Before I go off on a rant about the awful history of telco service, I want to state for the record that today I have brilliant, perfect service from Verizon FIOS. I’ve had it now for over three years and have never had a single issue. I’m still very afraid of the quality of service I may get if I have an issue, but so far every single conversation or correspondence I’ve had with Verizon FIOS has been awesome.
But I have to say, my experience with telcos over the past three decades leaves me with a continuing sense of foreboding.
I think I’ve tried just about every option in terms of technology and telecommunications provider in the New York metropolitan area and across the UK, and (not counting my current provider), they have uniformly been stunning in their ability to make seemingly simple things really complex.
Let me give you an example from about a dozen years ago. I had just moved into a new house in the UK, and needed a phone line and internet connection. At the time the best Internet speeds were available on something called ADSL (For some reason they felt the need to use an acronym of Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line). To get ADSL the telecom provider (in the style of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 lets call them AS), needed to schedule an installation.
At the duly appointed time, an engineer knocks on my door to come and install the ADSL connection. He asks me where the cable comes into the house.
Well it turns out he’s just the inside man, and the outside man needs to come first to get the cable to the house before inside man can do his job. So he goes away and schedules outside man. The next day outside man comes along in a van, knocks on my door and asks me where the hole is that he needs to run the cable from to the house.
Well it turns out hole digging man needs to come along and dig a hole before outside man can run the cable. So outside man goes away and schedules a call with hole man.
So the next day inside man comes along again and asks me where the cable is, I explain the situation and he promises to go away and give hole man a call. So the next day hole man comes along in a truck and knocks on my door and asks where the hole should be dug.
Well it turns out that hole man cannot dig a hole until spray can man comes along and marks the right place for him to dig his hole.
So the next day inside man comes along and looking rather sheepish asks me how it’s going. I explain and he goes away and says he will call everyone and get this sorted.
After that things got a little silly, with spray can man (in a larger truck), hole man, outside man and inside man randomly turning up in the wrong order until eventually there is a mark, a hole, a cable and a box installed inside my house. Only to find that a special man is required to solder the connection inside the hole (which is now filled in), so spray can man, hole man, solder man, outside man and inside man all come along once more and do their magic.
Now I have a box inside my house, but it turns out the maximum distance allowed between my box and the exchange has been exceeded by about 5%, so the exchange will not authorize it to be connected at the exchange end and tested.
At this point (several weeks into the operation) I lost my cool and started calling everyone I can think of. Eventually I got through to the office of the chairman of “AS” and they said they would look into it.
The next day a 40 foot 18 wheeler truck turns up outside my house, and the “area engineer” comes in. He calls the exchange and says “why don’t we just connect it up and see if it works”. Well they did connect it up and it did work.
Problem solved, it only took a month and an unbelievable amount of people and resources.
This may seem like an extreme example, but I would suggest from my experience, it’s actually the normal. If you don’t believe me, then try one of the following.
1. Ask Time Warner (NY) to install two cable cards in two TiVo boxes (a service they offer, but no one seems to know how to do)
2. Try and make a change to your AT&T phone service (there are at least a million ways to configure your phone bill)
3. Ask Virgin (UK) to transfer your phone number from one house to another (just tried that one in the UK, they say they can do it, until you try)
It can’t be this hard, but it seems that every single telecoms company in the world has chosen to make it incredibly tortuous to do business with them.
Maybe Verizon FIOS will turn out to be the perfect telco, only time will tell. (68)