Fast high-speed access for NYC internet professionals

I’m home watching a sick kid and waiting for Time Warner Cable to come make a third attempt to install a cable modem. If you’re good at math, that means Time Warner Cable, the market leader in my city, has twice failed to install the correct cable modem in my home.

Because the web never sleeps, even web professionals who work in an office need reliable high-speed access when they are at home. Speakeasy provided that service via DSL in our old apartment (our previous DSL provider having been wiped out, literally, on September 11, 2001), but, as documented in old posts on this site, it took two months of comedic mishap for Speakeasy to get our home DSL working. And after Best Buy bought Speakeasy, it became harder and harder to contact the company’s technical support people to resolve service problems—of which there were more and more. By the time we moved out of our old apartment in December, 2007, frequent gapping and blackouts made our 6Mb Speakeasy DSL service more frustrating than pleasant to use.

The monopoly wins the bid

So when we moved to the new apartment, we decided to immediately install cable modem access as a baseline, and then secure reliable DSL access for redundancy. Time Warner Cable had set up a deal with our new building, and no cable competitor was available to service our location (you read that right), so the Time Warner got the gig. They came quickly and the system worked immediately. The digital HD cable fails once a week, probably due to excessive line splitting, but that’s another story, and we don’t watch much TV, so it doesn’t bug us, and it isn’t germane here.

Unwilling to repeat the failures and miscommunications that marked our Speakeasy DSL installation, I went ahead and had Time Warner Cable set up the wireless network. It costs extra every month, and Time Warner’s combination modem/wireless/Ethernet hub isn’t as good as the Apple Airport devices I own, but it makes more sense to pay for a system that’s guaranteed to work than to waste billable hours debugging a network.

Due to the thickness of our walls, the wireless network never reached our bedroom, but otherwise everything was hunky-dory. Within a few days of moving in, we had reliable, wireless, high-speed internet access. Until Time Warner told us otherwise.

The notice

Last spring we received a form letter from Time Warner stating that they’d installed the wrong modem, and that we were not getting the service we’d paid for. Apparently this was true for all customers who chose the service. Some of our money was refunded, and we were advised to schedule a service appointment or come to the 23rd Street office for a free replacement modem.

I went to the 23rd Street office, took a number, and within about fifteen minutes I was sitting in front of a representative. I showed him the form letter and requested the new modem.

He asked me for my old modem.

I said I hadn’t brought it, and pointed out that I hadn’t been instructed to bring it.

We both reread the form letter.

“It’s implied,” the rep said.

“Implied?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “If we’re going to give you a new modem, of course we’ll want your old modem.”

I guess it was implied. But it wasn’t stated. And when you charge an installation fee, a hardware fee, and a monthly service fee, and then give people the wrong modem, you probably shouldn’t rely on inference in your customer support copy. To avoid compounding your customer’s frustration, you should probably be absolutely explicit.

I didn’t say these things to the rep, because he didn’t write or approve the copy or send the wrong modem to all those homes. I left empty-handed and continued to use the modem we had. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. Whatever the poorly written form letter had to say about it, as a customer, I didn’t have a problem with the modem.

A visit from a professional

As summer ended, Time Warner Cable sent me a new form letter. This time I was told, rather darkly, that if I failed to replace my modem, I definitely would not get the service I was paying for. Indeed, my service level would somehow be lowered, although it appeared that I would continue being billed a premium price.

So I called Time Warner, arranged a service visit, and spent the day working at home.

Around the middle of the service window, a Time Warner Cable authorized technician showed up with a regular DSL modem (not a wireless modem).

“You have wireless?” he asked in amazement.

“Yes,” I said. “Doesn’t it say that on your service ticket?”

“Hey, I’m just a consultant. I don’t work for Time Warner Cable,” he helpfully informed me.

“So are you going to get a wireless router from your truck?” I offered after a pause.

“I don’t have those,” he said.

We looked at each other for a while, and then he said, “Besides, you don’t need to replace your modem. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Come again?”

“There’s nothing wrong with your modem. You don’t need to replace it,” he said.

Then he called someone to inform them that he hadn’t swapped modems.

Then he asked me to sign a form.

“What am I signing?” I asked. “That you didn’t do anything?” I said it more politely than it reads.

“You’re signing that I was here,” he said. So I did.

That evening, as I was bathing my daughter, Time Warner Cable called to ask if I was satisfied with the experience.

I said frankly I was confused why I’d had to stay home all afternoon for a service visit on a modem that didn’t need to be replaced.

The nice lady said she would talk to her supervisor and run some tests.

I was on hold about five minutes, during which my daughter found various ways of getting water out of the tub and onto me.

The nice lady came back on and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we just ran tests, and you do have the wrong modem. We’ll need to send someone out.”

So here I am, two weeks later, waiting for a technician to come try again. Will this one bring the right hardware? The suspense is awesome.

Although New York is a leading creator of websites and digital content, the town’s home and office internet connectivity lag behind that of practically every other U.S. city. Two factors account for it:

  1. An aging infrastructure. It’s hard to deliver best internet services over a billion miles of fraying, overstretched, jerry-rigged copper line.
  2. Monopoly. How hard would you try if you had no real competitors?

In future installments, I’ll discuss our adventures securing high-speed access to our studios at Happy Cog New York, and discuss the pros and cons of Verizon home DSL.

[Update: Don’t miss the denoument.]

[tags]timewarner, timewarnercable, speakeasy, Verizon, DSL, cablemodem, internet, access, highspeed, high-speed, roadrunner, turbo[/tags]