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Moving house: diary of a dial-up user (part 1)

Here at ZDNet, we all get on (most of the time) and I'm lucky to be working with some absolutely lovely people. Behind the scenes, we have a discussion group, and I've been bitching about my lack of Internet the last week or so.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on
Here at ZDNet, we all get on (most of the time) and I'm lucky to be working with some absolutely lovely people. Behind the scenes, we have a discussion group, and I've been bitching about my lack of Internet the last week or so. My editor-in-chief, Larry, asked me a few days ago after seeing my moaning posts to think about writing a diary/article about my troubles with getting broadband going in my new house.

It is after all, that time of year where students have started paying half, if not full rent for their new houses for the next year at university. I'm no exception, but I'm lucky to be living in a bloody brilliant house, included with its own garden and a nice view of Canterbury Cathedral. The first thing I moved into this house was start ticking things off a list of "things to do".

High priority were to get the electricity, gas, water and rent paid for; these are all taken care of the landlord by a small constantly set addition to the rent, so as much electricity, gas and water for an extra £12 ($24) a month isn't bad especially in current climes. The next priority was getting the Internet sorted.

Get yourself a strong drink and a couple of prescribed pain-killers, because I dare even the toughest geek not to get emotional at this traumatic story of broadband setup.

Up to two weeks before I moved in I'd phoned the people living in this house a couple of weeks ago to ask them kindly to switch over the phone line account and broadband over to their new house as soon as possible, thus making it easier for me to get in and start working. The guy on the phone was rather short with me, and didn't want to co-operate. What's funny though, is I met this guy the other day when he knocked on his old, and my new front door asking for post; he practically crapped himself when he realised he'd been snappy with me on the phone, and now I'm towering over him with a pissed off look on my face.

I'd done some research before I came to the new house, and knew I needed to get "a phone line sorted". At this point, I presumed the physical elements of a phone line were there already, and indeed I was right. But then again, I need to take control over that phone line because, "my house, my stuff, my rules"; I didn't know what a "phone line" was, a physical port on the wall by the door, or a mythological idea of data streaming down copper piping through the cold, dark streets of Canterbury. Apparently both.

I went on a whole load of websites checking my to-be-postcode to see which broadband provider would be best for me - considering distance from the telephone exchange, quality of the line, the length of the contract, the speed of the network, and the contention ratio of other users to me. It came up with Tiscali Broadband on each of these websites, so obviously five or six separately run websites can't be wrong, according to laws of probability.

I rang Tiscali; I explained the situation and wanted them to be the lucky buggers to provide me with broadband. They told me I needed to get a MAC code, something which is needed for another company to take over that pre-existing account. I told them I couldn't get it because the guy in the house was being a pain about it. They advised me to ring BT when I moved in, as it'll be my house then and legally I can get the line cut off, and to give them a ring afterwards.

During and after moving in: Tuesday 1st July 2008 At this point, I was disconnected from the world. The only way I could get an Internet connection was by walking for half an hour across Canterbury, walking up a mountain to get to my university campus, to use the public PC's there. I rang the British Telecoms ("BT" hereon in) free-phone number on the payphone downstairs, as they are the UK's provider of phone networks and home lines. I explained to them that I had moved in and needed to get the phone line connected so that I can get the broadband sorted.

BT: "But Sir, unfortunately we cannot process this request today. If you want to begin broadband consumption with an ISP, you need to ring that ISP and ask them to set up the account and phone line for you." ZW: "They told me to ring you - I need to get the phone line connected in my name." BT: "Would you mind holding plea..." click, cheesy music kicks in. BT: "Hello Sir?" ZW: "'ello." BT: "We can start proceedings in getting the account in your name now Sir. We'll disconnect the phone line which will take 4-8 days, then an engineer will visit your premises within 3-6 days of that, depending on his schedule and distance from the premises. He'll then connect the line for you, all of an all inclusive one-off payment of one-hundred and twenty fi..." ZW: "You what?" BT: "One hundred and twenty five pounds Sir." ZW: "OK I'll call you back, I've just felt my blood pressure rise by 60 systolic points and I can feel my chest getting tighter." BT: "Thank you for calling BT today, have a nice da..." click, hanged phone up.

A cup of tea and many cigarettes later, I rang Tiscali again. After explaining myself for the umpteenth time, they told me there was a "tag" on my home phone line which was only readable by BT. At this point, I pleaded with them not to ask me to ring BT again, considering the mental torture they had put me through before. They insisted, and I slumped to the floor in a pool of despair and dread.

I rang BT once again, and asked them about the tag on the phone line. To be honest, I can't remember what they said to me because I "reffed out" half way through this woman talking. I calmed down and explained, I just wanted the Internet sorting out, and for this I needed to get a phone line in my name. Finally, I got an answer which was more important to me than the ectoplasm was to Rincewind during his Discworld II adventure. She told me it's up to my ISP to get these things sorted - "they should be running round like headless chickens trying to get a new customer, it's solely up to them, so don't let them push you around anymore Sir!"

Finally tears of joy.

Friday 4th July 2008 I nipped into the city to the self-storage place to get the rest of my crap out and into the new house. I finally got it in, started throwing some things around, and there, in the distance, was this bright glow, a shine of divine light; a wondrous thing of pure beauty - my wireless router. I grabbed it, found all the cables I could and dived for the wall. I got everything plugged in, connected, turned on and setup, but the red light on the router to show the Internet wasn't working puzzled me. There was no connection from the router to the actual phone line socket.

I leapt from corner to corner, looking for an RJ11 cable (I think, anyway), but couldn't find one anywhere. I grabbed my keys, rushed out of the door, jumped on the number 24 bus into town and went straight for an electronics store. I picked up all the cables I could find, and also splashed out by buying a cheap landline phone. Back on the 24 bus, went into the house, tried to connect it up, but hadn't got the right cable. With quick thinking, I took the cable out of the back of the phone I just bought, plugged it into the router, and that demonising red light turned to green. My heart skipped a beat, thinking I had finally caught a break.

I tried to connect, but no avail. For some reason, it just didn't work, and I was putting my best men (and one woman - I'm an equal opportunities employer) onto it. They churned out nothing. Absolutely nu'ttin.

Because I hadn't got the right cable and was substituting the phone cable for the router cable, the microfilter wouldn't plug in properly so it's a case of "phone or router: choose". I plugged in the landline phone and tried Tiscali again. At this point, I was informed by them they can set up the phone line account instead of BT as well as your broadband, to make it more of an all-round package. I asked about getting the account setup now, and they were more than happy to.

A problem arose.

The person on the phone informed me that the phone line I was calling from at home was in fact held by a Tiscali account holder. They couldn't cancel the account, but the customer services department which incorporate the cancellations team could. She gave me that number; I thanked her and hung up the phone. I dialled the free-phone number to be greeted by this pre-recorded message:

"Thank you for calling Tiscali customer services. Our opening hours are 9am till 6pm from Monday to Friday. Please call again during these hours and we'll be more than happy to help you with any query you have." click, phone disconnects.

I looked at the clock in the kitchen, and it was five minutes past bloody six o'clock. I was exhausted, mentally and physically, from explaining over and over to so many different people what I wanted and what I needed. Here I was, alone in my house, literally disconnected from the outside world, with a crushed soul.

"Moving house: diary of a dial-up user" part 2 is now upwill be out in a few days: can dial-up Internet save me from eating my own shoulder through madness?

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