I've had an interesting relationship with my off-and-on friend, Qwest.
Back in August 2007 I was writing an irritated blog post, "Qwest, I'm waiting for DSL...still waiting...," about how the communications company was stiffing my efforts to get broadband to our neighborhood.
Then in January 2008, after writing a pleading letter to the Qwest CEO, I got all ecstatic in "I'm the DSL King of the World!" I'd managed to get DSL installed in our rural south Salem area, freeing myself -- and many others -- from the frustrations of dial-up and satellite Internet.
I'm still going through Qwest ups and downs.
A few months ago I started seeing a lot of Qwest service truck activity going on along Liberty Road, our automotive and utility connection with Salem. Ever the optimist, I hoped that this pointed to improvements in our DSL service, which had been limited to 1.5 mbps.
My wife, ever the pessimist, thought that Qwest was just trying to keep its sometimes creaky phone service working. Turned out I was right.
One day in late April the phone rang. Someone from Qwest asked if I was interested in signing up for broadband. I told her that I already had it, but would sure be interested in faster DSL service.
"It's available in your area," I was told. "Sign me up," I said. For seven bucks more a month, I could go from fast to faster, 1.5 mbps to 7 mbps. Whooee!
More ecstasy. But after the upgrade was activated, agony. Intermittent, yet still seriously frustrating. The wireless connection to my MacBook would drop unpredictably, something that had never happened at the 1.5 mbps speed.
After trying the obvious -- unplugging the 2Wire modem, then firing it back up again -- the problem kept occurring. My Internet life would speed along much faster than before, then come to a complete stop for a minute or two.
Time for a call to Qwest customer service.
Predictably, the first thing I was told to do was unplug and replug the modem. "Been there, done that," I told the person I was talking to. But I did it again anyway.
DIdn't make any difference, naturally. Another call to Qwest had me being walked through a process that supposedly led to more power being supplied to the modem. Again, no difference.
This was all that Qwest technical support had in their bag of DSL dropped connection problem bag of tricks. I was told, "If this keeps happening, call Apple."
Ah, the familiar customer service brush-off.
Can't be a phone company problem; must be something wrong with your computer. Except, the dropped broadband connections hadn't occurred at the 1.5 mbps speed, only after the upgrade.
Still, I dutifully used my AppleCare contract and phoned Apple after a few more days of being afflicted with Internet interruptus.
No suggestions at all.
Which didn't really surprise me, since I was pretty sure the problem lay with Qwest, not my MacBook. Realizing that I needed more ammunition to fire at Qwest technical support, I started running up some stairs to stare at the modem whenever my laptop's wireless connection stopped working.
In addition to burning calories, I learned some things. About half the time, the normally solid green DSL light would be blinking. Hah! Proof! No DSL, no wireless connection. Seemed like a smoking tech support gun.
But I didn't want to risk hearing "It's Apple's problem, not ours" again. So I turned on my wife's PC laptop and confirmed that when the MacBook Internet connection was down, so was her ThinkPad's, running Windows XP.
Time for a gotcha call to Qwest. I was looking forward to throwing my "It's your fault!" evidence at technical support.
However, it took me three phone calls, each time having to wander through a lengthy automated "press 1 for..." before I could talk to a real person. The first two calls, I was disconnected from the Qwest phone system.
Now, it doesn't inspire confidence in a communications company when they aren't able to keep their own customer service phone system working. The second time this happened I began to harbor conspiracy theory thoughts.
"Maybe Qwest does this on purpose, to weed out customers who have a nagging, but not serious, problem. If they keep calling back after being disconnected, Qwest rewards them with a repair ticket -- sort of like a Zen master who only accepts students after they've waited by the monastery gate in the snow for several days."
My third phone call to technical support, once I got a real human being, started with me saying as quickly as possible, "I've been cut off twice; if this happens again, you need to call me back. Right away, before I kill myself. Which wouldn't be good for Qwest public relations, when the news gets out that a customer committed suicide after being disconnected from tech support three times in a row."
(Or words to that effect. Sometimes I embellish my memories a bit, remembering what I wish I'd said.)
I then zeroed in on the blinking DSL light, repeating that fact over and over.
Must have made a difference, because for the first time I heard, "When you signed up for the upgrade, didn't someone tell you that your current modem might not be able to handle the higher speed?"
"No," I replied. "It would have been nice to know that, though."
From that point on, my Qwest customer support experiences turned from gripes to all grins. I was told that a new Motorola modem would be sent to me, how to return the old one, and the basics about how to get the new modem up and running.
The next day a UPS guy appeared in our driveway. Carrying a box. Which held the Motorola modem. Nice! Qwest had sent it overnight from Colorado. Maybe I should threaten suicide every time I call technical support about some problem.
I was worried that the installation process would be complicated. It wasn't. However, I'm more computer savvy that most people.
A lot of Qwest customers wouldn't have been able to follow the rather cryptic instructions I was given over the phone. Having a step by step guide in the new modem box describing how to get a secure wireless network up and running would save most customers quite a bit of head scratching.
Anyway, the Motorola modem gets along great with the faster DSL connection, which I've measured at about 6.0 mbps down and .740 mbps up. Qwest and me are on friendly terms again.
I just wish that on my first call to technical support, rather than my fifth, I'd been told that the 2Wire modem is known to not be able to handle the higher DSL speed I'd signed up for.