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Life ain't fair. Deal with it.


December 4, 2001

(SpaceWars Episode II: Attack of the Phones)

Just last week, in a room down the hall, there was a disturbance in the force. It was if a million IP addresses cried out as one and suddenly blinked out of existence. More accurately, it was as if my address had blinked out of existence as far as the rest of the Internet was concerned. Sometime in the night Sunday or Monday of last week, Qwest disconnected my phone line. Then, after I called to get it fixed, they deleted my DSL circuit.

I didn't notice the phone outage until lunchtime. I called the Qwest service number listed in the front of the phone book (800.244.1111). I spoke with a nice lady who noted that I had been disconnected for 'non-payment' but that my account was also fully paid up. She apologized and told me she would reverse the disconnect and that my line should come back up in an hour or so. Unfortunately, not being wholly prescient, I didn't write down the first lady's name for posterity.

When I got home from work, I found that the voice line worked again, but now my Internet connection was down. First I called my ISP tech support. James noted that he couldn't see me at all, there was some problem with the circuit on Qwest's side. Then I called the Qwest customer service number again and described my problem to another (also nameless) operator, who almost immediately referred me to a different number because she "couldn't help me." Apparently, she couldn't find any record of me having DSL. I got a pen and some scratch paper and she helpfully gave me a complex combination of numbers to punch after I called the number she had provided so that I would talk to the right person this time. Silly me, I had called the number listed for customer service in their own phonebook. Oh, haha, what was I thinking?!

I paused a moment after we hung up. I was mindful of the experience I had with a U.S. Robotics modem firmware upgrade a few years ago (SpaceWars Episode I: The Phantom Upgrade). I knew I should start writing down who I was talking to. Just in case my problem got worse, it might help.

I dialed the second number (800.218.4443), not realizing what dark foreshadowing it bore. I would return to this number later, oh yes, I would return. Dutifully, I punched the complex code (1.2.3) the friendly previous operator had provided, resulting in some error from the voicemail system. Hmmm. I started over and listened to the options this time, navigating to tech support for DSL (not MSN, not; not Nimda virus, not new installation). After a "less than six-minute" wait, I connected with Elizabeth (CB2548). Elizabeth couldn't find any record of me having DSL either, but was quite certain that my problem could be solved by the people at yet another number. Sadly, Elizabeth didn't offer any special secret shortcut codes.

Elizabeth's number (888.634.2879) was neat because it had an 888 prefix. Whoo-boy, now we were having some fun! I called it and that was pretty much the end of the entertainment it provided. After navigating the voicemail and another "less than six-minute" wait, James (CB4214) came on. James was apparently talking to me from under his desk, because it took forever for me to understand that he had yet another number for me to call.

James' number (800.573.1311) was another lowly 800 number, but at least it did bring back fond memories of the first number I had called. The voicemail system was strikingly similar, so much so, that I over-anticipated and had to start over after another error message ("Sorry, that option does not exist."). Only one "less than six-minute" wait later, Elisa (CB4229) referred me on to her own favorite number. Elisa's secret code was to hit a 1, 2, or 4 after I called her number. "Hmmm, maybe the next number has a totally new voicemail system!" I thought. That would be a nice change, all the others sounded too much alike and had lots of menus to run through. "This next number where you could hit any of three out of four options to get help must be something else!" Phew!

Oddly, Elise's number (800.281.4443) yielded only rapid busy signals. Hmm. This number seemed familiar somehow. Hey! It was the same as the one I got from the first operator, except Elise had transposed a couple of digits! In my excitement over the possibility of a new voicemail system to explore and master, I hadn't noticed! Ha! Haha! Golly, my head sure hurt! Ha!

As I dialed the proper number, I briefly wondered if I would get to talk to Elizabeth again. No such luck, as the voicemail system now didn't have the option to talk to anybody. I tried the very first number (800.244.1111) from the phone book again, and another operator told me that I did need to call that number Elisa had incorrectly given me (800.218.4443) but, sorry, their offices were closed for tonight, could I call back in the morning please? It turned out that the offices had closed just fifteen minutes prior, which was over an hour after my first call of the evening. Frustrated, I gave in, subconsciously forgetting to get this new operator's name.

The offices were supposed to open again at 7:00 a.m., so I got up promptly about 35 minutes late. I called again (800.218.4443), navigated the menus, and spoke with Jill (CB4206). Jill also couldn't find a record of my DSL account, but was sure that if I called her favorite number, those people could help me. I pointed out that her favorite number was the number at which I had just reached Jill. She was nonplussed for a moment, then she gave me her secret code, which she assured me would connect me to the right person (someone not her), if I called back and used it.

I called back (800.218.4443) and used it (1.5.4). This time, there was no soothing female voice to console me. However, Michael (CB4197) did assure me in his masculine way that my DSL would soon be fixed. He told me that after a disconnection, it took longer for the data connection to come back up than the voice. How much longer? Oh, a couple of hours or so. Well, my voice line came up yesterday afternoon around two, shouldn't that mean the DSL would have been up last night? Well, no, you know, sometimes it takes a little longer. Michael was confident it would come up again, if I would just be patient and wait a couple of hours longer. I told him I would call back around noon if it wasn't working yet.

It still wasn't up at lunchtime. I double-checked with my ISP to verify it wasn't just me, then called Qwest again (800.218.4443). Pam, who was allowed to only have a name, not required to give a number, was quite apologetic as she told me that it would take 24 to 48 hours to get my Internet connection back. She sympathized with me and offered to credit my account for three months of service. She apologized for not being able to expedite things any more, even though she agreed that I shouldn't have had to deal with this in the first place.

Two more days. Argh. It had already been a day. Broadband withdrawal is worse than heroin withdrawal. Not that I would know, really. Hey, you got any heroin? Jebus help me, in three years, I have become way too dependent on my constant Internet access.

On Thursday morning, around 10:00 a.m., I called Qwest again (800.218.4443). Melanie turned out to be the most helpful operator I was to encounter. I explained my situation to her, and told her that I was following up to make sure my record hadn't gotten deleted again, considering in a couple of hours it would have been 48 since I spoke with Pam. Melanie agreed that my connection was still down, and saw Pam's order to reconnect it. Melanie then offered to follow up on the order, talk to someone at the help desk that did the actual programming, re-send the order if something had gone wrong, and call me to let me know what happened. I gave her my cell number and got her extension, just in case.

Melanie called me back that afternoon to report that everything was back up. She told me that something had indeed happened to Pam's original order, so Melanie had re-sent it and now everything should be hunky-dory. I thanked her for following up for me and rubbed my hands together, vigorously anticipating the broadband loving I would receive upon my return home that night.

Then I got nervous that I was getting my hopes up. I tried pinging my server to see if the connection was up but got no response, just as I had not been getting all week. I called tech support at my ISP again to see if they could see the circuit this time. Herman told me that my IP address was still invisible to them, but I should go home and cycle power on my DSL modem to make sure that wasn't the problem, then call Qwest again if that didn't work. He suggested that I conference my ISP in with Qwest if Qwest still tried to tell me it was working.

There was no loving when I got home, even after repeated power cyclings. I sighed and called Qwest again at my favorite number (800.218.4443). I went through the story with Amy (CB4247). She put me on hold a few times, each time coming back to ask me some questions about what kind of modem I had and who my ISP was and was I on a static or dynamic IP address? When I cunningly suggested we conference my ISP tech support in, she reminded me that she was tech support. How silly of me.

Then after putting me on hold once more, she came back to suggest that I call my ISP because everything looked fine on her end and I should have a connection and besides, Qwest didn't support static IP addresses. I suggested again that we conference in my ISP rather than my just playing messenger, since I had already talked to them and they had asked me to do so.

Amy reluctantly agreed and I started to give her the telephone number. "Oh, I can't call them!" she interrupted.

"You've got to be kidding me!" I said, "You're the phone company and you can't do a conference call?"

"I know, but we can't dial out. You'll have to do it."

With some coaching, I managed to conference in Charles from my ISP. I explained the situation to him and he pulled up my account. Amy told him that everything was fine on her end, my line was active. He noted that he still couldn't see my IP address and asked Amy, "What VCI do you have for him?" (referring to a Qwest term for the circuit identifier for my line).

"What?" said Amy.

"What VCI do you have him on?" Charles asked again, a little more slowly.

There was a faint click and a long pause.

"I think we lost Amy," Charles said.

"Haha, oh, she's probably just asking somebody what a VCI is. She put me on hold a lot earlier."

Charles decided to access Qwest's system while we waited to see if Amy reappeared. Upon pulling up my record and comparing information with me, he pointed out that the VCI was incorrect. In about five minutes he had it fixed, touched the circuit, and my connection sprang back to life. We had a nice laugh about how Amy sure did seem to have gone for good. I thanked Charles for doing Qwest's job for them and then proceeded to enjoy the web until the wee hours of the night.


The next afternoon, Jeff Schulman from Qwest left a message on my answering machine to let me know that my connection was back up now and if I had any problems here were a couple of numbers I could reach him at. I had never heard of this guy before and here he was telling me he had fixed my connection the day after my ISP's tech support had fixed it while Qwest hung up on us. Ha! Oh, my head again! Ha! Unfortunately, I didn't get Jeff's message until the late evening, so I wasn't able to call him back until the next Monday to let him know how hilarious he was.

Jeff turned out to be an okay guy who thought I should never have had to get bumped up to him, an "escalation manager", to get my line fixed. But he also was full of reasons why it had taken so long. He told me that when Qwest programs a connection, they use an auto-programmer, which doesn't always work properly. That was why Melanie and Amy had thought my line was up when it wasn't. Jeff didn't offer to explain why the people reprogramming the circuit didn't manually verify it. He did think it was interesting that Amy had hung up on me, but he couldn't do anything more for me except apologize.

Jeff did tell me to hold onto his number in case I ever had any trouble in the future, so that I wouldn't have to go through this kind of rigamarole again. He was even good-natured about his imminent fame when I told him I planned to write up my experience for my website. He asked me not to publish his phone numbers, but said that I could feel free to give them to my friends if they ever had problems as well.

Anybody need Qwest DSL tech support?

Study Questions

1. Why could no one at Qwest, including the eminent Jeff Schulman, tell me why my line was disconnected in the first place? What's to stop it from happening again?

2. Was the three month credit (about $100) worth the five hours I spent on the phone with Qwest trying to fix a problem of their creation? Was it even worth the first hour and a half I spent just trying to not get bounced to a new number? Was it worth the virtual DTs from broadband withdrawal?

3. How much worse might this scenario have been if I had used Qwest Dot Net instead of a local ISP?

4. If Qwest technical support had a collective head, just how far up its collective ass would it be shoved?

5. Why didn't Jar-Jar die in this episode?



Copyright © 2001-2002 All Rights Reserved.

The Saga of SpaceBass vs. Qwest