A true-life story of one man's attempt to find a decent Internet connection in rural Kentucky.
I’m having trouble with my ISP (Internet Service Provider) here in Stamping Ground, Kentucky. It’s nothing new. This combination of farce and tragedy has been playing for two years, dragging on at the same speed as my “blazingly fast” internet service.
But yesterday’s events really set a new benchmark. What began as a day full of hope, wonder and optimism – the recent thunderstorms have ensured that my Amish Snap and British Wonder peas, along with my Brown Windsor broad beans and sweet yellow onions are flourishing, hopefully heralding a good year for the veggie patch – was in just a couple of minutes turned into something only slightly less horrific than Sigmund Freud with a bad case of constipation.
To avoid having a couple of service reps calling on me with baseball bats, or worse, we’ll refer to my satellite based ISP as Feral Firmament or FF for short. I’d had a FF technician out just a few days before. My new 1mb connection was still running slower than my old 520kbps connection. The tech had told me that the company didn’t like connecting to Macs. In fact, they once had a policy of not doing so, because they never seemed to work. Anyway, he tweaked the dish and left me with a powerful signal – “four green lights” in ISP speak – but admitted he could do no more.
I fumed for a day or two until I could stand it no longer and booked yet another tech call. Tech B repeated what Tech A had said, but agreed to experiment. We connected the modem to my two-computer home network (one PC and one Mac) in every configuration possible: jointly and severally as the lawyers for people with more money than us like to say when threatening to sue. No flamin’ luck, mate. Both computers were still running at less than a quarter of the speed hinted at in the flyers that turn up in my mailbox.
At last Tech. B left, admitting defeat. He did, however, let drop that his company had oversold its “service.” There are more subscribers than its infrastructure can handle.
A short break for a sandwich and it was back to the telephone. What follows is not verbatim, nor is it in exact sequence, but I would swear on oath that it is a record of what transpired.
The events recounted here occupied my afternoon from 1300 to 1610 and all-but flattened the battery on my walk-around phone. (We don’t get cell service here, the 3.5 miles to the house from AT&T’s transmitter in Stamping Ground being apparently too far for the signal to reach; and it doesn’t reach our friends in Minorsville either, same distance, but they’re on a hilltop.)
Okay, back to the story – if you get to know me you’ll soon learn that I have that Celtic habit of approaching my tales widdershins.
So I dial Teaset TV (TSTV) because my Internet connection is bundled with theirs. After pressing several buttons and enduring instructions in two languages – wouldn’t it be easier if right at the start the taped recording said “If you would prefer to speak in another language, please press 1”? – I was hooked up with a 12-year-old who told me I needed to dial this number. I did. I got another person who said that I needed to dial the number I had just dialed.
This went on for several more minutes until I at last asked to speak to a supervisor. After apologizing for the mix up, she gave me the same number to dial. Over my protests, she said I needed to say “Customer Service” in response to the prompts.
Another 15 to 20 minutes around the houses until, when in response to once again being told to dial the same number I threatened to call my lawyer (which of course I don’t have one of), they said I’d have to call FF direct because it was my internet I was having trouble with. “Here’s the number you should dial sir, and I do apologize. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
I dialled FF. It told me I had to call TSTV because my service was bundled with theirs. I did so. TSTV said no, it didn’t handle Internet service enquiries.
Mentioned lawyer again. Repeated this action with dialogue four or five times – or was it 40 or 50? “I’ll transfer you sir. Is there anything I can help you with today?” Wait five minutes until phone goes dead.
Second stanza: Repeat first and then—
Mention lawyer again and at last get on to someone from FF who is prepared to talk to me.
Me: “Why does this happen? Why give me conflicting instructions.”
FF: “It depends on the agent, sir.”
Me: “Aren’t they trained?”
FF: “Oh, yes, sir.”
Me: “What at. To lie?”
Me: “Is it true that you don’t like connecting to Macs?”
ME: “Why don’t your ads say that?”
FF: “That’s not up to me, sir.”
Me: “Are you also de-ethicised when you are trained?”
Me: “Never mind.”
I then went on to [again] recount how for two years I’d been charged full price for a service I was never given. That my download speed only once exceed a quarter of that touted by FF.
His reply? If I read my contract I’d see that it offered “up to” that speed, Surely, I replied, when I take you to court – jointly and severally – my lawyer would argue that I am entitled to expect a service better than 25 per cent of what I paid for. That if the average speed/cost I’m paying at least four times that much?
FF: “It depends on the number of people using FF in your area.”
Me: “Oh, so you’ve oversold your service and the system can’t cope?”
FF: “No sir. We only promise ‘up to’ that speed.”
Me: “Well then, your ads should also say that some customers may experience less than one-quarter of these speeds – a lot of FF’s customers, in fact.”
FF: “Well sir, Back to your problem. What would you like us to do?”
Me: (Insert Australian dialect here.) “Fix my bloody internet.”
(Note, this is the first time I lapsed into Australianese. No one, no one in the world can swear like an Australian in full flight, only we don’t consider it swearing. It’s the only way you can get through to some drongos.)
FF: “Well, sir, there’s nothing we can do. You’ve had multiple [not several, note, but multiple; this cove could really speak the language] service calls and new equipment. There’s nothing more we can do. And as I said, we only say ‘up to’ a certain speed.”
Me: “Well there is something you can do. Cancel my contract.”
FF: “There is a penalty sir.”
Me: “Not on your Nelly young feller. It’ll cost me nothing and if I had the time I’d get you to organize another ISP connection for me – you’re all the same company anyway.”
FF: “Just hold, sir, while I speak with someone in authority.”
Me: “If this phone goes dead or I get another number, I’m straight onto a lawyer.”
Thirty seconds later I was free of that contract. I’ll have FF cancelled on Tuesday.
I’ll let you know what the new mob’s like – if I survive.
Frank Povah is a writer, editor and now Internet-less resident of Stamping Ground, Kentucky.