Thursday, November 09, 2006

Still on a soapbox - Cable is better than DSL - at least in Edwardsville

OK, I know I promised I'd blog about software, but services have been on my mind lately. As I'm sure you've realized, I live in Saint Louis, and work in the surrounding area. Over in Edwardsville, Illinois, I've noticed a pattern in SBC's DSL sales and service.

First let me say this: the technicians that SBC employs to go on site and install or repair the wiring are top-notch. Always neatly dressed, they bear themselves professionally, work carefully, communicate well, and deliver what they promise.

The rest of SBC seems to have lost touch with this group's values. Salespeople seem to overpromise and underdeliver. In both examples that I have for customers, SBC promised DSL speeds starting at 384k and topping out at 1.2M. At one site, the service never, ever worked. At the other, 384k is top speed. 384k is fine for checking e-mail and reading the news, but downloading a 30 megabyte file takes 10 minutes. At most of my customers (which use cable, by the way) this download takes at most 2 minutes.

So site 1 never worked - but they paid for a months service that SBC says should have worked, but didn't. I checked and rechecked the internal wiring, and found it perfect. I moved the DSL modem to the demarcation point, and still no results. Calling SBC yielded the same pat answer - our automated tests show that the trouble is inside your building, so pay us a fortune to fix it, or have your technician (me) fix it. This seems to be to for the customers safety, but the representatives used it as a deterrent to the customers' persuing the issue further.

After the customer repeatedly called SBC, he reached a technician that knows me personally, and knows that I do quality work (Thanks, Tiny!), so he dispatched an SBC technician to the site. When the SBC tech arrived and hooked up his diagnostic machine, he informed the customer that DSL will never work there - the site is just too far from the central office to be any use. So then the customer is without Internet service for another month while we wait on Charter to deliver their service. Incidentally, the Charter service has worked quite well, with only minor hickups.

Site 2 is currently in the throes of a similar situation - the DSL is slow (support says we may be too far from the Central Office), and our supposedly static IP address has been anything but. When the customer called SBC Tech Support, we no longer reach a call center in America. Evey support rep has had an Indian accent - some more understandable than others. The customer says that the last one was consistently rude to her, and wouldn't even transfer her to his manager, saying that there is no manager for him to transfer her to. I'm going to go deal with this this morning.

So, the problems with SBC (AT&T) DSL that I perceive are:

  • Sales reps are too generous and optimistic in their assessment of SBC's potential offerings to a given customer based on their distance from the Central Office.
  • Support reps are all too eager to blame the customer, her equipment, and her premise wiring.
  • Support reps tend to be rude.
  • Support reps may not speak English as a first language.
What can we do about it? Complaining to your sales person may help - the sales reps have been somewhat helpful as they know that the support reps are making them look bad, but their abilities to affect a situation in progress are limited. They usually wind up being a diplomat for SBC and doing damage control.

Otherwise, I'm not sure. Cable seems like the obvious choice. Charter Communications is our local provider, and they have yet to disappoint me with respect to download speeds or service continuity. I've never reached a commercial support rep that didn't speak English as a first language, and they've always been professional, knowledgable, and polite. But the pricing is commensurate with the service - expect a 1.2M down with a static IP to cost at least $100 per month, while a DSL line may be half that.

Now, my other sites with DSL (a few in Saint Louis, Southern Illinois, and two in Indiana) have consistently high speeds (one, in Indianapolis, is an SBC customer) and seldom experience outtages. Why is Edwardsville prone to such failures in delivery?

So, if you live in Edwardsville, Illinois, the 1st question should of an SBC sales rep should be, "What is the length of the wire from the Central Office to my business?" If it's more than 10,000 feet or so, consider cable Internet instead.

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