Internet Connection Catch 22

March 2, 2007
Thanks for letting me let of steam about a problem with Earthlink, typical of many services that provide mixed quality repairs. Do you think I should apologize?

Do I owe Earthlink an apology?

Cartoon of computer in distressFirst, let me say that if you are blessed by the gods of computers and the Internet, or if you come from a planet where everyone is technologically superior to earthlings, you won’t be able to relate to my saga this past week because your computer always works and the Internet connection never goes on the blink. The rest of us are forced to play tech support roulette.

We know the routine. We type a URL into the URL field and get a message saying the site cannot be accessed. Then we check to see if it is our problem or if it is their problem because the site is down for repairs. So we try to reach sites that are sure to be up, like Google and Yahoo. Everything is kapoot.

Next, we assume we aren’t connected because there’s a break in our section of the line, and that repair crews are out there fixing things. When the outage goes on much too long, we reach for the phone and guess which of umpteen telephone buttons to press so we can talk to the “next available customer service representative,” listen to a lovely voice telling us they appreciate our patience and look forward to serving us, and in-between what I call “wait” music, listen to them tell us that we can get great online assistance and answers to our questions through their helpful website.

Just why in the world do they think that will work when we’re waiting for a technician to help us solve a connection problem? When we finally reach a live voice, we must be kind to tech-support-in-training so they don’t accidentally disconnect us, or get so defensive that they flub up completely. And we try to do all this without losing our minds.

Now here’s my story.

My problems began last Saturday with a modem whose lights blinked as though they were working. But I had no connection. After going through the process above several times, with several different technicians, I thought my problems were over on Wednesday when I hung up the phone after talking with “Peter,” although I assume that’s not his real name. It’s probably Dharmesh. (Ever notice that tech support people with accents almost all have names like Peter, John and Susan, while those without accents often have more flavorful names, like Dharmesh?)

In any case, whatever his real name, I hoped he’d be the last. It isn’t that tech support doesn’t try. It isn’t that the people on the other end of the line don’t take their jobs seriously. They are inordinately courteous, cheerfully willing to help, and amusing. So sorry you’re having trouble. Not to worry, we’ll get it straightened out right away. I’m here to help. One of them asked for my mother’s maiden name and, when I gave it, he said cheerfully,”yes, you’re right,” as though I had guessed correctly.

One of them asked if I could give her two minutes of what she called “your precious time” while she put me on hold, undoubtedly needing to review her advanced diagnostic manual. She, like tech support before her, once again had me open this window, check that box, uncheck the other box, click “Next,” and on and on. Always got the same results. Not working! Even a supervisor was stumped.

But then Peter ordered me a modem that would be “delivered the next day.”  Unfortunately, after deciding a new modem would do the trick, I discovered I couldn’t write to a CD, which would at least have allowed me to add a blog entry, take the CD to my friend’s computer, and upload it to the web that way. It was about then when I discovered my printers didn’t work. This sure sounded like more than a modem problem, though I was told a dysfunctional modem might be causing something else to go wrong.

Last year I would have used a guy who would come out to the house and tinker with whatever needed tinkering. He was great. It cost $65 an hour, but at least I had things working in fairly short order. Unfortunately, he quit the business and I didn’t yet have anyone else. In his place I had subscribed to Ask Dr. Tech, an online service that will “solve hardware and software problems” and provide “unlimited live support all year round, worldwide support access 24 hours a day, and phone, online, email and chat.” All for $89 a year.

In other words, they are designed to fix your computer with remote diagnostics. Just what I needed. But you have to have the Internet connected in order for it to work!! Even if I could talk through my situation on the phone, their phone number has changed and I have to use the Internet to get the current number.

Basically, that was my Catch 22. I couldn’t access the Internet for help to resolve my Internet problem. It was about then that I noticed the curser was slow as molasses. My fingers would hit the keys and the word I was typing would take a l-o-n-g time to appear on screen. This meant I had to type extremely slowly, which drove me crazy. I tried every trick I knew. Turned the computer off and on again several times, once more ran my highly rated AVG virus protector, as well as Spybot and Lavasoft, in case there was something running in the background I didn’t know about.

I was beginning to assume that the computer gods were unhappy for some unfathomable reason and were punishing me for an indiscretion I had no way of knowing I committed. That’s when I happened to move something on my desk and noticed the cord of my cordless mouse (let someone else explain why you need a cord for a cordless mouse) was trapped under the monitor. The heavy book and board used to raise the monitor (so my neck didn’t get sore from looking down on the screen) was pressing on the cord. That apparently caused a pressure headache, or whatever cords get when their electrons can’t flow smoothly between a cordless keyboard and a cordless mouse.

In any case, in gratitude for lifting the weight off the wire, my keys again respond quickly to my requests. Hooray!! One problem solved Back to the story about the Internet and the modem. When the modem hadn’t arrived late on Thursday, the day Peter said it would, I called again and was told it would come later that evening or early the next morning.

Yesterday, two days after the “guaranteed next-day delivery,” when my modem still hadn’t arrived, I decided to bite the repair bullet and found a new repair person who would come out for $100 an hour (minus 20% for the first hour for new customers). If I had more than modem difficulties, I would need to have my CD and printer problems fixed anyway.

While waiting for him, I called again to learn the status of the modem and discovered it was never ordered!!!!

So sorry, the cheerful man said. I can order it for you now if you wish. After requesting I speak to a supervisor, I reached a kind lady in the Billing Department who couldn’t help me with the order, my request needed to go through the technical department. But she was kind enough to empathize with my problem and gave me a month of service free. That at least was nice. I applaud Earthlink for that.

Then she said I would need to talk with tech support (AGAIN) and that man said he couldn’t help me, that I needed to talk with Sales.

That lady said I couldn’t get the modem for next-day delivery, even though they charge $39.95 for next day service. Seems they have a virtual warehouse to which the order is sent and then the machine is sent to Earthlink, where UPS is then asked to pick it up. So when they say “next day,” they mean next day from the time UPS gets the package, which is several days down the road, especially if it’s right before a weekend. I will at least get the modem for free by agreeing to stay with Earthlink for a year.

And even though there are those who would suggest I find another ISP, I’ve generally liked their service and figure another company might periodically be just as difficult to work with. I should acknowledge that, to ease some of my pain, this last person was willing to take $20 off the shipping fee. Then my rescuer arrived. Chris looked at the modem and said, “Oh, you have an old model,” though I got it just two years ago. Next he tapped a few keys here and there, pulled out a few plugs and stuck them in again, and now the Internet is connected. And guess what? The problem wasn’t in the modem after all!!! It’s the router.

So I currently have Internet and CD writer access. When the modem does arrive, the new repair person will return to install it and bring a new router. I figure it’s not a bad idea to have a new modem since it’s already ordered and apparently it is “old.”

This brings me to my possible apology to Earthlink. Setting aside the problem of promising next day delivery when it will be next week and the fact that the DSL modem does work, can they be faulted for not diagnosing the problem correctly? Was the repair guy only able to determine that because he was on the premises, or should they have been able to discover this after at least five tech persons took at stab at it? If he says they couldn’t have known how to tell if the modem worked without being here, I will apologize for getting mad at them for not diagnosing the problem.

My husband says I should. I say that if Earthlink should have been able to diagnose the problem without being on the premises, then they don’t deserve an apology. Yet I realize that technical problems can be very, well, technical, and not everyone is trained to catch the more difficult diagnoses. Should we expect the tech help to be helpful in all cases?

So maybe there is some wiggle room for getting them off the hook. But in my book they aren’t off the hook for saying the modem was ordered when it wasn’t, for saying it could come the next day when it couldn’t, and for a couple tech people saying they would order it for me and another tech person saying the Sales Dept. had to order it.

I appreciate the fact that for my troubles I got a month free service and had $20 taken off shipping the modem. I appreciate the fact that they tried to send instructions telling me how to connect via the PPPoE, which is what Chris did when he arrived.  BUT they sent it via e-mail, which I told them I couldn’t access. And I do appreciate the fact that they sent e-mails telling me that “an EarthLink representative viewed your password in order to assist you. If you or someone on your behalf did not contact EarthLink for support, please change your password immediately.” If I had not requested assistance, then it would be good to know someone was messing with my account. Do I owe them an apology? What do you think? May all your Catch 22’s be short and sweet.

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