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Telco Hell and DSL Cluelessness

By Kartoffel in Op-Ed
Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 02:13:19 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

Last week the telco nuked their DSL routers all across Texas by making untested configuration changes. After 12 hours of outage, they had claimed they had "fixed" the problem. In reality, they had only reconnected lines that went to Southwestern Bell's ISP.

Disclaimer: This is a rant. What you read is true. The saga has not ended. Today marks my 1-week anniversary of being disconnected.

First, some background information. Last May I joined the Houston Area League of PC users, HAL-PC. It's a large (10,000 dialup users, 1000 DSL subscribers) volunteer-run organization that runs a solid ISP. Joining HAL meant leaving Southwestern Bell's ISP. SWBell's service was incredibly shitty. They deny they have problems, they hide behind untrained phone-answering lusers, and they slam users with extra charges any chance they get. There is a class action lawsuit pending againt SWBell's parent monopoly, SBC communications.

So anyway, I had escaped from the hell of SBC and Bell for 7 happy months and all was well. My DSL line ran down the street to SBC's DSLAM, and then over an ATM network to HAL.

Last week SBC did something (they won't admit what it was) that brought down DSLAMs all across town. 12 hours later they claimed it was fixed, but I was still disconnected. The line could sync, but there was no DHCP server on the other end. I alternatively sat on hold and explained the problem to untrained fools for 4 hours. Then I contacted some folks at my ISP to warn them of the trouble.

I then called an unlisted number at SBC-ASI and pretended to be a technician, expaining the outage to a friendly person who identified himself as Jason. We determined that when the DSLAM went down, it had lost all its routing information. He said he'd restore the right ATM route (circuit ID and VPIVCI) and I'd be back in business right away.

I returned home that afternoon to find that my router had grabbed an IP address for the first time in 3 days. "Woohoo, time to catch up on my news", I thought, as I fired up slrn. *blarg* "Waitaminute--I can't connect to my newswerver! WTF?! This IP they gave me isn't even part of my ISP's address space! Jeezus H, I can't even read my email."

Jason had restored my old ATM route to Southwestern Bell.

Several horror scenarios immediatley came to mind:

  • WTF happened to my route to HAL-PC, my regular ISP? Is SBC/Bell trying to bully independent ISPs out of the market by switching independent customers to Bell...against their will?
  • What if SWBell tries to bill me for "reconnection of service" or some such bullshit?

Last Friday I called the same unlisted number at SBC-ASI and explained the bad ATM route, and that they needed to route my line to hal-pc.org, not swbell.net. The droid on the phone said it was my ISP's problem and that HAL would have to get SBC to make the change.

Me: "Excuse me ma'am, I am HAL. The correct circuit ID is x.xx and the VPIVCI should be _______"

Them: "*IDIOT MODE ON*We have no record of your phone line ever being connected to hal-pc.org. Our records show your connection is functioning properly and connected to Southwestern Bell."

Me: "No, I quit SWBell last May. Please fix my route."

Them: "You'll have to get your new ISP... um, HAL you said? You have to get them to ask us to make the changes."

Me: "I just did ask you to make the changes."

That totally sucked. I called up my ISP's official DSL guy and explained the situation. He made some calls and figured out that SBC/SWBell must have lost their records of my switch from SWBell to HAL last May. SWBell was going through some kind of internal reorganization at the time.

HAL-PC's DSL guy then reproduced his own copies of my change from SWBell to HAL and forwarded all those emails to SWBell and SBC (including Bell's fuckups getting my line hooked up that time, too). He sent all that info to SBC last friday.

It is now Tuesday (1 week since the outage began) and I still don't have the right route.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


My local telco is
o poorly run 4%
o a monopoly 31%
o going to be first up against the wall when the revolution comes 40%
o hanging on by the skin of their teeth 6%
o an unstoppable behemoth 8%
o my name is Edward Whitacre, Jr. 8%

Votes: 45
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Southweste rn Bell's
o lawsuit
o Also by Kartoffel

Display: Sort:
Telco Hell and DSL Cluelessness | 30 comments (22 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
ummmmmm (3.20 / 5) (#1)
by jbridge21 on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:44:13 AM EST

There's no "vote" button on the poll. Rusty?

whoops (3.50 / 2) (#2)
by jbridge21 on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:45:27 AM EST

It shows up now. Weird. It wasn't there a second ago, I swear.

[ Parent ]
Same here. (3.50 / 2) (#8)
by spaceghoti on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:57:14 AM EST

The vote button for the poll didn't show up after I voted for the article.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
right (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by jbridge21 on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 11:02:02 AM EST

That's exactly how it worked. No vote for poll until vote for article. Weird.

[ Parent ]
No, you were right (3.00 / 2) (#9)
by spiralx on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:57:40 AM EST

It showed 1 vote, but no button. It's happened a couple of times to me today...

You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

and (2.33 / 3) (#13)
by jbridge21 on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 11:02:31 AM EST

And that was my vote. Heh.

Has rusty been notified?

[ Parent ]
already at scoop (4.60 / 5) (#15)
by Defect on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 11:05:28 AM EST

I already posted a bug report at scoop earlier this morning as well as a workaround.

story at scoop
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
It seems... (2.66 / 3) (#14)
by Biff Cool on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 11:03:58 AM EST

that if I follow a link, from the moderation section at least, to the story it doesn't show up but when I click the story link in the comments header it comes back.

My ass. It's code, with pictures of fish attached. Get over it. --trhurler

[ Parent ]
SWB DSL service (4.00 / 3) (#5)
by bflame on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:48:31 AM EST

I also live in Texas and have DSL service from SW Bell. I first signed up with SW Bell DSL in April, and have had nothing but great service. When I ordered the line I was given an install date of April 7th. I received the DSL modem and filters about 3 weeks before my install date. I went ahead and hooked the DSL modem to the line and was connected about 10 days before my install date. Since my install date I have not had my DSL line go down for more than a few minutes with one exception that was not SW Bells fault. My neighbor across the alley managed to cut the line from the SW Bell box in the alley and my house. SW Bell had the line fixed the next morning.

At least they're improving (3.66 / 3) (#20)
by Kartoffel on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 12:04:35 PM EST

I first signed up with SW Bell DSL in April

August 1999 here. DSL is still the only low cost choice for broadband in my neighborhood. Time-Warner is bringing cable some time in 2001, but I'd rather stick with what I've got unless I move.

I received the DSL modem and filters about 3 weeks before my install date.

My installer arrived 3 days after the install date and brought the modem and filters with him. He got everything installed without any problems, though.

My complaints against SWBell are

  • approximately 2-3 hours of outage per week, usually during the wee hours Sunday night/Monday morning.
  • upstream bandwidth capped at 128K
  • downstream bandwidth heavily throttled for newsgroups and email
  • hopeless phone maze to contact their network techs when their routers go down
  • they don't let you access any POP or SMTP servers but their own
  • their DNS servers are frequently out of date

[ Parent ]
DSL from your local Telco (4.42 / 7) (#17)
by theboz on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 11:19:25 AM EST

DSL is a very unreliable thing according to my present employer, who is a similar company that I will not name. I have another ISP than the one I work for. I have to say that if swbell is anything like the company I work for, they are trying to improve DSL and are not trying to get you to switch by force. There is a saying about never attributing to malice what can be explained by stupidity or ignorance. It's very likely that they don't know what is going on and are just screwing things up for you, but not trying to get your money by nefarious means.

Part of the problem is that in essence you are going through swbell as well as your ISP. As much as it is a problem and may take longer, it is best to let the person that swbell has dealt with in the past to contact them. There may be a customer number or some information that swbell requires to do anything, and there is probably a seperate helpdesk (I don't know if that was your unlisted number) to call to report problems with the network. I would also think that 3 days of downtime, while a pain, is not as bad as it could be. I had a month of downtime once thanks to my phone company (who I now work for) screwing something up. In fact, it was when I was a dialup user and the phone line was barely usable for voice calls as well. Also, I had a problem when they somehow connected my line in someone else's house, who proceeded to make long distance phone calls and use my line while I was...of course we called the phone company together to complain. :o) Also, they sent me a phone card on their own whim, which was stolen from me and used to make about $800 worth of calls. Let's just say I don't like my employer/phone company/ISP very much...but all of these were made out of stupidity rather than greed.

Also, if you can get a cable modem (other than @home) I would look into that instead.


Mistake vs. Evilness (4.00 / 2) (#18)
by Kartoffel on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 11:44:58 AM EST

It's very likely that they don't know what is going on and are just screwing things up for you, but not trying to get your money by nefarious means.

Quite true. I have no doubt that the nice fellow who reprogrammed my ATM route had good intentions (btw, thanks Jason!). However, 5 days later they still haven't fixed the route. *shrug*.

If the telco continues to ignore reason, however, I will begin to suspect they're up to no good.

[ Parent ]

decisions, decisions (3.50 / 2) (#21)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 01:46:45 PM EST

My wife and I are currently trying to decide whether or not to purchase TimeWarner's RoadRunner service or go with the local Telco's DSL service. A big selling point for me is that with a DSL line I can use a third party ISP. In my case, one of the better ISPs in the Cincinnati area (www.isoc.net) has a DSL package that includes a backup dialup plan. If the DSL lines go down, I can still use my trusty 56k dialup.

After reading this story, DSL with a backup plan is looking better and better. Especially after doing some searches on Google to find some first-hand testimonies about Time/Warner's cable signal going down for four to six days at a time.

The funny part is that both Cincy Bell and Time/Warner claim that their networks are secure and that I don't need any further security measures. I just read on a mail list how one area RoadRunner subscriber found logs of being portscanned on his Linux box. Okay, I trust my cable guy to give me network security....

Those security claims are ridiculous. (3.66 / 3) (#22)
by theR on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 02:35:53 PM EST

My DSL ISP states clearly in their FAQ that the customer should take security in his own hands. This is true for all providers that I know of. Sure, they might try to help, but if you look at DSL providers' web pages, they should tell you that security is your responsibility. Most companies do not want to make security claims, because then who is responsible if your system gets hacked.

If you want to compare DSL services in your area, go to DSLReports. It's one of the best DSL resources on the internet.

[ Parent ]
A little more... (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by theR on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 02:45:35 PM EST

I meant to go into a little more detail. I'm not sure why I hit submit.

The other thing I was going to say about security is, if you have high speed access, you will get scanned. My logs have anywhere from one to ten entries every day, ranging from pings and traces (ICMP), to ssh and telnet, to netbios session attempts, to port 80 and I don't even leave my system up all the time. Also, a lot of scans will come from your ISP, and as far as I know, it's not for security checks. It's to make sure the customer isn't doing anything that is prohibited by the ISP. Most of the scans are probably not cracking attempts, but some of them surely are. Getting root on a system with a high speed connection is very enticing.

[ Parent ]
Re: decisions, decisions (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 04:27:47 PM EST

The funny part is that both Cincy Bell and Time/Warner claim that their networks are secure and that I don't need any further security measures.
Har de har har! It is to larff!

What the hell does that mean, "the network is secure"? Are they vouching that each and every customer of theirs is a paragon of virtue and will not try to break into your system?

I like the DSL with backup plan. Your phone line cannot go down and stay down because there are laws about that. People know that loss of a phone line could be life-threatening if there were to be an emergency, and the telcos know how to fix the phone. But computer networks.... they're clueless. Get DSL service from a third party so you don't have to deal with the local Baby Bell, and have the 56k modem as backup.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Cable vs. DSL (none / 0) (#29)
by lovelace on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 07:34:32 PM EST

My wife and I are currently trying to decide whether or not to purchase TimeWarner's RoadRunner service or go with the local Telco's DSL service.
I waited 2 years for my local telco (GTE at the time, now Verizon) to get me a DSL line. After waiting so long, when I finally heard they had actually increased my line distance instead of decreasing it I called Time Warner cable right away. It was either Monday or Tuesday and they said, how's Friday for installation? :-) Even when I explained to them that I didn't have a cable line to the house and that they would have to bury one they said it was still no problem. They actually didn't get the service to me until a week later, but still... I've been extremely happy with my service. I use a Netgear Cable/DSL router (I didn't have the time to setup a linux box) and everything works great. I have no idea what your experience in Cinci would be, but TW has worked very nice here in NC. While it would be nice to have a static IP and ISP choice, I'm just enjoying the fact that my wife and I aren't sharing a 56k modem line anymore.

[ Parent ]
High speed circuit madness (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by blixco on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 03:09:30 PM EST

You wanna know what's funny? The same things (stupid responses, moron techs, good techs with no power, simple one-line-of-IOS screwups, cut lines, power outages) are common all the way up. I know that for the three years I worked in Massachusetts, every high speed line was a nightmare to set up. The routers would take four seconds to set up, then the circuit would take four weeks to actually come up....usually halfway. My favorite fix from the high speed operator in Taunton: "I sent the field op to your building. The line had not been connected to the demarc." In other words, no one had plugged us in. This was after three weeks of them telling me my CSU/DSU's were faulty and my routers were dead and etc.

So now Joe Home User gets to deal with the same people and the same moron excuses when things go wrong. It'll be good, though, now that it's in consumer space....consumers make more noise than I can. Maybe things will change?

I doubt it, though. The last high speed circuit I set up was a dedicated T1 from Taunton to Worcester. Ever try and get digital service in worcester pre-1998? They had to *install and bury the freaking cable* for me to get there. They made the line that morning, and we were carrying protocol on it one week later....whereupon they billed the company involved for "phone line (PBX) installation (49.95)." Figure it should have been a couple of thousand bucks, so sometimes they make stupid mistakes in your favor....
The root of the problem has been isolated.
Baby Bell Hell (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 04:22:12 PM EST

Yup, out here in California, same sorts of problems with PacBell. When I was with them not only were there significant outages, but the customer service was beyond clueless.

"I'm a DSL customer, phone number xxx-xxxx, and there's no sync on the DSL modem."
"[Detailed instructions on how to set the IP number]..."
"Nothing's wrong with the computer; the DSL modem does not have sync."
"Reboot your PC."
"There's no fucking sync! Nothing's wrong with the computer!!!"
"Would you like to have your password reset?"

Sigh! I work for a telecom company that buys circuits from PacBell among others. It's the same when you're trying to get a T-3 hooked up - complete lack of a clue. We have dumped them and will never do business with them again.

I have switched to speakeasy and things have been fine. Service has been solid, and cust. service seems to not just know the technical side of things but also persons inside PacBell that get things fixed.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

What if... (none / 0) (#27)
by Phyrkrakr on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 06:22:22 PM EST

...you're telco is all of the first three? A poorly run monopoly that you hate?

Smith & Wesson: The Original Point and Click
Singin' the Houston DSL Blues (none / 0) (#28)
by shaum on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 07:33:19 PM EST

I also live in Houston, on the far west side. Neither SWBell nor Time-Warner Cable are offering high-speed access in my area, but I was able to get an SDSL connection somehow: Phoenix Networks is the ISP, NorthPoint provides the connection, and apparently they rent the "last mile" from SWB.

I had a ten-day outage a while back. The problem wound up being with SWB, but I couldn't talk to them directly; NorthPoint had to make the request for service. But I couldn't talk to NorthPoint directly either; customers are required to go through the ISP. And Phoenix Networks' tech support was worse than useless.

I got to know the entire repertoire of classic R&B favorites that play on their hold line, sitting on the phone for half an hour at a time before being shunted to voice mail; and four voicemail messages did not yield a single return call. It was several days before I got to talk to anyone with a pulse.

Once I cleared this bottleneck, NorthPoint and SWB responded pretty quickly. Though it pains my Libertarian soul to say it, the telopoly came through. (Aside from having actually caused the outage in the first place, of course.)

This was actually my second outage. After the first one, a month previous, they dropped my data rate from 400Kbps to 200, because my house was now apparently 2000 feet farther away from the central office than it was when they first installed the connection.

Damn continental drift...


Verison is not any better. (none / 0) (#30)
by Denjiro on Wed Dec 06, 2000 at 12:27:22 AM EST

As I write this I'm on day 10 or my current DSL outage. I have a Tier 3(680k up, 7.1m down) ADSL through the ISP I work for on Verisons(Formerly Bell Atlantic) lines. For some reason they just up and shut of my DSL line. My wife(Who also works at the ISP I do as a DSL provisioner.) immediately went to work on the problem. Verison explained that they'd got a cancel order from me in AUGUST. There are a couple of problems with this obviously. First off provided I'd actually made the request(Which I didn't.) It took them 3 month to act on it. Second, due to Verisons contract with the ISP 'I' cannot make a cancellation request. It must be made by the ISP. We have since found out it wasn't really a cancellation request. It turns out the technician who came out to give me filters that I didn't need(Another scam of Verisons I won't go into at this time.) did not properly fill something out and that left the status of my account as pending and not complete. So when they ran an audit later they just closed it instead of actually finding out anything about it. So at this point I'm waiting the 1 to 3 weeks it takes them to 'Provision' an entirely new DSL account for me. To top it off, even though it's obviously entirely their fault they have no accountability whatsoever. Any refunds or credit for down time would have to be paid by the ISP. That's totally wrong since the ISP is not at all responsible for the outage.

Telco Hell and DSL Cluelessness | 30 comments (22 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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