Friday, June 16, 2006

DSL Blues

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools. ~William Shakespeare, King Lear

I am generally a pretty easy-going individual. Really. Oh, I bluster a lot, but I really haven't got a violent bone in my body. Occasionally, though, things occur that are so rank with stupidity, hypocrisy, and/or greed that I just get royally ticked. Often, these things relate to treatment by the various monopolies and cartels that have bought off the government. The other day, I got a good whack upside the head by Bellsouth.

The telcos control our Internet connectivity. This is reasonable because they laid the wire, set up the switches, and manage a lot of the routers. I have no problem with this, and I'm willing to pay for the privilege of using the system. I would, however, like to be able to actually use the system.

I've said in other posts that I live out in the boonies. Now, that is not to say that I live five miles from the nearest house. On the contrary, there are quite a few homes in the immediate area. My place is set off the road and has a little acreage around it, so there's a good 70 yards between me and my nearest neighboor and my back yard has woods between me and the folks on the other side. But, there are people around here. We even have what the telcos refer to as a CO (Central Office, which is actually a big green box) where switches are installed. DSL ends about 2 miles from my house, and less than a mile from the first house on our road.

So, fine, there are only a few dozen homes out here, so I certainly didn't expect to be on the cutting edge of high-speed access. But, after years of listening to the FCC and the telcos go on and on about how we're all going to have broadband (except for the occasional really isolated places), I'm a little tired of waiting. My patience isn't helped by little newsletters from Bellsouth asking why I haven't upgraded to DSL.

So, today I needed to call not-so-baby-Bellsouth about a minor billing question. After getting a polite answer, I asked if I could ask about whether DSL would ever come to my neighborhood. The polite person said he could connect me with someone who could give me a definitive answer. Well, that's nice. So, after a brief wait, I hear a new voice asking me if I'm ready to order DSL.

Well, now we're talking, thinks I. So I explain that I didn't think I could get it, which, when she checks my phone number turns out to be the case. Okay, no biggie, just let me know when I might be able to expect it. Oh, she wouldn't have any idea. She's in a central sales office, and I'd have to get that information from my local office, but she'll be glad to connect me directly. Well, that sounded peachy, so I said go ahead.

I get yet another polite and pleasant person. When I ask her my question, she says (and I am quoting this verbatim), “Oh, we don't know that.” Say what? I explain that I was told that someone at this number would have that information, she offers to ask her supervisor about it. After a brief pause (amazingly all of these transfers and holds were short), she comes back and says, “No, my supervisor says we wouldn't know that.” Well, okay, who would know?

“As far as we know, no one has that information.”

“Let me see if I've got this straight,” I said. “You're telling me that no one at Bellsouth knows when DSL will be installed anywhere?”

“Yes, that's right.”

That, dear reader, is the most stupid thing I've ever heard, bar none, from any company I've dealt with. And, I have dealt with some real zeros in my days in Quality Control. Apparently, if this person was to be believed, somewhere at Bellsouth, someone tosses a dart at a map and says, “Let there be DSL!” I can draw only two possible conclusions:

  • Bellsouth is run by idiots; or
  • DSL is never coming to my neighborhood, and they just don't have the guts to tell me.

Now, I've had very good luck with Bellsouth over the years. Even my dial-up has been reliable to the extreme. When I've had problems with speeds or connectivity, people have actually come out and checked the junction box outside the house and fixed something. For free! I have worked as a contractor at Bellsouth, and, while I see where Scott Adams gets his material, from a technical point of view, these guys know what they're doing. Also, in the past, their service people have known what was going on and could give reliable information. So, I find it hard to believe that the whole outfit is run by a bunch of boobs.

But, of course, all that was before the telcos started merging together. And, that was before the FCC started rubber stamping everything the telcos request. The latest of these “requests” will allow the telcos to “prioritize” traffic, which translates into “If you want people to visit your web site or use your VOIP or web service, you're gonna pay us to let you have bandwidth.” In other words, the telcos don't have to be run intelligently any longer because there is no real competition (not there ever was).

By the way, if you want to see irony in action, keep an eye out for the ad that criticizes the telcos for only providing services to the rich. Notice the small print that tells you that this ad is paid for by the Cable Television companies. Guess who also doesn't provide services to neighborhoods like mine. Pot, meet kettle.

It's not like there are any options. Satellite broadband is expensive and notoriously lousy. Most don't even allow VPN connections, and they have download limits. Download too much and they throttle you down to dial-up speeds until your “download average” is within their acceptable limits (which they can change without notice). That “last mile” wireless that tech writers burble about seems to be a figment of their imaginations. And broadband over power lines? I went to a seminar where Alabama Power talked about a trial they were running. It was very exciting, eminently feasible, and totally underfunded. AP has no intent of competing with their buddies at Bellsouth.

So, what can I do? Well, I can annoy someone. So, I filed a complaint with the FCC. I know, this is like complaining about Dick Cheney to George Bush, but I felt better. At least someone at Bellsouth will have to spend an afternoon filling out paperwork and maybe drafting a little e-mail of apology.

That'll break up the dart game for a while.

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