[svlug] DSL woes

Marc MERLIN marc_news at valinux.com
Mon May 8 00:27:31 PDT 2000

We've had some discussions in the past over DSL vs cable modem.
While  TCI^H^H^HAT&T   had  a   big  lead   in  unreliability   and  general
cluelessness, PacBell seems to want to catch up.

Before I start, I read the info on the little business cards left on my line
and they had stats on the DSL line.
The first one said:
1.5	1500B		56%
128			24%

The second one said:
1.5	2560	13.5	60%
128	474	26.0	27%

So  it's not  hard to  guess that  the second  column is  the maximum  speed
obtainable  on my  line and  the  4th one  the percentage  of the  available
bandwidth that I'm currently using, but  I'm curious what the 3rd column is.
Anyone has an idea?
At least the good news is that my new line has better maximum bandwidth. Too
bad I can't use it without paying for the $200 plan (6MB down, 384kB up)

Anyway, here's the letter I wrote to PacBell:
So here's what happened.

I get home  on tuesday and have a  look at my network connectivity  as I was
unable  to  retreive  some  files  I  needed when  I  was  at  work. My  DSL
modem/bridge  showed  that  the  link  was down,  and  remained  down  after
reinitializing the device.
I made  the mistake of  blaming my ISP  and tried to  call them up,  just to
realize that I had no dialtone either.

My logs showed:
2000/04/02 (Tue) 11:10:20 - Connection to went down
2000/04/02 (Tue) 11:10:40 - Connection to came back up (0:10 down)
2000/04/02 (Tue) 11:11:20 - Connection to went down
2000/04/02 (Tue) 11:11:40 - Connection to came back up (0:10 down)
2000/04/02 (Tue) 11:14:40 - Connection to went down
(then down forever)

The fact  that the connection  went down 3 times,  and stayed up  3mn before
going down  the last time  wasn't too consistent  with a squirrel  eating my
phone wire.

So, the first thing I did was to check my inside wiring (66 punch down bloc,
patch  panel, etc,  etc...)  and  checked the  connectivity  to the  outside
demarcation box with my toner.
It's only  then that I  tested the incoming  feed for dialtone  and realized
that the incoming phone wires had no dialtone either.

At that time, I  called 611 from my cell phone, and  after entering my phone
number, the system redirected me to the  DSL helpline and dumped me into its
Granted it was around  20:00 or so, but the fact that no  one ever picked up
the phone in more than 45mn  of holding is inexusable. What's even worse, is
that the cheap hold  system they have never told me how  much holding time I
could expect. Having to hold 1H or more is sad, but at being warned that the
hold is  going to  be that long  is very useful,  or better,  knowing "don't
bother holding,  there is no  one to  pick up the  phone on the  other side"
would be even better.

Anyway, after  starting with a fresh  cell phone battery, I  call 611 again,
and started lying to the menus until I got a live human, who immediately put
me back in the  DSL queue (or should I say blackhole?) as  soon as I give my
phone number.
Ok, I try again, and this time ask not to be put in the DSL queue. I explain
that  the queue  doesn't go  anywhere, that  my line  doesn't have  dialtone
anymore and  that I checked the  equipment and determined the  incoming feed
lacks dialtone itself.
While the 611 queue has been short  every time I called (less than 2mn), and
the people helpful,  I was told that  because I have a DSL  line, they can't
help me, even if  it's a physical problem with the line  that has nothing to
do with DSL.
Let me say at this point that this is completely ludicrous: if my phone wire
is cut, or disconnected, any PacBell  repair employee should be able to help
Anyway, I am lucky  enough to get someone who finds a way  to schedule a DSL
repair person  to come over  on friday,  and pass on  the ticket to  the DSL
department, that  I just  can't reach. I was  not overjoyed  though, because
friday  was four  days away  and  while I  can  live without  my home  phone
somewhat, the  complete lack of internet  access is crippling in  my line of
work (Network and Unix Systems Administrator)
I should also  note that I wasn't  given any time window outside  of 8:00 to
20:00, not very precise...

I guess I am lucky to currently work  5mn away from my house, so I just left
a note outside, by the phone box, explaining the problem with details, and I
also left my cell  phone number, a cordless phone to  test the inside wiring
after the problem is fixed, and a key to the house in case the repair person
needed to get in and have access to my 66 bloc or my DSL modem.
It's a  good thing  I didn't  lose a  day of  work and  salary to  stay home
because no one came that day.

So, after  20:00 I called  611 several times  because, again, it  seems that
there isn't a single soul in the  DSL department. I'm told that they have no
idea why  no one  showed up (although  they could confirm  that fact  in the
computer). What's  interesting  though, is  that  they  apparently only  had
access to part of the records, they  couldn't say who was scheduled to come,
what time, and why he/she didn't show.
I was told  that some records were only accessible  by the DSL department. I
really wonder  why... I thought I had  gotten DSL service from  PacBell, not
Covad or Northpoint...

I was told  to call the DSL folks the  next morning to see if I  could get a
repair person  come the next morning  (saturday), and I did  call, but after
30mn of hold, my call was cut short,  I was dumped into a voice mailbox, and
was hung up on after being told the mailbox was full. Truely pathetic!

While the 611 folks were responsive, no one whatsoever could get me in touch
with anyone at the DSL  department. Considering how bad their repair service
is, and the  fact that their unresponsiveness also affected  my Pacific Bell
voice line, it is inexcusable that no one at 611 was able to put me in touch
with a real human from the DSL department. I should have been escalated to a
supervisor who should have confirmed that I had been down for 4 days and who
should have transfered me to a someone who could help me.

If it  hadn't for Byron  Wagner, and the fact  that he had  PacBell priority
repair access for his company and employees, I would never have been able to
talk to a  supervisor who eventually got someone from  the DSL department to
call us back and schedule someone to come over the weekend.
Since again,  I wasn't given  any time window  (or even day),  the repairman
happened to come a few hours later while I was out, but I can't complain, he
got the line back  up and running, and called me on  my cellphone to confirm
the repair.

The  problem? Apparently someone  had moved  lines around  that tuesday  and
didn't reconnect my line correctly.
One should note, that PacBell had known  downtime on my line (even if it was
going to be only  a minute or so) and never  gave me advanced notice. Moving
my line from one circuit to another  would have cut any phone conversation I
could have had, and  definitely cut my access to my  home machine during the
Then the  transfert was not only  not done correctly, but  not doublechecked
either and the employee left with my line down.

That by itself is  already rather bad, but what's worse is  how long it took
to get anyone scheduled to come check the line (4 days!!!) and the fact that
this person did not even show up...
The line between PacBell  voice and PacBell DSL also looks  like it's more a
big ravine, and it's unacceptable that those two departments can't even talk
to one  another ("I'm sorry,  all I  can do is  transfert you in  their main
Last, but not least, the complete  lack of response from the DSL department,
department in  which I wasn't  able to reach a  single human being  over the
course of 5 days (granted, I did call outside of the M-F 9-5 window) is just
beyond words...

While I have nothing but praised PacBell  DSL until late last year, this has
stopped after my move from Mountain View to Sunnyvale (about 5 miles). I can
tell that the bureaucracy is severely inderehing this department.
When I moved,  I made sure to order  a new phone line 4 weeks  in advance so
that I could schedule a DSL install before my physical move, and while I was
promised to still have  a static IP at my new location  (albeit not the same
since I was going to be linked to a different CO), the installer told me I'd
have to use that PPP over ethernet nonsense, which I simply refuse to use as
it prevents  me from running  my secondary name  server off my  home machine
(and it  also adds unneeded protocol  overhead and general flakiness  on the

While two Pacific  Bell employee did confirm  at the time I  ordered the new
line that I would be able to keep my static IP plan (grandfather clause), no
amount of time on the phone helped, and even going two managers up the chain
didn't help ("I'm sorry you were mis-informed, I feel your pain, but I can't
help you").
I  am now  using a  third  party ISP  for internet  connectivity through  my
Pacific Bell DSL line, and got a static IP this way.

Now, after the really  bad experience I've had with the DSL  part of my line
(which is  a shame as  the line works  flawlessly otherwise), I'd  look into
alternative connection options, but considering  that my main alternative is
those clowns at TCI, even if it's  called AT&T now (same people, same stupid
policies and pathetic tech support department), I just don't know...
A name change won't  make me forget that those bandits  ransommed me with an
additional $10 connect  fee per TV during the cable  install when everything
was connected before  they came, and then they physically  cut the pre-wired
cables going  to other outlets  in my house because  I didn't pay  their $10
"connect" fee for those plugs.

One of the reasons why I've avoided @Home/TCI internet cable service was the
flakiness of  many cable modems,  the fact that  some cable loops  went down
quite often, and that  the respone time for repairs was  really bad (and you
had to fight through stubborn tech  support people who insisted that you had
to check your  netscape proxy settings under nothing else  than windows when
you tell them that you can't ping your default IP gateway).
I  guess the  only reason  left  I have  not  to switch  is their  ludicrous
Acceptable Use Policy, including their  section on servers which pretty much
makes  the usage  of  any unix  system illegal. I  would  also question  the
legality of daily  port scanning on my  personal home machines if  I were to
connect to their network, and would definitely object to it.

I think I'll pick the lesser of the two evils and stay with PacBell for now,
but  they have  some  serious cleaning  up to  do  in their  repair/dispatch

Microsoft is to software what McDonalds is to gourmet cooking
Home page: http://marc.merlins.org/ (friendly to non IE browsers)
Finger marc_f at merlins.org for PGP key and other contact information

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