About a year ago I decided that it was time to try out the triple play from my cable company in Connecticut. Charter Communications was offering video, voice and data at an extremely attractive rate. At the time I was paying Verizon about $100 per month for my telephone service. I was paying Charter about $150 per month for cable and I was paying them another $30ish for broadband connectivity. By taking the triple play from Charter, it looked like I was going to save somewhere between $1,800 to $2,500 per year, with a bigger savings during the lowball, six month initial promo period.
Now, the triple play was not a big departure from my existing double play. After all, I was already using Charter for video and broadband. Landline phones are not a big deal at the lake, so why not save the money? Right?
The installation was flawless and the VoIP phone service from Charter was about as good as VoIP phone service can be. It sounds awful, but it has all the bells and whistles of the most expensive, feature-rich packages from Verizon and it costs less than half as much.
All good … until last week.
This particular house sits on the water at the northern end of Candlewood Lake. Sadly, AT&T cell service is not available inside the house. You have to walk down to the beach or all the way up the driveway to the street to use your AT&T cell phone. (Yes, my iPhone is a paperweight in the house.) The house is not close enough to a phone switch to get DSL service, so this has never been an option. Our broadband was always from the cable company. And, just to complete the setup, this house is in a relatively rural area, so power, phone and cable all come from the street by way of an aesthetically unpleasing group of cables looped over the treetops from a phone pole to the roof.
In the old days (over a year ago and back) when we had POTS (plain old telephone service) from Verizon, we lost phone service once every 10 years or so. It was no big deal. Cable went out during big storms and, of course, it took the Internet with it, but that was not big deal either. Sometimes we lost cable, but the Internet still worked and vice versa. On the rare occasions when the phone would not work, there was cable and Internet. There was no time in the past 25 years that we lost video, voice and data all at once, not even during power failures (POTS service is powered through Verizon’s wires). That all changed last week.
Attend the tale of two cable guys:
We got to the house to find everything dead, cable was out and it took everything with it. No video, no voice, no data. No problem a quick call to Charter and they’d take care of it. Except that’s not what happened.
After an extensive and annoying voicemail tree and 15 minutes on hold, we were told that there was an outage in the area and that we should just wait a few hours and it would be fixed. This turned out to be false.
A call back at 7am the next morning (also requiring a trip through the extensive and annoying voicemail tree and 15 minutes on hold) yielded a “We’re sorry, the outage is still going on, we’re working on it.”
The noon call (a 40 minute journey) got us an appointment for the next day.
No service technicians came during the scheduled time, so another 25 minute call got us an “oops, sorry, we’ll get someone out there tomorrow.”
The next day one tech shows up an hour late and says, wow, I can’t fix this by myself, I need a guy in a bucket truck to help.
This comedy of errors, which I was not laughing about at all, lasted for a week.
Days later, when the right team of people finally showed up, the repair (a broken connection at the phone pole) took 10 minutes to fix.
So … what did I learn about life, video, voice and data during my up-close, personal tour of Charter Communications remarkably sub-optimal customer service experience.
First, every person we interacted with at Charter needs to be retrained or fired. It was simply the worst customer service I have ever experienced. Everyone was very nice on the phone, but one hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing and they simply could not get out of their own way.
Perhaps the more important lesson is that when you have a single point of failure for your communications system, and it fails, you’re in trouble.
Like I said, my iPhone was useless in the house. So, how did we make calls? Everyone in my family has a Verizon BlackBerry. (Yes, I carry both an iPhone and a BlackBerry.) They work everywhere. We had email, good voice communication and excellent 3G connectivity thanks to Verizon. For broadband, I took my Verizon 3G data card, plugged it into my MacBook Pro and turned the computer into a WiFi router, so everyone in the house could get online.
For video, we rented an occasional DVD, we also got some topical stuff over the Net via the Verizon 3G card. Adaptive streaming is a wonderful thing!!!
At the end of the day, we realized that we didn’t have a single point of failure, we had Charter, AT&T and Verizon available. Two were useless, one was up and running. We were connected. Not at the levels we’re used to, but certainly adequate for emergency measures.
The key take-away is redundancy. Like so many other things in life, putting your eggs in one communications basket is not a good idea.