April 30, 2012

Support This

Our internet connection has been up and down for a couple of weeks. This is odd. Since getting Verizon FiOS years ago, we've rarely had a problem. But this one drove me insane.

How It Went Down
Wednesday. After a day or two of random internet outages - fixable by rebooting the router every couple of hours - I called the Verizon tech support people. I described the symptoms and they diagnosed a bad router, citing a crapped-out wireless transmitter. I objected, quietly, since it wasn't just impacting the wireless connection but also wired connections. But it's the first thing my former help desk-running self would have done in their position so, whatever. The router came the next day. I installed it. Same problem.

Monday. Are you there Verizon, it's me Chris. I felt genuinely sorry for the guy I got on the phone. He sounded clueless-by-birth and stumped around this particular issue specifically. Apparently the old router-swap routine rarely fails. After I told him again that particular silver bullet didn't do it's thing, he put me on hold for a very long time. When he returned he said (and I shit you not this is how it played out and since, for quality control purposes this phone call was recorded, somewhere it's on tape):

Him: I have a solution I want you to try.
Me: Okay, let's hear it.
Him: After we get off the phone, I want you to unplug the coax cable from the wall and blow on it. Then put it back.
Me: Blow on it?
Him: Yeah, it might clear the static on the line.
Me: You're kidding.
Him: No, blow on it. And if that doesn't fix the problem, call us back.
Me: Oh, I think you can count on that.

So I blew on it. Five minutes later our internet connection dropped.

Wednesday. I gave my buddies at Verizon another call. They agreed to send someone over on Friday afternoon.

Friday. Five minutes before the Verizon guy arrives, the internet died. I left it that way. You know, you want the mechanic to be able to hear the terrible noise your car is making though it never makes it when you need it to. He verified that there was indeed a problem but couldn't figure out why. The best bet, he said, was replacing the box on the outside of the house where the cable came in.

This was an odd choice since I'd spent a couple of minutes earlier that day checking the log files. Something was clearly up but I couldn't tell exactly what. So I asked:

Me: Do you guys check the log files on routers before you start swapping out equipment?
Him: Nah, not usually. I'm not a computer guy.

And I'm thinking, you're not a computer guy? All this whole thing is is just a bunch of computers talking to each other! But no, he just replaced the hardware outside the house and everything worked fine.

Saturday. I woke up Saturday morning to a world in which no television, phone or internet existed. At least in my house. I got my ass on the phone (the rest of me too) and they promised to send someone out that day. They did. The battery backup unit was dead. They replaced it. Everything is working dandy.

The Actual Problem
The problem was actually pretty simple. Here it is in layman's terms.

Routers have tables - code, really - that direct traffic. Depending on the router you have, sometimes those tables are pretty big, sometimes pretty small. If you're an average user, it doesn't really matter. But if you have a lot of devices, lots of connections to the outside world and a pretty good deal of traffic, you want a router with a big table. When those tables get full, weird things start to happen. Primarily, your internet connection drops and our router has to be rebooted. Verizon happens to give out routers with pretty small tables and doesn't offer any alternative.

Why This Is Annoying
For the thousands of dollars on hardware and manpower they spent on my little problem, they never actually diagnosed it. They patched it with hardware instead of finding out the reason. Know how I know? Because I figured out the problem over the weekend. The answer's Googleable. It's all over and apparently a big enough issue that every single Verizon tech should have asked some different questions. And it had absolutely nothing to do with hardware. As a result they fixed stuff that didn't need fixing, actually broke stuff in the process, and cause a pretty major outage.

This is why your cable and internet bills are so high, people.

Posted by Chris at April 30, 2012 7:39 AM

This is definitely a case of "you get what you pay for" in terms of the tech support people they hire. They don't want to pay them much or train them. By not properly funding or training tech support, the message these companies are sending us is that once they have our money, we're on our own.

Posted by: Carolyn at April 30, 2012 9:34 AM

I went through a similar thing a few years back. In the end, my husband and a voice from our ISP fixed it all over the phone.

Posted by: Maribeth at April 30, 2012 10:00 AM

We just had fios installed last week. Since then it's been one problem after another. I'm not impressed.

Posted by: Jodifur at April 30, 2012 10:36 AM

So what did you do? Buy a different router, or hack the verizon firmware to increase the size of the route table?

Posted by: Aaron at April 30, 2012 11:03 AM

That sounds like 1/100th of the hell I went through with AT&T last year when we switched to UVerse. We had about 3 months of intermittant cable and internet service with a different service person coming out every time. And the BS they would tell you!!
It was so bad right off the bat that I told them not to bother putting my phone lines on UVerse because we had a business and can't be without the phones. Of course you know THAT screwed everything up too!

Posted by: NancyB at April 30, 2012 11:36 AM

Is this the share your Verizon tech support stories thread?


And a case of stellar tech support from CavTel.

Posted by: COD at April 30, 2012 1:04 PM

uuuuugggghhhhhh. my blood pressure just skyrocketed just reading that. "i'm not a computer guy"?! even if he's not (and that's insane that verizon is sending a bunch of un-computer guys out to fix all their computers) he should know at least not to say that to someone who is hahaha

Posted by: kati at April 30, 2012 1:51 PM

I've had mixed luck with Verizon's techs when we've had a problem. The first time I called the guy was clueless, and eventually I sorted out on my own (and way slower than I want to admit to) that our router's wireless had taken a crap. Replaced the router and no problems. A year later, we have no internet. We don't even lights on on the modem half the time. Router is fine. This time the tech I talked to asked me what I had already tried, what happened when I did it, did not once tell me to reboot anything, and then walked me through reconfiguring the modem. Problem solved.

I seriously cannot believe they sent out a guy to check your hardware who knew nothing about it! WHat do they pay these people for then?

Posted by: Deb at April 30, 2012 5:13 PM

When I have problems with my FiOS, it's usually a problem with the DNS. So, I've decided to stop using Verizon's (now Frontier's here where I live) DNS servers and now use OpenDNS... haven't had a problem since.

Posted by: Katie at May 1, 2012 4:53 PM