like it can’t be done, and probably fodder for an additional post or two in the near future …
Roughly a month ago, I received a letter in the mail from Windstream touting their free upgrade to 100Mbps service. Supposedly, all that was required was to reboot my modem. So I ran the speedtest app and noted an improved 12Mbps speed, rebooted the modem, and achieved 30Mbps/4Mbps. Much improved, and the upload speed was a very nice thing to see - because upload speed was my biggest problem from a bandwidth standpoint. Nowhere near 100Mbps, but that didn’t bother me. I knew I’d have to replace the modem to achieve higher download speeds, but as long as the service was stable I was happy. Of course, the service became quite unstable. Available bandwidth would drop to under 1Mbps, and the only thing which seemed to fix that (regardless of calling support) was to power down the modem, count to 30, and power it back up. This became very frustrating. I then called Windstream and eventually got ahold of someone who understood that I needed a replacement modem.
The tech came out a few days later with new modem in-hand. I met him in the driveway, and gave him the ole “before I let you anywhere near my equipment, you need to tell me how this replacement will affect these four things” … The tech called someone else, and 15 minutes later admitted that using the modem he brought would break my static configurations and render my company services unusable. So of course I told him to take a hike and let me know when he had a working solution for me. He made another call and left to pick up another piece of gear which reportedly would be ready to work for me. And as shocking as this may sound, the new equipment worked correctly when connected and powered up. I tested inbound services across all 4 static addresses and they worked. And I saw 100Mbps/4Mbps speeds. I was happy.
That happiness lasted about a day and a half, after which I ended up with the same slowdowns as before, requiring cycling of power on the modem. I called support twice (or three times) to complain, but lost my patience before ever reaching an actual support person and ended up hanging up. Today, the problems were much worse. All through the day I have seen 15 seconds of uptime, 3 minutes of outage, 20 seconds of uptime, 5 minutes of outage, etc. I spent the majority of the day on hold, talking to the wrong support teams, etc. I did finally get to talk to someone who was willing to send a tech out (sometime tomorrow). After promising a tech would call me tomorrow, he asked what else he could do to assist. I explained again how I kept getting shuffled around to the incorrect support team, and asked for the proper phone number to reach the proper team. The tech explained that I had likely called the correct number - and that because Windstream had recently hired a bunch of new phone techs, all the people I had talked to were probably simply not trained well and did the wrong thing.
Well, thank goodness for that explaination. That just makes everything peachy for those of us who need blood pressure medication solely due to having to deal with these so-called support teams. And our bills will surely soon reflect the need to hire more support techs. This is starting to look more and more like our government. But let’s not go there - I don’t feel like having a stroke today.
So how do I go about obtaining service that actually makes me happy? I don’t think I want much, to be honest. I want to pay for internet service (not phones, TV, whatever). I want that service to work reliably, and when it does not I want to talk to an actual person who is willing and able to HELP me. Preferrably that day. I think I should be able to expect that. I do not, however, see that in my future. Professional services and technical support, in nearly every category, seems to just get worse and worse every year.
On days like this I seriously consider following in the steps of Rich. Talking to and caring for plants sounds like a much happier lifestyle. And I could probably manage that without blood pressure medicine …