Router problems to blame? For Some Bell Atlantic Customers, It's DSHell : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

LOGGING ON For Some Bell Atlantic Customers, It's DSHell By Rob Pegoraro

Friday, March 10, 2000; Page E01

Instead of fast downloads, some Bell Atlantic DSL customers are getting down time, hold music and hang-ups. Users of the company's high-speed digital-subscriber-line Internet access report persistent, recurring outages, compounded by a customer-service meltdown of Chernobyl-esque proportions.

Quantifying the problem is hard; Bell Atlantic doesn't have concrete figures on the situation, and some customers say they have no complaints at all. But the ones who do are enraged by this state of affairs.

"Their phone lines don't work, they put you on hold, they drop you, they don't know what they're talking about--their support is just, just awful!" said Brad Gibson, a technology journalist in Arlington who uses Bell Atlantic's DSL to connect to his Internet provider, Silver Spring-based Atlantech Inc.

Customer gripes start with service outages, which appear to come and go unpredictably: Connectivity collapses repeatedly for some users, but others log on without a hitch.

Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Joan Rasmussen said that overall DSL uptime is at 99.5 percent--meaning the network is down "something like 3 1/2 hours a month," which she noted is short of the company's goal of the same reliability as voice phone service. But she added that some outages are the fault of software bugs that afflict only certain users--meaning those people will experience worse performance than the overall number suggests.

Rasmussen was unable to provide a log of outages in the Washington area. After looking at one Capitol Hill resident's records, she did, however, confirm that DSL was out of service in that customer's area on Aug. 16, Nov. 2, Jan. 26 and Feb. 15, while a "fiber cut" interrupted access for both DSL and dial-up customers (as well as those of other Internet providers) on March 4.

Other customers reported widely varying performance. "Sometimes a major router blows and affects a broad area. Sometimes it's just a user or two, most commonly when there's a problem with the equipment serving the last mile. This causes the user to 'lose synch' with the central office (CO), and may affect that user only," wrote Shawn Winnie, a customer in the District. He cited two-day outages in December and February, as well as a day-long loss of service in January.

S.K. Ahn, a customer in Arlington, said he has encountered only brief interruptions after going through a rough stretch last fall. "There are still intermittent outages lasting anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes," he wrote.

But Kenneth Bass, another Bell customer in Arlington, said things were fine. "We had an additional short outage during one of the snowstorms . . . but otherwise have been running smoothly since then," he wrote. "BA did give us some credits for the period of outages, and they did try to be responsive on a couple of occasions when we complained bitterly about the whole process."

Another Bell Atlantic user in the District, who asked not to be identified further, also gave the service a thumbs-up. "Occasionally the system will be very slow, but that is only once every month or two for a short duration, maybe half a day at most," he wrote. "In general, we've been very happy for the last several months."

Meanwhile, the comp.dcom.xdsl newsgroup--one of the most popular forums for talking about DSL--has been buzzing with complaints about Bell Atlantic outages in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Queens, N.Y., that last for days or even weeks.

But the anger over service outages is just a murmur compared with the screaming about technical support.

"BA's tech support has been the most aggravating I've ever seen," said Winnie. He summarized his experience: "After convincing a Level 1 tech that a problem exists, get put in the queue to wait for a Level 2 tech. The Level 1 tech may offer a nine-digit 'trouble ticket' number. This system allows the next technician to claim that there is no such number in their system and ask the same questions again. Then either (a) wait for an hour or so, or (b) wait for an hour or so and get disconnected."

He slammed Bell Atlantic for not offering alternatives to the phone line, saying that e-mail queries go unanswered and that the company is "stupid" for not setting up a newsgroup where it could post announcements and customers could share tips.

Gibson reported an experience much like Winnie's: "I called them Saturday morning at 8 a.m. EST. I waited on hold for about an hour to get to tier 1." After being quizzed on the state of his equipment, he was sent up to the next level of tech support: "So finally they bump me up to tier 2, and I'm on hold for an hour, and all of a sudden . . . click, I'm gone."

"Tech support is abysmal. Individuals there are poorly trained and obviously overworked," said Greg Close, a software consultant in Arlington. "They promised to call me back half a dozen times and never did. I had to give the same information over and over about my system configuration each time I called."

Rasmussen couldn't give the average hold time--a standard metric for customer-service quality--but said: "We're aware that customers have . . . been on hold for longer than we would like. We're working to improve that situation."

Those promises aren't good enough to people with Bell Atlantic's Muzak echoing into their heads after hours on hold. Gibson put it succinctly:

"I realize that my $40 does not pay for that much technical support. But how much should it? Tell me! How come I get service twice as good as this on my electric bill or my regular phone line? Why should I get any less?"

My advice: Think hard before signing up with Bell Atlantic's DSL. It's not that the company is evil; its cell-phone service, for instance, has many happy customers (me included). But its DSL division just seems swamped. And you have a choice: You can take your business to competitors such as Covad (, Rhythms ( and Northpoint (

If, however, you are a Bell Atlantic DSL customer, I hope your connection does stay up--and that you have a speakerphone handy if you do need to call tech support.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at

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