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Surfing Silicon Valley

Sitting on hold


By San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg Lefevre

April 26, 1999
Web posted at: 2:53 p.m. EDT (1853 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The big tech support lie: "Your call is important to us."

"Good afternoon," I intoned politely, "It's good to speak to a live person. I've been waiting for more than an hour."

"Oh, no, " She snapped back, "My screen says you've only been waiting 18 minutes."

"Oh, that's only since the last automated message told me to push more buttons."

"Please hold."

"Your call is important to us..."

Half another hour later, I'd heard all the music PacBell had on its hold cassette and hung up.

I thought that getting an ISDN line in my home would end my Web surfing problems forever.

Wrong, modem breath.

ISDN is like potato salad at a picnic. When it's good, it's great. When it's gone bad, it's hours of agony.

Some months back I wrote about the frustrations of being stuck behind the 28.8-ball. PacBell, known in these parts for terrifically reliable telephone service, offered DSL service. But not for my home. It's too far from the main office.

How about ISDN? Sure. I had no choice. Despite the purchase of two 56k modems, my line never got up to or near 56. Usually it was 28.8, sometimes less. Not good enough given the recent bloating in Web file sizes.

Day one: The installer. On time. Efficient. Friendly. Instructive. The line worked. Not the first time but on the second try. I was hopeful.

Day four: Like the others except that from time to time the first dial-in failed.

This week: It takes a dozen tries to dial in. No answer. Line dead. The agonizingly familiar "error" beep and the message: "You've screwed up dummy. Fix your computer and do it right next time, or I'll shut down for good." Or something like that.

I am reminded of the lead editorial in this month's MacHome: Don't buy extended warranties. You can't get the company to honor them anyway. I tried PacBell's help lines.

First call went to a number marked PacBell ISDN help line. An operator answered immediately. I knew right away why I got a live person. Her job was to tell me I dialed the wrong number and should have called another. "But it says here.... Transferring.."

Ringggg. Ringggg. "Your call is important to us." I knew I was in trouble. "If you're an ISDN customer, press...."

"All our agents are busy. But your call is important to us..."

While waiting, I reinstalled the software. Checked and rechecked the cables. Read and followed the entire Troubleshooting Appendix. No fix.

"We appreciate [and, I'll bet, laugh at] your patience. Your call is important to us..."

If my call was important, PacBell would have enough folks on line to take it.

At least five times that afternoon, I was instructed to "pick from the following options." More ringing. Further assurance of my importance and more dull music.

Day five: The line works fine. Zoom. Surf, surf. Zoom.

Day six: Dead. Doornail city.

If you're looking for an ending, so am I.

Some other numbers

10 Million -- The number of downloads from Apple's Web site of the trailer for "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace."

30 megabytes -- The size of the download file.

Zero -- The other things you'll be able to do with your computer while it chokes down this file.

12 percent -- Apple's marketshare according to IDC, evenly split between the monster sales of the iMac and the new-blue G3 tower.

Surf on....

IBM comes out on top in customer service
March 22, 1999
AT&T struggles to keep WorldNet customers happy
March 9, 1999
Online stores not meeting customer needs
March 1, 1999
ADSL for gamers
January 8, 1999

Pacific Bell Network
Apple Computer
What Is ISDN?
Cain's Pipeline 75 Setup Page (step by step guide for a dial-up ISDN connection)
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