I was so naive. Like a swing voter, I got sucked in by negative TV ads. When I moved to San Francisco in April, Pacific Bell was all over the airwaves with a spot that spoofed life in a cable-modem world, where neighbors have to share Internet bandwidth and end up fighting one another during prime time because their service has slowed to a crawl. This, the ad said, is why you should instead get the superfast phone technology DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). For $40 or more a month, it's supposed to let you surf at around 30 times the speed of a 56K modem and talk on the phone at the same time.
But five months and 22 days after I placed my order with Pac Bell, I had yet to experience the joys of DSL. My first six months in California were a haze of unrequited relationships with customer-service reps. Suffering long hours of Muzak attacks, I'd stay sane by doodling lists of alternative acronyms for the service. Destination Soulless Limbo. Definitely Something Lost. Do Stop Lagging!
Or I would hang up and log on to dslreports.com a website where consumers rate Baby Bells and other DSL providers. This was useful in the same way that going to a refugee camp makes you worry less about mortgage payments. There are a lot of people freaking out on bad DSL trips right now. I can be thankful I haven't had my phone service knocked out, or lost days of work waiting for the technician to show up, or paid a premium for service that ended up being slower than 56K.
According to these reports, smaller providers like EarthLink and Telocity have better customer service than the Baby Bells. But this is a smoke screen. Almost all residential DSL companies in the U.S. rely on their local phone companies to build the equipment that turns an ordinary phone line into a DSL dynamo. None of them can get you up and running any faster, which is why I've been sticking it out with Pac Bell all this time. If I canceled my order and went to a competitor, I'd effectively be starting over in the same queue.
It took Pac Bell a month to dispatch a technician to my house to install the necessary modem and software. It also mailed me three extra modems, presumably in case the first one failed. My real problem was with the circuit they were building at the other end, for which four promised deadlines came and went.
I discovered I was waiting for something called a D-SLAM that allows voice and data on the same line. Two weeks ago, a rep sheepishly admitted Pac Bell did not have enough D-SLAMS to meet demand. Then why, I fumed, were they still running TV spots telling people to sign up? "Because our competitors haven't stopped advertising yet," she said.
This is a Dumbfoundingly Silly Line to take, sparking an arms race of broken promises. If companies Don't Stop Lauding themselves, a young technology's teething troubles could lead to costly Default of Service Litigation.
To be fair to Pac Bell, they finally delivered. On Friday, the day this column went to press, there was a last-minute flurry of activity and suddenly I was up and surfing. Bliss! But I had to wonder if users who don't mention they're writing an article get the same treatment. Doesn't Seem Likely.