Thursday, December 13, 2012

Looooooooooooooooooong Story Short (PART 2)

Like I said, beyond getting internet service set up, my major goal in my conflict with Suddenlink was for someone to call me back after the 18 broken promises that someone would.  I just wanted someone to answer my questions about the possibility of getting service (a possibility their own tech-department had introduced to me waaaaay back in April) even if the ultimate answer was “no.”  So, when last I reported here, on August 17, I had finally, after six months of begging for a callback, been contacted via telephone by a tech operations manager at the local Suddenlink branch.  The tech operations manager is a very nice gentleman named Ron who was indeed a helpful soul and about whom I have little complaint. 

Ron did indeed try to help me out by sending out another engineer to survey the setup and determine what, if anything, could be done for me.  Ron soon reported that according to his new engineer, the existing coax connection to our house (which the previous owners used for cable TV signal alone) originates over 600 feet away at their coax station located on the nearest major road.  Our particular connection runs from a junction box ("drop box") that is on the far side of our nearest north westerly neighbor's driveway (not the neighbor just down the hill from us—Jane—whose drop box we have been inquiring on upgrading for six months, but one even further away and on the opposite side of our hill).   This info we already pretty much knew from the original surveyor who came out in mid-April.  And we were assured that this existing cable connection could not be upgraded because of the distance required and because we only own a fraction of the land between the drop box.  Fine. 

The next and only other option the new engineer offered was to run new data-capable coax from the coaxial hub at the main road of the neighborhood all along the existing power lines that surround our valley, to our house, for a total of 2666 feet.  However, Frontier Cable and the local power company already have wires on those poles. So in order to get Suddenlink wires on it, Frontier would have to agree to adjust the position of their lines on the poles to allow for Suddenlink lines. This option would cost a total of $12,758.77 to accomplish.  (Hence the $12,000 figure that showed up with no explanation in our account notes back in late May.)  However, Suddenlink suggested that because there are three potential-customer-households along the route of that line, if each house chipped in, and Suddenlink paid the other 1/4, it would only cost a bit over $3000 each to have Suddenlink installed.  This was still not an option as far as we are concerned.  I mean, how fair is it that we have to pay even $3000 when Jane, our NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR, has the service for sticker price.

I then again inquired to Ron as to the feasibility of simply upgrading the drop box in Jane’s yard and running a line up the hill to us.  The new engineer had not covered that option.  In fact, according to Ron, the maps on file at Suddenlink’s local office did not seem to show that particular drop box at all, nor did it show that Jane nor the neighbor across the road from her (Martha) were even customers.  I assured him that they were, for I had already confirmed twice with Martha, and she had even given me her account number to pass along should the question arise.  Ron agreed that there seemed to be some x-factors at play and he suggested that what he next needed to do was drive over (a 55 mile trip) and survey the situation for himself.  Clearly something was amiss in their records if their maps didn’t show two customers where two customers existed.

In the intervening couple of weeks, I spoke again to Martha and learned a bit of history of the neighborhood.  Apparently not long after the early houses in the neighborhood had been established, some 15 to 20 years ago, the people who lived here made a deal with Suddenlink that if Suddenlink would establish a central hub for cable TV service at the mouth of the neighborhood, then the residents themselves would pay to have the trenches dug from it so that cable lines could be buried and run to their individual homes.  Suddenlink in turn agreed to the upkeep of those lines and had done so since then.  Of course, when the lines were initially buried, high speed internet was not a service Suddenlink offered, so upgrades had been made years later in order to offer that to most of the homes.  The former owners of our house had either not wanted it, or it wasn’t possible due to the distance from its drop box.  But that did not preclude the other drop box in Jane’s yard from being upgraded, to my mind.

True to his word, Ron did come out to survey the situation for himself, about a month after he and I had first begun communication.  (And for the record, he was as nice and helpful in person as he was on the phone.)  His conclusion was that it might be possible to upgrade to box in Jane’s yard, but he thought the semi-rocky terrain between the box and our house might prove problematic.  Plus, Jane would certainly have to sign off on the process for Suddenlink to do the work through her yard.  He also suspected that our house might still be too far away from the box to get a strong enough signal.  I pointed out that, just eyeballing it, our house wasn’t THAT much further away from the box than Martha’s house across the street was.  Surely, this was still worth a try?  Ron said he would go away and run some numbers and see what his engineers thought about it.

Weeks passed and I heard nothing back. At any point, I could have called Ron to ask, for I still had his number, but I was frankly of the opinion that I had been the one to initiate communication with Suddenlink more than enough and it was again time for them to start calling me back when they said they would.  I wasn’t even mad about it.  Over the course of the then 7 months I’d been dealing with this, my emotional spectrum had run from frustration, to blinding red fury, to wild annoyance, to bemusement, to amusement, back to frustration, and had by then settled into a sort of brown indifference.  In other words, I wasn’t really expecting Suddenlink to come back with a “yes,” anymore, but if they were going to come back with any answer they were the ones who needed to call.

In October, some weeks later, I received a call from one of Ron’s fellow engineers at the regional tech office. I wish I’d written his name down, but I forgot to. The engineer said that Ron was busy, but that Ron had asked him to call me to let me know that they (the engineer and Ron) had been in consultation and had studied the maps (you know, the maps that didn’t show either of my nearest neighbors as Suddenlink customers) and they had both concluded that the distance between the drop box in my neighbor’s yard and my house was too great for us to receive a proper signal. In other words, Suddenlink was declining to give that method a try. This was pretty much the call I had been expecting to receive, but I wasn’t giving up that easy. I again reiterated that just from eyeballing the distances involved, I could see that while my house might be further away from the drop box than Martha’s, it wasn’t so far a distance that it should make that big a difference. I still thought this was a method worth trying. The engineer didn’t seem to know what to make of this, so he told me that Ron would have to call me back about it. 

That, perhaps not surprisingly, was the last communication I had with Suddenlink.

And, again, that’s okay.

I’m not calling Ron out on this. He’s in a tough position because on the one hand he’s got a tech department that thinks that my house is an iffy hookup and they clearly don’t want to burn the calories (and money) necessary to give it a try—particularly if burning the calories involves digging a trench through rocky terrain to try it. It’s just not cost-effective.  And after thinking about this issue from that perspective, I came up with a way that the system could be tested at little cost.  Had Suddenlink called me back, I would have suggested that it would be easy enough to test my theory that my house was close enough to the box by simply unplugging one of the existing connections in the drop box (Jane’s or Martha’s) and running a coax atop the ground, up the hill to my house and then seeing if they could get a signal inside.  This would require no digging and no upgrading of equipment to test.  If it worked, they could then worry about that sort of thing.  If it didn’t, then they would be proven right and I would willingly go away forever and proclaim myself in the wrong on this blog.  Again, I bear no ill will toward Ron. He may very well have been correct that our house was simply unserviceable. I may well have been wrong. But we’ll never know for sure.

During the many months the Suddenlink situation has gone one, competing outfit Frontier Cable has been teasing us repeatedly. This, mind you, is the same cable company that promised us 12 mb download capabilities over the phone back in April, but which turned out to be less than half a meg in reality when the installation guy turned up. This was also due to our home’s distance from their nearest DSL “pizzabox” station (apparently their industry term) which was technically located in another town entirely.

Since then, we’ve received a few more telemarketing phone messages from Frontier promising us that DSL was now available in our area, only to learn that it really wasn’t when we called them back to sign up.   In fact, back in October, I received the following Actual Telephone Conversation Heard at My House (#14)...


ME:  Hello?

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:    Hello, sir.  My name is Brittney and I'm calling from Frontier Communications, your telephone service? 


ME:  Okay.

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:  Before we begin, I just want to let you know that this call is being recorded for quality purposes.

(Longer pause)

ME:  Okay.

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:   Huh. (And this "huh" was said in a tone that one might interpret to mean: "Huh, I’m about to have to read this whole next sentence.”) Sir, do you currently have internet service through Frontier?

ME:  Um... if you’re with Frontier, wouldn’t you know that already?

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:   No sir. You haven’t given me permission to access your account.

ME:  Ah. Good answer. Then, no, we don’t have internet through Frontier—

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:   (Interrupting)  Well, sir, Frontier—

ME:  (Interrupting right back) —because we have been told we cannot have internet through Frontier.

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:   Oh, no, sir.  You can have internet through Frontier.

ME:  Not high speed internet.

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:  Well... it depends on which speed you choose. There are different speed levels.

ME:  Yes. And, from what I’m told, high speed isn’t one of them at my house.

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:   (Pausing to consult her screen.)  No, I see that it is not.

ME:  And so internet service through Frontier is not of use to me at this time.

BRITTNEY THE FRONTIER TELEMARKETER:   No, I can see how it wouldn't be. 

ME:  So...  (Long pause)  You have a good evening, then.


Okay, maybe I’m an asshole. But Brittney started it.

Back in early November, Frontier left yet another message with a sales rep sounding very confident that we could have DSL.  Seeing no Suddenlink solution in the offing, I took a chance and called Frontier back. The sales person on the phone sounded equally enthusiastic and said the local equipment had been upgraded to allow those living in our area to have service.  I was still suspicious. So I decided to test the waters by just ordering the fastest possible DSL speed they offered on the premise that it would likely be another trickle when the installer got here. 

A few days later, the new installer turned up and opened up the DSL tap. It’s certainly not a trickle. Granted, it’s still a long way from a torrent, too, but it’s a satisfactory amount of DSL speed. While the 3G hotspot we’d been using for internet had been sufficient for most things, it is sure nice to not have to deal with it anymore. No longer do I have to plug in my phone in order to upload podcasts. No longer do we have to worry about battery power for the wireless hotspot. It’s all just there when we need it.  (Well, except for today when it went out for four hours, but that’s not exactly huge.)

So let the word ring out that Frontier got us what we needed and with only a modicum of hassle.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Looooooooooooooooooong Story Short (PART 1)

Okay.  I have once again been negligent in my blogging duties here for a period of months, and it is again due to guilt at not having anything to report in the ongoing situation with Suddenlink.

Well, actually, there has been some degree of things I could have been reporting about the situation, but mostly it’s been a matter of still not having internet service with them and still not receiving call backs from them as regularly as I would care to.  The main reason that I have kept quiet on these potential complaints is that I was trying to play nice in the hope that it would get me somewhere.  And while I think it has taken me further than if I’d waged a play by play, daily, negative media campaign, playing nice has not taken me quite the distance I had hoped since we still don’t have service. 

After nine—count `em, NINE—months of waiting, it appears very much as though we will never have high speed internet service through Suddenlink in our current home.  There are indeed technological issues at the root of this—some woefully expensive and others simply untested by Suddenlink’s choice and my own decision not to press the issue further.  And that’s okay.  I’m not trying to call anybody out here, just stating the facts.  

That said, as of last week, we do finally have high speed internet service through another company that had not previously been available to us.  We no longer have to rely upon the 3G hotspot feature in our cell phones to go online.  This being the case, I’m officially ending my “battle” to get service with Suddenlink.  And I’m calling that battle a draw.  Even though my dealings with them did not end as satisfactorily as I would have liked, essentially I got what I wanted, which was for someone to FINALLY call me back.  Granted, it took them seven months to actually do so, but once communication was established things went fairly well.  In fact, I bear no ill will toward Suddenlink anymore.  I would be more than happy to use them in the future in case the wife and I move to a different dwelling that is capable of receiving service through them.  
That said, I do feel like I owe what readership may still be here after all these months some degree of explanation as to the events that have occurred since I last wrote about the problem, not to mention a summation of what those events were for folks who didn't want to translate my fable-speak in the Once Upon a Time series.  Again, not pointing any fingers and not trying to get anyone at Suddenlink in any kind of trouble, just stating facts. 

As I mentioned in my entry back in August, a Suddenlink employee named Tina read of my troubles with the company on this blog thanks to my finally name-checking the company rather than my veiled references to  The Link of Sudden.  She asked for an explanation of the situation and I emailed her the SHORT SHORT history.

So, just to play catch up, below is a copy of the SHORT SHORT VERSION email I wrote to Tina in early August.  I’ve edited it only to remove names and phone numbers and one other word that was incorrectly chosen but inconsequential to anything.

AUGUST 8, 2012

Dear Tina,

Thanks for the note on my blog.  Since you’re a Suddenlink employee who needs to know the particulars of my case, the phone number my account is listed under (not one that works, cause we no longer have an active account with Suddenlink) is (NUMBER REDACTED) The number I can be contacted at now is (NUMBER REDACTED).

If you like, you can see in the account notes the timeline of the ongoing matter, but below is the short short version that doesn't have to be translated from fable-speak, as in the blog.

Back in February, my wife and I moved from BORDERLAND, WV to TRI-METRO, WV.  We chose the house we purchased partially because it had Suddenlink service and we and our real estate agent assumed would have high speed internet capabilities.  Turns out, not so much.  The house, we learned, had cable TV service, but the cable line running to the house was over 300 feet from its junction box well at the bottom of the western side of the hill.  We were told by two different installation techs that data signal on that line would not be consistently available so they could not install HSI (HIGH SPEED INTERNET) service.  We were told we were unserviceable.  This we understood, but because all of our immediate neighbors (including one only 70 feet from our house) already have high speed internet service through Suddenlink, we feel (and have been told by Suddenlink) that it is technologically possible for us to have the service as well if certain upgrades are made to the local system.  We were advised by the secondinstallation tech to call and ask to speak to someone in the tech department and to request that a survey of the site be conducted.  And this (THE SURVEY) was done. 

The surveyor came out and told me that in order for our house to receive signal, either the entire valley would need to be restrung with new poles and new cables from the main box on (STREET REDACTED) road to us, (not a likely scenario, I admit) or the junction box physically closest to us, in my neighbor’s yard 70 feet down the hillside from us, would have to be upgraded to be able to accept a third cable and that cable would need to be buried and run up the hill to us.  At that time (early March) he said that his superior officer would have to conduct a cost/benefit analysis to determine if Suddenlink would be willing to undertake either option.  He also assured me that I would be contacted within a few days regarding the results.  This contact has yet to occur.

In the intervening months, I’ve called repeatedly to ask for the result and with each call have been promised that someone would be contacting me by phone regarding the issue.  At first I just wanted to know the results of the cost/benefit analysis as promised.  As the weeks stretched on, I just wanted the promises of phone calls to be kept at all.  I believe I said to one phone rep, “I just want an answer even if it’s `no.’”  I wanted to know the answer of whether or not the junction box in my neighbor’s yard could be upgraded to allow us a cable.  I even offered to pay for the burial of the cable itself if the junction box could be upgraded.  No calls were received.

After two months of promised calls and no results, Iended my service with Suddenlink for our BORDERLAND house on the grounds that I was paying for service I was not receiving.  I believe I did have some of this time refunded to me, which was nice.  But I still wanted an answer about TRI-METRO.  In all my phone correspondence, I made sure to leave my cell phone number as the number to reach me at, as the one on file would not work. 

I must say that my dealings with Suddenlink phone reps have mostly been cheerful.  Many have seemed sympathetic to the situation and have attempted to leave the sort of escalating notes to supervisors and local techs that were designed to get attention.  

And, on April 23, eleven days after I had last been promised a call, seven weeks after I first phoned to move my service, I finally received the first and so far only phone call from Suddenlink.  It was from a supervisor who had received the escalated note from 10 days previous and was calling to see what he could do. Unfortunately, he was a supervisor from the BORDERLAND office somehow thinking this was about the house in BORDERLAND and not the house in TRI-METRO.  Upon realizing this, he assured me that a “Leon” from the TRI-METRO area office would be in contact within the day.  Leon never called.

A month later, on May 26, I called Suddenlink again to try again at getting some info.  The phone rep, Amber, said there was a note in the account that the cost of installation would be $12,000.  That was all she said was there.  No indication if this meant we had to pay $12,000, or Suddenlink would have to pay $12,000 or if we were to split it with Suddenlink or any actual details.  She said she would escalate another note up the chain to a supervisor and that someone would call us back to let us know.   No call came. 

On July 27, two months later, I phoned Suddenlink back to see if the notes had been updated with an actual answer since this was about the only form of communication that had actually happened.  There were no updates that the rep I spoke to could see.  He was very helpful, though, and made further notes as to the situation and the fact that since late February I’ve been promised a phone call approximately 18 times and have yet to receive one beyond the erroneous one from the supervisor in BORDERLAND.

I really like Suddenlink’s service.  I only want to receive it.  Or to be told via a conversation with an actual human being or in writing why it is that the local junction box in my neighbor’s yard cannot be upgraded.   I seem to be the only one in the neighborhood who does not have high speed internet through Suddenlink.  (I know no one has it through anyone else, because I’ve tried everyone else and no one can provide it even though we’re within spitting distance of the city limits.) 

I’m not requesting the entire valley be restrung on my behalf.  But if the one junction box in my neighbor’s yard, which contains two plugs (one for her and one for the neighbor across from her) could be replaced with one that has three plugs, that would be awesome.  I am still willing to pay for the cable to be buried if it comes to that.  I just need to know if it can and will come to that.  I am not willing to pay $12,000 or even $6000 to receive a service all of my neighbors and by all logic I should already have.  But I am willing to go to some expense to see this done. 

Clearly there is a disconnect somewhere between Suddenlink’s West Virginia office (CALL CENTER) and the actual field office in our area.  The easy explanation is that the field office is not seeing my cell number listed in the request for a call and are continuing to try and call the disconnected number of the old account.  Every time I've called since the account was disconnected, I've been sure to leave the new number I can be reached at.  No call.  It just seems to me that either a deep break in communication has happened somewhere or there is someone in the chain who doesn’t feel it’s part of their job to phone customers back after 18 promises that such callbacks will be made. 

So far, I’ve kept my blogging on the matter to a thinly veiled nature hoping there would be a happy resolution for me to report.   I only mentioned Suddenlink by name in my blog post recently in the hope that someone would pay attention and see that there is a problem here that needs to be addressed. Thank you for doing so.

That is the short short version.

Tina received that letter and forwarded it to a director of operations higher up the chain.  That director, Jack, then wrote me back to let me know that a local tech manager would be contacting me and promised that efforts would be taken to make certain that the situation that befell me would not befall anyone else in the future.  (This, I believe, may be my ultimate achievement in the entire matter, since policy changes of any sort are often glacial with such companies.  I’d like to think that all my effort did not go for naught and that I blazed a trail so that the people who come behind me will have an easier journey.)  Jack also gave me his personal cell number in case I had any further trouble.  I’ve still not had any cause to use it.  So thanks go out to Jack for that.