This was the week that my senior clients were permitted to experience the decline and fall of western civilization. The troubles started over the weekend. Well, really they started much earlier than that. They started when the management and owners of Adelphia made certain decisions that ultimately led to its going into bankruptcy and being acquired by Time-Warner.
After the acquisition, not much happened for a while, but this last weekend, the transformation must have started in a lumbering sort of way. The normally trustworthy Internet service was spotty over the weekend, and email almost non-existent, but popping into life occasionally. On Monday the Internet was okay, but the email service was totally hosed. For some reason, I only got a couple of calls about the problems over the weekend, but the total shutdown on Monday brought with it several anguished clients calling to see if something was wrong with their computers. Many of them have small businesses and depend on email.
Of course one need not get bent out of shape over a simple system crashing like that. You can just call the old service number to ask what is happening. Only the old service number doesn’t work anymore because that was an Adelphia function and callers were directed to hang up and dial a new number (totally impolite – they could have automatically punched through to the new number, but that particular lack of service is another story). The trouble with re-dialing was that I suspect they must have had a single line with a whole city of people trying to call. No way could anyone get through. But there are a couple of other things one can do. For instance, one could go to the Time-Warner Web site and look for the system status. Surely it posts the current operating statistics. Other companies do that for their customers. Well, maybe Time-Warner does post system performance, but I could not find it and, more important, I could not find any useful information at all. The site is an advertising venue with FAQs. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not helpful. I interpret any service company’s failure to post performance data as an admission that customer satisfaction is not as important as the short-term bottom line.
So there is another path. Cable companies are typically licensed monopolies along with other utilities like electricity and water. So I called the city to complain. That got my name on a queue of outraged citizens who were quicker on the draw than I was. At that point I gave up and told my clients to wait and maybe those who are on cable might want to consider switching to DSL. Either way, they must accept the fact that their email addresses are going to disappear as Roadrunner takes over. Time-Warner presumably owns the right to the adelphia.net marque and could have served its new customers by allowing them to keep their addresses, but that is not what the company did. It insists on Adelphia customers installing Roadrunner. This might not seem like a big thing to you, but as my clients have been getting the notice emailed to them to change, they panic and call me for help. The process could have been automated at the shop and ultimately transparent to the user, but that is not how it chose to proceed. Granted, it decided to kill the old addresses, and then added salt to the wound by forcing subscribers to slit their own throats. The timing was excellent. This demand to install Roadrunner came to my clients just as the whole service went down. That really confused them. They thought they had broken something.
Seniors are like that. When their computers do not function as they expect, the first thought is “Now what did I do wrong?”
This series of errors compounding on each other was described in detail in major headlines in our local newspaper the Tuesday after the blackout Monday. Then today (Friday) there was a follow-up article saying that nearly all customers were back in service – which means that some customers had compromised service for a week, and it is not over yet. The city attorney still had not been able to respond to all the citizens who had complained, but at least it is now possible to call the Time-Warner service number and actually get through, mostly.
I am not trying to flame Time-Warner here. Similar things could have happened with other companies. It just happened to be the one that did it to us. There is a culture of lack of service in our service-oriented society that is truly appalling. At every step of the descent into chaos, a little common courtesy and forethought would have prevented near hysteria in my clients who depend on the Internet for business and social activities.
At least I am glad that I avoid making specific recommendations for broadband service. When my clients want advice, I explain to them how the systems operate and what the likely tradeoffs are. After that they are on their own. The ones who opted for DSL certainly had it better this weekend. I wonder if more will change. Would you?
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]adelphia, time-warner, dsl, cable modem, roadrunner, shoddy customer service, queue[/tags]