Since several weeks have passed since I last indulged in a rant about Time Warner, perhaps you have been thinking that all is well. Not so. My clients are evenly split between those who use DSL and cable. None of them are on dial-up. However, both old and new clients come to me to ask which is best, and should they consider switching to take advantage of whatever the latest come-on sale is being offered. How can I answer that?

From my perspective, your Internet provider is like a stomach. When it’s working right, you don’t know it is there. But when anything goes wrong, you realize how much you depend on it. In addition to reliability, a good provider should recognize that it is a service. Good human interactions are a must. There is more to being an ISP than bits coming down a wire.

Which brings us to my dilemma of what to recommend to my clients. In the last couple of weeks, the Internet service seems to have been reasonably good, but the email service has disappeared at random intervals for long enough that I received calls from clients to come fix their computers. I can live with that. But what do you make of the Time Warner billing? It is so sad that I have stopped being angry and just laugh at it.

Our troubles started when the company threatened to cut off service because we had not paid our bill, but my wife assured the representative that we had indeed mailed off a check in plenty of time. What is the issue? We are good customers. The person on the other end would hear nothing of it. Our record meant nothing to them, and our credibility must have been non-existent because they only responded when my wife authorized a transfer from a credit card. Time passed, and all seemed well – or as well as it can be given the situation. Then we received a statement showing that we had a substantial credit and need not pay anything. Someone had found our check and cashed it. Only there was a problem with that check. After authorizing the payment by credit card, my wife did the prudent thing and stopped payment on it. Sure enough we quickly got a firm letter notifying us that – guess what? – the check bounced. The company seemed to have re-categorized us as deadbeat slugs who try to pass off bad checks.

As I say, we used to get angry at this general ineptitude. Now we laugh. That is a defensive measure designed to preserve our health. Of course we could change to DSL, but then we would lose our email addresses. Similarly we could switch from cable to satellite, but would either change be in our best interest?

The last time I compared bits per dollar for cable and DSL, cable was better. I have no good statistics for the local reliability of DSL to compare with Time Warner. Assuming the various billing snafus are due to the ongoing flail from Time Warner buying Adelphia and changing the systems, is cable to better choice? Adelphia might have been bankrupt, but at least the statements were correct.

Long time readers of this column might remember that the reason we went with cable in the first place was that it was available while the phone company told us for two years that DSL would be available in our locale in two weeks. That left a really bad taste in my mouth.

What do you tell your clients? Obviously the situation is different at different locales, but surely there are some underlying constants. Signing up for a service based only on the bits downloaded per dollar is roughly as silly as buying a computer based only on CPU clock speed. Yet I know people who do both. Given everything that has happened, my response has been to share information with clients as fairly as possible and tell them that they have to decide for themselves. That is a copout since I am supposed to be giving them advice, but it works.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]Time Warner, cable, dsl, internet provider, ISP, customer service, laugh[/tags]