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]

Housing Works launch

We call ourselves web designers, but sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes we get to participate, in however small a way, in something much larger and more important than ourselves.

Started in 1990 by four members of ACT UP, Housing Works helps people who are homeless and have HIV or AIDS. Housing Works not only saves lives, it restores dignity, purpose, and hope to those whom society has cast aside. Happy Cog is honored and humbled to have worked with this amazing organization and to announce the relaunch of the Housing Works website, redesigned by Happy Cog.

Our thanks to Housing Works’s Christopher Sealey and his team—we bow endlessly in your direction, sir. And my thanks and commendation to the amazing people at Happy Cog who did the work:

[tags]Housing Works, AIDS, HIV, homeless, homelessness, advocacy, hope, happycog, work[/tags]

Running woman and madman

Two incidents mark my morning walk to work.

i.

On Second Avenue, a long-legged woman in a short black skirt dashes past, late to an unknown appointment, her movements fluid and beautiful.

With every step, her skirt bounces, flashing legs at the avenue. Her left hand hangs at her hip, trying to keep the skirt down. But she fails at this, and the attempt only makes the male viewer more aware of the rhythmic, teasing visual.

The whole thing is unconscious. It has the visual semantics, but not the intention, of cheesecake. She is simply late, happens to be beautiful, and isn’t dressed like an Anabaptist. Nevertheless, her passage fractures the Matrix.

Even businessmen who dress like they never so much as take a breath without running a spreadsheet first can’t help turning back to get a second look.

She runs fast and is out of sight in minutes, leaving a trail of pheromones in her wake.

I want to thank her, but I would never catch up, and running after her is probably a bad idea.

ii.

Minutes later, approaching Lexington Avenue, I see a mentally ill man hurling racial epithets at the street.

“Fuck you motherfucking niggers,” he shouts.

Did I mention this part? He is black.

In his hand is a beer that a clerk at a nearby convenience store apparently thought was an okay thing to sell him.

He screws up his face into a horror mask and screams nonsense syllables as I pass him.

On the corner with several other people, waiting for the light to change, I feel him sneak up on us, and a moment later he defeats his own sneaking by shouting again.

“Don’t GIVE a fuck!”

A large plastic milk carton sits abandoned on the sidewalk. He grabs it and flings it into the street, just missing us corner-bound pedestrians. The milk carton touches down in a busy lane of traffic. Speeding cars begin changing lanes to avoid smashing into it.

Damn it, I think.

I think this because I know I’m going to get tangentially involved, and past experiences with mentally ill street people have not gone well. There was the guy in DC harassing women on the train. I interceded and he messed with me. DC yuppies, watching the whole thing, moved away rather than help. Then there was the guy— Well, anyway, enough.

I walk into the oncoming traffic, pick up the milk crate, take it back to the sidewalk, and push it down directly in front of the raging drunken mentally ill homeless man.

I look at him, he looks at me.

I don’t know whether my eyes are communicating toughness, compassion, or a kind of inattention—as if, by not focusing on him, he might not focus on me. I have no strategy. I’m moving on instinct and my plan is to disengage.

Whatever happened between us passes. I turn back to the street, the light changes in my favor, I move quickly into the intersection.

Behind me, he throws an abandoned filthy bath rug into the street.

I let him win that one.

[tags]cities, NYC, New York City, urban, living, urban living, street, life, streetlife, myglamorouslife, glamour, zeldman[/tags]