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Guest Commentary

August 16, 2012
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We have a communication breakdown

by Kent Carlson

Last week, our family experienced one of the wonders of the modern world — FaceTime.

What is FaceTime? If you have to ask, you are obviously not a member of the iPhone club, which now has more than 100 million exclusive members. FaceTime is a feature of the iPhone that turns your telephone into the two-way TV Dick Tracy introduced to comic book readers in 1964. In the Carlson household, Sondra is Tess Trueheart, my love interest. And our golden retriever, Pal, takes the place of Tracy’s loyal companion, Mugg. That leaves me being Dick. In any event, I thought Pal was going to have puppies when we could actually see and talk to Sondra in her Bismarck motel room. It was a Kodak — or rather an Apple — moment.

But this joyous event wouldn’t have happened without an Internet connection. FaceTime requires a WiFi network to work. And that’s when things start to go to hell. In this neck of the woods, one is left with two choices for providers that offer any download speeds worth paying for. We first signed up with the local cable TV and Internet provider eight years ago. I pre-wired our building for cable and Internet service, so that really left only one option for a provider. I love our flat-screen TVs, computers, cell phones, remote phones — all those conveniences we often take for granted. But the finest high-tech communication devices on the planet are only as good as the weakest link. Unfortunately, delivery of a consistent cable signal to our home seems next to impossible.

It’s not simply a technical issue. The customer support team is bound to leave you dazed and confused. In the past, service calls were scheduled up to two weeks ahead of time. Because we were both traveling, scheduling a service call even a week in advance was impossible. In our case, we were without Internet and telephone service, as well as some TV channels, for 63 days. When I knew I was going to be back in town to stay for a while, I scheduled a service call. The customer support representative claimed that one of their techs had visited our home three times and replaced a modem in the last 45 days. How that supposedly happened when nobody was home during those dates remains a mystery.

The conversation continues: “Did I mention I had to drive a couple blocks from home to make this call? Thanks to your cable company, the home phone has been useless for two months. The reason for our land line is because the cell phone service is also atrocious. So bad in fact, that the cell phone company provided a free $200 ‘mini cell phone tower’ that is supposed to help boost the signal within our building. Unfortunately, it requires a functioning cable modem to work. No cable, no cell phone.” Customer support: “OK, well, the technician will be out between 1 and 5 p.m. next Wednesday (six days later) and will call you to make sure you are home.” “Um, excuse me. Didn’t I just tell you that thanks to the failure of your cable service, I have no functioning telephone service of any kind in our building? Nobody can call me.” “Oh, yeah. OK…um, he’ll be there between one and five then.”

Things didn’t go much better when the tech showed up. I prefaced our conversation by asking him if he was familiar with Einstein’s definition of insanity. I was certain the issues with our service were outside our building. Eventually he discovered the signal loss was at the pole, not in our building. Of course, he still went through our building first — like the last three techs. After repairing the issues at the pole, he checked my computer, TVs and phone. All were working. Forty-five minutes later, I realized my wireless was down. I called customer support and was told it would be three days before somebody could come back out. I called back several times indicating that if they didn’t come out before then, there was no reason to show up at all. In between calls, I got a robo-call from the company asking if I was satisfied with my experience with “customer support.”

It was then I went out and bought a digital antenna for the roof of my building. Spending $2,400 a year for lousy service is exactly what Einstein was taking about. First, I’m eliminating the TV bill. When I come up with a plan for the rest, I will ramble on. CV

Kent Carlson is a native Iowa artist interested in the preserving Iowa’s architectural heritage and the common sense of its leaders. And he writes a few columns for Cityview, too.

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