Broadband grand slam

Broadband providers reported record customer wins in the first quarter of 2006. Is success killing customer service?

According to Leichtman Research Group, a Durham, N.H.-based broadband market research company, cable modem and DSL providers added a record 3.06 million new customers in the first quarter of 2006, according to the Center for Media Research. DSL continues its gains against cable, adding more businesses and homes than cablers did for another quarter.

Almost 46 millionCustomer service is worse than at any time since I first had to stand in line at the AT&T office in 1979. broadband customers are using the Web in the United States, but today I am not one of them.

Under a wave of World of Warcraft traffic from the kids' rooms and my mother-in-law's insatiable need to surf, I decided to add a second DSL line in the house. It would return my office connection solely to my own bandwidth-hogging habits. We called, ordered the new service from Qwest, our regional carrier, making a point of saying we wanted a new line and to leave our existing DSL service, from Covad, uninterrupted.

The Qwest install was scheduled to be finished on Wednesday afternoon. Qwest took the opportunity to knock Covad off my line and 36 hours later, I haven't had any DSL service since about 8 AM on Wednesday. Seeing the circuit taken down, Covad's business rules cancelled my service, and I am told my fixed IP addresses, such as for the host of my personal blog, are all lost in the Covad pool, so I am looking at a week of for the new IP addresses to propagate through DNS before RatcliffeBlog can be reliably found. Thank the gods I keep my mail servers on a hosted server somewhere else.

At least this is what I am told or have been able to make out during hours of calls to both companies' support lines. I have heard nothing but each blaming the other for my disconnectivity.

Qwest won't finish the install it scheduled, because it has to go back and provision a new line to the house (which had five telephone lines only a couple years ago) and Covad says Qwest hasn't relinquished the circuit, even though Qwest insists it did sometime Wednesday afternoon. It's a blame game, everyone's fault but no one is stepping up to fix the problem. Business is too good, I suppose.

Therein lies the reason for this posting. Carriers are making huge gains in broadband adoption. I'd happily add four DSL lines and multiplex them to make a 24Mbps downstream 2.5Mbps upstream connection (though I know they'd throw a fit, saying it was abuse of the bandwidth). I don't see any end to this growth, as we're all going to want more capacity and soon.

The adoption of first and second broadband connections to homes and offices is well underway, but the carriers are not turning that rising revenue into the consistent service they promise.

Not one of the DSL or cable modem connections I've had over the years has delivered the advertised speed. Invariably at least one-fifth of the throughput is given up to management traffic and at other times the connections will slow to a crawl for no discernible reason (even when the kids aren't both logged into Warcraft at the same time). 

Customer service is worse than at any time since I had to stand in line at the AT&T office to get my first phone in 1979. Neither company is even interested in my being disconnected, or connected apparently, even though I've already paid for the connectivity I am not getting. They should be committed to keeping the customer connected, not pawning the problem off on the other company. Neither company seems interested in winning or keeping my business. Business is too good.

So, we're all going to have broadband soon, by the looks of the market numbers, but it seems that we're all going to be living at the bottom of the digital barrel.

The carriers are lobbying to charge more for delivering the same services they do today, saying they need to be paid for QoS on the backbone instead of honoring the throughput and reliability they promise their customers who buy connectivity at the edges of the cloud. They should be spending that money--every additional penny--improving the service, both technically and in human customer support.

But, wait, no, they already have monopolies or duopolies at the customer end-points, so we'll just have to wait for them to deal with their pressing problems before we, the customers, get any attention.

UPDATE: I finally got a call from someone who was interested in helping me, Amy at Covad. It turns out that Qwest will cancel Covad service for any customer change, including something as simple as adding Caller ID to a line. And, it takes multiple days for the Qwest change order database to clear the change, obviously giving Qwest longer to try to win the customer.

Fortunately, I have an EV-DO card to keep connected. Unfortunately, I bought it because it is fast outside the house--at home it is dial-up slow.

UPDATE 2: It has been eight days now and Qwest still has not made the connection to Covad work. Repeatedly assuring me they have gotten out of the way, Qwest is stumbling badly as Covad still cannot see my hardware. What a farce. The Covad people are great, spending a lot of time and calling frequently.