Posts Tagged ‘unplugged’

IMG_0376Well, we knew it was coming, although not for long due to Bell’s incompetence and the shitty way they are handling this “discontinuation of service”.  I was going to title this post “Bell, you suck“, but that title has been used way too often. (even in some variations by me, see here, and here.)

We’ve had the Portable internet or Unplugged service for quite some time now.  They’ve renamed it a few times over the years since Rogers bought up the Inukshuk internet service as part of the Microcell buy out, which ended up becoming a joint venture with Bell back in 2005.  It has never been great as far as speeds go, but at least it was available.  That is, up until now.  About a month back I found out purely by accident that the service was being discontinued at the end of March.  The story behind the shutting down seems different depending who you talk to, but in the end, it wasn’t making enough money is probably the real reason despite all the talk of the CRTC wanting that particular bandwidth back, or that the equipment was dated and in need of replacement, major repair, etc.

It seems this particular internet service has been in the process of being discontinued for some time now, depending upon your area.  I think the intention was to cancel the service once a reasonable replacement was in place.  Sadly, for those like me, that still hasn’t happened.  We are one of the lucky few not included in the government promises to bring high-speed to rural communities, seems we are too close to the city, and yet not far enough away to get coverage from the rural providers.

The worst part of the whole ordeal is the fact Bell really dropped the ball repeatedly in letting its customers know.  I found out while talking to a Bell tech about my slow internet, that the service was actually being discontinued.  I immediately got in touch with Bell internet customer service, and was informed that letters had been sent out to let people know, but strangely many people did not receive them.  WTF?  I was informed again later during another phone call that yes, in fact letters had been sent out a couple of times because there was an issue the first time.  But still, again, many people never got informed.  In this day and age how is it possible to screw up sending a letter to customers?  They would never miss making sure you get your bill, so why not just add it in there.

I got in touch with all the major players, Bell and Rogers, and long list of ISPs that I had never heard of or had little knowledge of.  Xplornet, Execulink, ISP Canada, Teksavvy, Canada Online, Falcon Internet, Allcore, and Terago to name just a few.  None of which could get a signal to my house, with the exception of Terago and they are just way too expensive to be considered a residential provider.  Wind mobile is available, but at a data cap of 10 gig per month, after which they throttle the speed down to 256kbs it is not a viable solution for a household internet service.  Especially one with teenagers that enjoy instagram, youtube, Facebook and netflix way too much.  10 gig would last about a weekend.

As it stands, we are awaiting our new turbo hub modem from Bell to start up our overpriced and data limited mobile internet service, since it is the only service anyone is offering that can reach my house.  I can physically see the city limits from my property, close enough I can read the population sign, but not close enough that any landline services have been upgraded in my area.  So for now, we are struggling by with our cell phones, trying to limit our data usage, and will be sitting in coffee shops and burger joints to do our updating of apps and OSes until such time that the powers that be finally bring real high-speed internet to ALL of the rural customers, and not just some.

barkerp

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What could you do in 5 weeks? I’ve watched some birds build a nest and have the babies hatch. Seen an entire building get torn down and recycled.  Started and completed approximately 10 design projects.  The list goes on and on.

My internet service provider on the other hand, well, they took their sweet time getting to the bottom of the issue causing the slow down of, or complete non-existence of, my internet connection. Without getting into a long drawn-out rehashing, lets just say the issue took way too much effort on my part dealing with poorly trained support techs that can do nothing but follow their “if>then” spreadsheets and not actually formulate a response without putting you on hold and “checking with their supervisor”.

Too many telephone calls and time gone by (about 2 weeks) and the issue was fixed, partially.  I say partially because the main problem got fixed – the lack of internet – but the newer issue, the slow speed took longer. Eventually my home internet was working fast again (another 3 weeks), but the office internet stopped working completely.  Bringing my modem from home gave us full speed connection again, so we knew it wasn’t an equipment problem on our end. After a few more phone calls, it was suggested the modem was the problem, so we got a new modem couriered to the office, which when it finally arrived (so much for the 9am day-starter we were promised) went through the set up and registration and was informed it was completed (as shown in adjacent screen capture), but in fact still didn’t work. So again, hook up the modem from home, call Bell and complain again, hours go by with me talking to everyone under the sun in various levels and again I am told, there is no problem on their end. Even after I suggest over and over it has to be a problem with the account or setup of the modem at their end.  I’m told to leave the modem connected and they will continue to look into it.  Gee thanks. So again, we wait, but this time using my home modem and leaving the new replacement modem plugged in “for testing”. It remained so overnight.

The phone call from Bell’s internet management department the next morning was a bit surprising. They actually called to let me know what the problem was (it had already been fixed by this time). And guess what, it wasn’t our end either (see my earlier related post). It is a problem with the way the service is being added onto the backbone at their end. The automated process is not quite fully automated as it makes you believe.  A tech has to finish the process. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so mad if they had actually looked into it when I told them the exact same thing the day before, but no, as has been the norm for them of late they are “certain its something at my end, but will look into it.  Just leave the modem connected so we can identify the problem.”

Argh.  It’s fixed as well as it’s gonna get, which bring me to the second part of my rant.

The government’s proclamation of highspeed for all (refer to http://pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?id=2702 and http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/719.nsf/eng/home for more info on this) , surely couldn’t have meant this crappy service.  There are a number of projects being reviewed and approved for funding, but all in northern areas or other provinces, so no help coming for those of us barely on the outskirts.

The trouble is, the TELCOs don’t want to spend THEIR money on fixing the infrastructure.  The infrastructure that forms the backbone of our Internet is the land-lines linking us all together and some of it is in terrible shape.  It’s all well and good for the government to say they are going to expand the coverage to ensure all areas have highspeed internet, but we also need to fix and upgrade what we already have. Aging copper phone lines, or worse yet, new copper lines being installed instead of fibre optic cables as is the case near my office, is limiting the capacity of the signal strength and restricting the services available to certain areas.  How is it that Canada is so behind in the grand scheme of providing highspeed internet?  Most of the major cities will offer up to maximum 10mb/s max download speeds thru cable or approx. 8 mb/s thru phone lines or 3 mb/s through wireless modems which is a far cry from the 20 mb/s or 50 mb/s being offered in other countries. Heck some places are getting 1 GB/s thanks to Google and other companies stepping up to test new technologies.

We are ranked #34 for download speed and #49 for upload speed according to the test results on the day I checked (http://www.speedtest.net/global.php#0) This is unacceptable.

How can we be considered to be serious about technology and its advancement when we are so far down the list? Not to single any one country out, but a tiny little country like Andorra with a population of approximately 84,000 people has us beat 3 fold!?!?.  Sheesh.  And don’t go trying to tell me it’s because of their location, close to other larger countries in Europe, because, hello, have you looked a little further south on a map lately – that great big chunk of land next to us is the USA.

We’ve got the government money allocated so lets use it wisely and do this right, not a bunch of band-aid solutions like the crappy one I am currently stuck with.  We need people and companies with a real interest in providing services that will still be adequate in the future not just a quick solution so politicians, Telcos and the CRTC can pat themselves on the back.

tcg

Late last week we discovered our internet speed was dwindling, but that only lasted a day since the very next day it was totally non-existent.  We’ve had outages before, its the nature of the world and part of running a business that relies so heavily on technology and the internet is the knowledge that you are going to be without service of some kind occasionally.  That being said, it is a business and we expect to be treated with respect & honesty and when we call into our ISP we expect to actually talk to people who are aware of what products they sell as well as what problems those products are experiencing.  Sadly, Bell Canada is absolutely horrible at doing that.

I’m not saying I should be treated any different than anyone else that calls in for answers or tech support, but it is probably pretty evident to most english speaking people within a few moments of conversing with me that I know more about tech than the average customer.  I mention english-speaking because I find it especially frustrating to talk to a customer service rep (CSR) that I cannot understand.  My conversational french is poor and limited mostly to simple phrases and swear words (much like my german or dutch) and i think i may have used them all recently in dealing with the supposed customer service personnel at Bell.  I’m not sure which is worse, explaining myself over and over to everyone under the sun when I call in for tech support as you get passed on up the line of “supervisors”, or constantly asking the CSR to repeat themselves because you can’t understand them which only adds to the frustration of being forced to call in repeatedly for support on the same ongoing issue.

Calling in the first time I was told there is no problem with the tower or service, it must be at my end since no one else is complaining “and we would have lots of people calling in if there was a problem“.  This logic annoyed me and frustrated me.  If more than one person doesn’t complain there isn’t a problem? How about the fact I was calling in about the same service from two locations, one residential and one business?  Well, apparently, that doesn’t matter either – it’s different departments.  I tried to be civil about the issue at first, but when you get the same questions over and over from their near useless level one tech support, it gets frustrating.  “Yes, i’ve restarted the modem. Yes, i’ve tried moving it to another location. Yes, i’ve disconnected the router and connected directly to the modem. Yes, the modem is turned on.”, etc, etc.

I even had one tech mention that they don’t trust any speed testing site other than their own on Bell.ca.  I typically use www.speedtest.net and find it gives the same results as the bell site but does it faster.  But to keep them happy i’ve been taking screen-captures of their speedcheck results and keeping them just in case I need backup of my speed/connection problems.

I also like to use http://www.pingtest.net since it gives you a bit more info and does so in a very clear and easy to understand fashion.  As you can see when i did this ping-test, my ISP failed miserably. A nice big “F”.

If the CSRs would look back at how long you’ve had the service before asking such stupid questions they would realize, i’ve been dealing with their wonderful “unplugged” service for over 3 years, and as it turns out, I know more about their system than they do and have done all the troubleshooting many times before.

Without boring you with all the details, i spent hours explaining the problem to various techs and CSRs that couldn’t answer the simplest of questions about the way the system works.  Being forwarded from CSR to their supervisor over and over, i got to thinking there are way too many levels in this company, and it seems like none of them want to actually help the customer, or is it just that they don’t know enough about what they are supposedly supporting to be able to.

This is what i’ve pieced together over the years:  The unplugged or portable internet service is a plug and play type modem that once a connection is made with the cel-phone like tower gets an I.P. address and connects you to the internet without any configuration necessary.  It is shared technology between Bell and Rogers, who actually use the same towers and equipment which was originally created by a company called Inukshuk – this was shortly before i started using it in late 2006.  The problem is the tower needs to be more or less line of sight, and weather as well as terrain and temporary obstructions can affect it. The question I had was how does the signal get to the tower? Is the tower re-transmitting from tower to tower or is it hard-wired to the tower from the land-line grid of cables and then broadcast out to customers?  The reason for the question was that i know there is lots of construction going on near the base of the tower and to the cables feeding the expanding neighbourhood nearby. No one knew.  Not even their supposed senior techs could answer the question.

I did eventually find a top level CSR who could answer the question.  Yes the tower is fed from a buried cable. So it was entirely possible something could have happened to the feed serving the tower.  I tried in vain to tell the various CSRs that the issues was not at my end, how could it be when both of my modems started having problems at the same time.  It didn’t matter though, they had their answer sheet in front of them and were going through their flowcharts of solutions.  When i got to the part of the conversation where they suggested trying a different modem, i lost it.  If they really thought it was the modem, then by all means send out a tech with a new modem and plug it in.  They would see it was not making any difference.  Bell’s response to my suggestion? – “We don’t send techs out for these kind of modems since there is no setup, but we can send one via Canada Post“.  Are you freaking kidding me?  Make me wait a couple of days while the modem was mailed to me just to find out it wasn’t the problem after all?  After a few choice words, i was again sent up the ladder of seniority to the next level supervisor.

Keep in mind this is a “Coles Notes” version of the events, this was all taking place over a couple of days and numerous phone calls. At first we were told the issue was an outage and was affecting numerous towers and customers, then it was fixed and those tickets were closed. Next our speed problem became an issue and got a new ticket assigned. To which i was told, a business ticket will be resolved with 24 to 48 hours.  What a crock, they already had the issue on file for 3 days at this point, but called it different tickets because at first it was an outage rather than a supposedly isolated case.  As for my home internet, its the same problem, but apparently they get up to 72 hours to fix residential issues.

As i said, i worked my way up the chain of command so to speak and ended up talking to a top level supervisor who took more notes (the sound of typed-note-taking is always present over the phone lines as you speak with Bell) and look into the issue further after promising resolution shortly.  I didn’t put much faith in it.  Surprisingly i got a phone call the next morning from another supervisor who actually read the notes in the ticket and noticed all the times i had called in, as well as the suggestions and comments made by the previous CSRs.  He even remarked on the fact that some of the suggestions were ridiculous.  “Why would you move the modem around if you are already getting 4 or 5 lights on the modem?” We discussed the issues a bit more, in detail, discussing my suspicions & observations, and again was forced to leave it in their hands and wait.  Fortunately by this time we had internet service again albeit very slow.  A few hours later i called him back (i have his direct line now) to report that we had lost our internet entirely again to be greeted by the proclamation “You were right, there was a problem with the tower.”   Apparently the problem was being fixed, he had sent out the engineers to physically inspect the equipment on the tower and found problems which they were working on, a bad circuit board was one of the issues.  Gee, where had i heard that before? Oh right, that was me – i said something was wrong with the signal right from the start but no one would get off their butts and actually check.  We eventually got our service back again, but very slow still.  I’ve been keeping track of the speed tests, which seem to be in the range of 200 to 400 KB/s download speed on a service that used to reach 3 MB/s.  At the best of times, which seems to be before 7am in the morning I may get the occasional burst that reaches 1400 kb/s which is still a far cry from the 3 MB/s i one had and am paying for.

This is not fixed by any stretch of the imagination.  I’m used to seeing the progress bar measured in Kb or Mb, but not B (as in byte), at least not since the first days of the internet.  As you can see from the screen capture, the progress was actually slow enough to measure the incoming message speed as 405 Bytes of 311 KiloBytes.  Imagine waiting to receive a 2 or 3 meg drawing file at this pace.  I’m still in contact with the top level CSR and have been assured the ticket would remain open until everyone was satisfied with the service speed and connectivity again.

Finally talking to someone who seemed to genuinely care and was willing to help was such a relief, and it almost took the edge off my animosity and umbrage because it seemed i was finally getting answers and being listened to.  But, the fact i had already spent more than 8 hours on the phone with various people working my way up the “escalation” ladder kept the bitterness alive.  Why should anyone have to deal with all the crap i went through.  We are customers, serve us, respect us and remember without us you cannot exist as a service.

Being right is nice, but being connected is even better.
tcg