Internet service out, again! Try calling the Philippines

Image representing RCN as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

My Internet service and the technicians who support it have been about as reliable in recent weeks as the BP engineers trying to cap that well off Louisiana’s shore.  Nothing seems to work.

For the record, my service provider is RCN Corp. I’ve been with company for a good decade, not because  its service is particularly cheap or stellar, but because I’m a creature of habit and didn’t want to change my home email, even when competitors offered better deals.

Silly me.

RCN has s local office listed at 956 Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington, right across from the high school. It’s about two miles from my home in Lexington.  So when I called the local office number today, my fifth attempt to fix my Internet service, and asked for a manager, I thought perhaps I’d be talking to someone down the street.

I was off by thousands of miles, though I didn’t realize it at first.

The manager, I was told, was busy, but could call me back in an hour or so. When I asked to talk to the secretary for the general manager of the Arlington office, the woman at the other end of the line paused several long beats.

“Sir,” she said, “we are in the Philippines.”

So I call area code 617 and get …. Manila?

It was, as Yogi Berra likes to say, “déjà vu all over again.”

I’ve suffered through this routine before. A few years back, when a United Airlines clerk in India put the wrong name on a ticket I was booking for an acquaintance, I spent the better part of an evening and night trying to sort out the problem before getting a hold of someone in a vice-president’s office in the Midwest the following day. I haven’t flown United since.  Life is too short for this kind of Kafkaesque incompetence.  But here I was again, trapped.

Let me be clear about one thing: I am not one of those  “America First” guys. I enjoy and respect other cultures. I drive Japanese cars, wear shirts made anywhere but in the United States (what do we make anymore anyway?) and believe one of this country’s greatest mistakes in the 21st century is trying to close the door on immigrant populations.

I also believe, however, that local problems need local solutions.  Sending people to customer services or ticketing services or technical services in the Philippines or India or Mexico, or, heck, to Kansas City, is a bad idea.

Companies don’t fix their problems when the person at the other end of the line has no geographical connection to the consumer calling and isn’t held accountable to and by a responsible supervisor.  Instead, that consumer  is left churning in circles.

An hour passed. That supervisor  promised by Manila technical support didn’t call back.  And so I breathed deeply and finally signed on with a competitor.  After  one RCN repair guy had changed my modem, a second  had told me over the phone that perhaps I just expected too much of high-speed Internet service (my computer was slower than dial-up),  a third had told me I needed a new router (whatever that is), and a fourth had told me the problem was the wires from the street and promised he’d be back the next day (he wasn’t), I’d had enough.

I honestly would have liked to explain to an RCN executive officer why I left  before his company goes belly-up. But that would involve speaking to a human being. And they, apparently, are too busy – in Arlington, Mass., and in the Philippines.

Well, almost. The Filipino supervisor did call back, about an hour late. I explained everything that had happened and then she left me on the phone for what seemed like 10 minutes.  When she returned, she explained that she’d tried to call George, the service technician who told me Monday he’d be back on Tuesday to fix everything. She’d also tried to call his boss, she said.  But no one answered either of their phones – half a world away from her, down the block from me.

It seemed a perfect ending.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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3 Responses to Internet service out, again! Try calling the Philippines

  1. a third had told me I needed a new router (whatever that is)

    It’s the device, typically in-between your cable modem and your computer, that reroutes wide-area internet traffic into local traffic for your house. These days they usually have five or so ports for wired computers like your desktop, plus support for wireless connections for your laptop or iPad or whatever.

    You’re usually lucky to get about 2 or 3 years of use from a residential-grade router before it starts to have intermittent problems. I don’t know why; bit rot, I guess.

    I realize multiple explanations from multiple technicians feels like incompetent scrambling, but it’s actually part of a troubleshooting decision tree. It’s not possible to repair much of the hardware involved in serving an internet connection to your computer; if there’s even the suspicion that it’s malfunctioning the only way to check is to replace it and see if the problem goes away. And when “the internet is down”, there are about a dozen different possible causes, half of which can only be diagnosed by replacement of a piece of hardware.

    It’s like those episodes of “House” where the symptoms are consistent with multiple diagnoses, and they have to just pick one, start the treatment, and see if the patient gets better. It feels like incompetence from your side – “why don’t they know what’s causing this?” – but in most cases its the least time-consuming way to solve a problem.

    None of that is to excuse what you accurately perceive as poor customer service, but to give you an idea of why it seems like your tech support guys don’t know anything.

  2. Jerry Lanson says:

    Hi Justin,
    Thanks for the highly reasonable explanation. What I have no patience for is (a) unkept promises to return the next day without so much as a phone message to explain why (b) local providers whose phone number is answered halfway across the globe. Next week I switch to Fios. I can only hope they do better. At least I am among the lucky ones not at the mercy of a monopoly Internet/cable company.

    • Agreed. Though frankly I don’t care where my phone call winds up, just as long as it winds up at the desk of someone who can solve my problem. But, of course, it almost never does.

      I hope you have better luck with FIOS. I’m not as lucky as you; I’m stuck with Time Warner due to an arrangement with my apartment building. But so far I’ve had no issues, knock on wood.

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