I’m on one of the oldest DSL installations in New York City—you should see the copper in my closet. It is also one of slowest DSL connections still in active use in the world, I believe. Maximum throughput never exceeds 32 KB/second.

The syrup-slow pace keeps me honest as a web designer: if our page weights cause pain, I feel it and we fix it. Still, when every YouTube video stutters, and every preview times out, maybe it’s time for a speed boost.

After An Event Apart Boston, I ordered a DSL speed upgrade. I should have harpooned myself repeatedly in the thigh. It would have hurt less and been quicker.

No matter who you choose for an ISP (I use the Mac-friendly company Speakeasy), upgrading DSL service in New York City almost certainly means working with Covad and Verizon. Those two companies installed my original DSL network back in the go-go, dot-com 90s, and it was up to them to flip the switches once again.

It’s been an amusing two weeks of reboots and service calls—of voice mail that never hangs up, and an internet connection that never connects. For your pleasure, I will share two conversations that actually took place:

The phone call

Two weeks in, the DSL technician from Verizon phones me.

He asks what the problem is.

I say, doesn’t he know what the problem is?

He says nobody tells him anything. This turns out to be true.

He doesn’t know I’m a Verizon customer.

He doesn’t know Verizon works with Covad and Speakeasy to provide DSL.

I ask if he is the guy in charge of DSL for Verizon and he says yes.

He asks what the problem is.

I explain that the modem isn’t getting an IP address, and there is no internet connection—not even when you manually enter all the IP data.

He says, “So you have a synch problem.”

I say, because he seems to want this, “Yes. I have a synch problem.”

He says he’ll be right over.

This really happened

Using my phone, the Verizon technician calls Covad to initiate tests. The Covad operator tells the Verizon technician to hang up at once.

“No wonder he doesn’t have the internet if you’re using his phone,” the Covad operator says.

“What are you talking about? That’s a feature of DSL, that you have an internet connection even when you’re on the phone,” the Verizon technician explains to the Covad operator.

This conversation really happens. I’m right there.


Adam Greenfield has famously said, “The age of ubiquitous computing is here: a computing without computers, where information processing has diffused into everyday life, and virtually disappeared from view.”

I believe him. But meantime, I need to use computers and phone lines.

During the blackout of 2003, when there was no electricity in the northeast, and no water in New York City apartment buildings above the sixth floor, Adam Greenfield less famously told me, “Infrastructure’s a bitch.”

Adam Greenfield is right.

30 thoughts on “Noware

  1. It’s my past experience with DSL monkeys too that keeps me from opting for that service. I pay a much higher premium for cable—and I loathe the Comcast monopoly, and it’s even more bandwidth than I need—but I just can’t step into the mucky muck that is DSL setup ever again.

    I’d love it when we get internet service over powerlines. We should see some competition pick up then (in my Utopian mind anyway).

  2. I’ve been a Comcast customer ever since Comcast started selling broadband back in the mid-90s. I know it’s more expensive than DSL, but the only time I ever had installation or outage problems was back in the days of yore when they were still figuring out if this mass market broadband thing was going to fly. Short of a power failure, I haven’t had any issues in years, literally.

  3. I’ve also been with Comcast for years and have had almost no problems. Yes, it costs more, but my wife and I both work from home and use it heavily, so it’s worth it.

    I’ve assisted friends and relatives with their DSL installations (from various companies) over the years, and it has never been pleasant, and has always taken far longer than it should have.

    Of course, depending on where you live, you may not have a choice.

  4. I have the opposite problem. Have 2 houses next door to one another. One on cable (roadrunner), one on DSL (was SBC now ATT). Unfortunately we were early cable adopters and our cable service is erratic. Old cabling may be cause, don’t know. Many times in one online session, I get roadrunnered – splat, no connection. OTOH, my DSL next door has kept on cooking along….

  5. at some point, I wanted to get rid of my cable company, and start using DSL… the silly little DSL provider in my town forces you to have a land line in order to get DSL…

    What is a land line??? =)

  6. Like Jonathan and Dave, I have had Comcast cable broadband for about four years and I must say there’s no looking back for me. It has consistently been $42.95 per month and I’ve been down only twice. Five minutes the first time, ten minutes the second. The speed is amazing, the quality great, the reliability superb. I really couldn’t be more pleased with it.

  7. A friend in South Korea moving this week. (Phone call two days before, on Thursday)

    friend: I’m moving this week-end on Saturday.
    company: ok. We will cut your internet connection at 10am Saturday and reopen it at the new location at noon Saturday.
    friend: Thanks.

    Internet access in Korea

  8. I’ve used Comcast as long as I’ve broadband as well, and I can’t really complain. It’s fast, on 99+% of the time and is pretty consistent. There’s no mac vs. pc concerns…I use none of the Comcast software and hook my own Linksys cable modem into a Linksys router and then an Airport Express.

    I’ve had Comcast Workplace as well. A bit more hassle to set up, as you buy a more extensive package and the installation contractor doesn’t necessarily know how that works, but still pretty failsafe.

  9. Old wire is the biggest enemy of all internet connections in my experiences. My new FIOS (Northern VA) is so freaking fast I have to take care and test sites on slower connections. I recommend it to anyone who can get it.

  10. Being a Telia customer in Sweden for many years now, I’ve only once had issues, when there was a hardware failure in one of their stations, which got fixed in a few hours. Called support about 10 minutes after the connection went down and they told me right away where the problem was and what had probably happened. Called about every 40 minutes to check how they were doing and every time they were pleasant and helpful. When my dad upgraded the connection from 512kBps to 8mBps he just had to confirm the order on the phone and it was done. And always pleasant and helpful. Probably one of the best providers in the world, extremely reliable!

  11. Why can’t we all have internet access like South Korea!
    (I know why, just had the need to vent.)

  12. Dear Mr. Zeldman,

    I come from an Eastern European country which has experienced war at the end of the 20th century. I know what it feels like to run into the basement because of aerial bombardments and what it means to wait for bread under sniper fire. Maybe that’s the reason why I find your posts about hearing police sirens in NYC frightening while your dog is sleeping annoying.

    Yet, I bought the first edition of your Web standards book (at a very high price, where I live in) and implemented it in my work. It has paid off, and sometimes, it was a stumbling stone because of managers and marketing (I can bet that the same line of thinking you’re being confronted with even today). I love standards. I love the Web.

    Yet, as much as you brag about women being NOT included into Web design business, you NEVER EVER got out of the US frame. There was not a single post about problems web developers and designers are facing in the world outside the US. Everything is so much about content, solidarity and genuine content, yet all of that never gets out of US state borders.

    It is a closed world. And I will be completely honest with you: I resent that. I follow your “web-standards evangelism”, yet I am excluded from it, like millions out there are, who don’t happen to own an US passport.

    I don’t own a credit card, yet I WILL buy the expensive english-bookstore second edition of your book, although I downloaded a pirated version of it. Because I believe in everything that you have put in the making of this book.

    Your bragging about how it is the right thing to publish original content, not being the next Web 2.0 thing is comparable to me bragging about how there are not ANY persons whatsoever on your blog, flickr list etc. that are not outside the US. Sorry Jeff, I respect you VERY much, but I did NOT see any event apart in Europe recently. Picture this: “to gain a deeper understanding of web standards and emerging best practices. Be inspired by fresh ideas and new directions. Join the greatest minds and hottest talents in web design today.”

    Well, according to you, an Event Apart REALLY IS an Event Apart. It boils down to Web standards people who happen to have US citizenship. And the show goes around the US. Well if the Web is supposed to be accessible to everyone (as you tell in your book AND as I tell people around me, believing in a TRULY universal Web), it should include everyone. But it does NOT. Like EVERY Web 2.0 service against which you wrote, against every proprietary browser-rendering technology you wrote, the Web should be accessioble to everyone. Yet every single thing that you write about includes the topics that revolve EXCLUSIVELY around US firms, US Web authors, US conferences and so on.

    My point is: Why bother to talk about universality of the Web and promote Web standards if it is just a US thing? You can brag all you want about examples from here and there but the fact is that you are completely unaware of what is happening outside this “so heroic” US web-standards arena.

    I am sad. I am disappointed. Yet, I will buy your and a load of other books to learn from. And I won’t just download and print the pirated versions, although the prices for them here are inhuman, although I am excluded from the possiblity of paying with a credit card, although the discussion about these crucial Web subjects is going on, I won’t participate, because no one cares. All the references are geared toward the exclusively US “event apart” events etc.

    A 32 KB DSL connection is a problem??!? How about being on a standard modem connection and pushing Web standards in spite of being rejected by a lot of firms who pay well, here, in the non-US?

    Dear mr. Zeldman, I respect you, and I thank you for sharing the knowledge, but my disappointment has surpassed my enthusiasm. Pushing out Web standards in a poor, counter-personnel mined country while paying outrageous sums to learn about standards, in spite of being able to download pirated versions (at slower and FAR more costly speeds than your oh-so-poor-me post brags about), but sticking to morale sucks royally.

    I will buy your 2nd edition book. But. I will never EVER read your blog again. Or look up if there are some new books by you. I am so bitter. Please don’t write about your fears in NYC while hearing sirens anymore. There are a lot of us who take for granted much more worse than that, and we don’t even brag about DSL connections and such. I would give my right arm to have a connection like yours, so much clients unaware about Web standards etc etc.

    Be decent, at least. PLEASE. There in fact IS a world outside your US sphere. Yes, really, there is.

    And no, I do NOT hate you, your country or anything for that matter. I just wish to point out that you are no better than people about whom you think that they care about money only and not web standards, quality content etc. You don’t care about any of that outside your narrow life circle anyway.

    Sirens, NYC, oh, cruel world.

    Flattened houses, minefields, web standards, oh cruel world.

    Farewell, Mr. Zeldman.

  13. Ouch! That’s painful. Over here in the UK on BT, they generally seem well skilled and problems have always been resolved quickly. You’re almost putting me off moving to New York… :p

    Nice post though!

  14. I HATE verizon and covad. I was so ripped off by them in NYC and they never got it right. Those guys came to my house so many times, but never the same person twice. Verizon can eat an egg.

  15. @Angry outworlder:

    Thank you for sharing your feelings here. I sometimes write about experiences in New York City because this is where I live. I don’t write about experiences in your city because I don’t live there. If you want more people to know what’s going on where you live, write about it on your website. I’d look forward to reading it.

    As for the subject of my post, I wasn’t complaining about having slow access, I was marveling at the paradox that technology is beholden to infrastructure. I was also pointing out that competency declines when companies enjoy near-monopolies over a given technology or category. (Not that that’s news, and not that it’s limited to companies. When governments exert undue control, they too develop tragicomic incompetence.)

    Although you assume the contrary, I have friends and colleagues all over the world. A List Apart has an international readership and publishes authors from around the globe. An Event Apart’s attendees come from all over; not all our speakers are American, although most are, because our events have so far been held in this country.

    It sounds like you live in a dangerous place. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your neighbors. I wish you safety, health, peace, and prosperity.

  16. I switched from Earthlink DSL to Comcast mostly to get superior speed, but there be dragons down that path, too. In an old Atlanta neighborhood with old cable infrastructure, outages or mystery slowdowns come and go (when it works, it’s great). But the real problem, with both providers…probably with all providers is a customer service approach that assumes the problem is in your house, at your end. Time and again, I have to explain that they need to check and/or restart routers and stuff upstream from me…things here at the house are just fine. I want to be able to say “I’m reporting a problem at your end, not asking for help. They’re just not set up to deal with that: “What operating system are you using, sir?” My reply is a Charlie Brown-esque choked scream.

  17. beautiful reply to Angry Outsider

    I hesitate saying it out loud but I’ve had pretty good luck with Time Warner Road Runner for the last few years on the upper West side.

  18. I’ve been round and round with Cable companies. When I lived in Chicago, Comcast was my company. I decided we’d switch to Comcast for internet and phone, to keep the bill together and the horror began. Keep in mind, for the most part, I’ve never had problems with my cable before then. To make a long story short, one week and the entire time without internet service working, I switched to RSN…..then comes the phone outage that lasted more than two weeks.

    Then I move to Ohio..and Time Warner….internet is working…phone is not….

    What gets me the most is that the customer service reps never have a clue, and on several occasions I’ve experienced, lie to me. I was owed a refund from Comcast, and after speaking with several people, asking WHERE my refund was, I finally asked to speak with a manager. My only request was that they email me with a statement that explained how much my refund was and when the refund would be coming. Apparently, they can’t do that…

    So I can sum it up like this: big companies do not like to be held accountable and customer service reps aren’t trained well enough to know what you’re talking about. Is your internet service down? Here, let me do something that I’ve been taught works….why? oh….I don’t know….it’s worked before. When will your service be back up? “We’re working on the problem” and “No, we can’t give you an ETA on that”

  19. When I was still living in Buffalo I was one of the first people in my section of town to get DSL from Verizon when they first started offering it. They *completely* oversold what they could properly handle (installation-wise) and besides waiting a good month or so for the connection to show up, they had horrible, *horrible* customer service. I always tell the story of how I once called Verizon customer service because my network was down, or like you, was having a *syncing* problem. At one point, the customer service person actually instructed me to disconnect my network cable from my computer and modem and then reconnect the end, but this time in the opposite direction becuase “sometimes the bits of data get stuck”.

    They actually said this!

  20. I feel your pain. Not only did I get DSL from Verizon back in the go-go 90s, I was one of the brave few who got ISDN. That was 2 months of my life I will never get back.

  21. ha ha ! DSL crises, its a global problem, i have tried every thing, scream, shout embarrass the customer services, bribed them, threatened them but there is no solution to it ! they all suck and there is nothing we can do !

  22. Not only did I get DSL from Verizon back in the go-go 90s, I was one of the brave few who got ISDN. That was 2 months of my life I will never get back.

    Ouch! You said ISDN.

    “sometimes the bits of data get stuck”

    Technology marches on.

  23. I have Verizon DSL, too. I won’t get into how much it blows, but i will save you a service call by telling you that if you switch your hardware (new router, modem, etc.) you will suddenly not be able to connect. This is because Verizon maintains a 6 hour lease on that device you just replaced, and will not connect to any other device during that time. I had to call 4 different people before one of them told me this as an aside (perhpas it is policy to not release this information.) She said to wait a couple of hours and it would work again. I did, and it did.

    That being said, I have noticed a dramatic slowdown of my DSL recently which I have had since 2000. My guess is they are trying to smoke me out so I’ll upgrade to their High Speed or Roadrunner, or whatever it is. Well I, like you, feel the need to remain honest as a web professional, so I refuse to give in.

  24. So I want to get away from dialup here in Portland, OR. I phone QWest for DSL because I see their ads for super deals. Well, it turns out I can get 5-7mbps for almost nothing. Then, all of a sudden, they say I have to pay $10 for internet(what? DSL isn’t internet? . . .no, it’s just the speed, they say). Then I say, what are your POP and SMTP sever IP’s? They say, oh we don’t have those, you have to get a business hookup for $100 a month (thank god for gmail’s POP servers). Then I say, I want the deal for the lifetime that is $27.99 and they say: oh, you have to buy the package of 3 (phone, tv, DSL) and you have to use Microsoft for your ISP. It just goes and goes. They use semantics to change what everyone thinks the internet it and they parse it out to get more money. Plus, I have never gotten over 1.5mbps downloads even though I’m paying for 5-7mbps. I know Comcast is more expensive, but I’m heading there. Idiots at Qwest can’t even speak English. So I’m trying to use Hamachi and RAdmin to login remotely and the browser is choking when I try to connect to the modem to configure it. 2 hours of “dialogue” later where I had a Qwest cowboy trying to hook up my computer using the USB port, disabling all my extra software, on and on, I find out that my BitDefender spyware detector was keeping my browser from connecting to the modem. They should have known this for all the money they make and the size of their operation.

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