Thursday, 22 January 2009


Adventures in technology 1: The ISP

So last Tuesday the Sibling– we were at the Aged P’s place, visiting– says to me, “why don’t you fix the internet so I can check my e-mail.”

Now the Aged P’s “internet” consists of a single Dell.laptop hardwired to a DSL modem via a router.  (His previous.location had wireless, but it also had a CATV-over-IP network, which the present site lacks.)  Aged P himself does practically nothing with the internet– he uses the computer for a daily round of solitaire– but the WS has an e-mail account and does some online shopping.  (There are also some grandkids and Helpful Neighbors who have installed all kinds of music software and stuff, but that’s another story...)  The DSL installation went in since I was last here; it’s the first time I’ve seen it.

Anyhow, a quick examination of things revealed that: Aha!  The modem is not attached to the phone line.  The desk on which the computer sits does have a double phone jack (with both jacks connected to the same line), but for some reason someone had decided that a space less than 6 feet wide needed two telephones, and had disconnected the modem to attach a second one. (The extra “phone” jack on the modem is already occupied by the fax machine.  All clear?)

So I removed the extra phone and reconnected the modem.

Problem solved? [channeling Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter:]  Don’t lets be silly!

Okay, fire up the ole browser.  Can’t connect to anything.  Does all the gear show lights? (Yes.)  How about a PING?  (The sometimes-erratic DNS server associated with the dialup connection that I routinely use has resulted in me memorizing the dotted quad address for my ISP’s main server, which returns pings reliably.)  No pingback.  Can I ping the router? (Yes.)  Try resetting the router and the modem.  Well, now there’s a different error message: It appears that the router can’t find the modem.  Time to call tech support.

“Fortunately” the DSL is provided by the local phone company, so I first dig out a past phone bill (figuring I’d need the account information to get anyone to talk to me).[1]  On it is a “repair service” number, but no “tech support for internet.”  Check the phone book.  Internet has separate numbers from landline or cell, but there’s still no tech support listing.  Let’s try “customer service.”

“Oh yes, you want xxx-xxxx, I’ll switch you...”

“Hello, welcome to technical support for XXX Telco’s internet service.  Your call is very important to us.  While you’re waiting, here are some things you can try...  If they don’t help, someone will be right with you.”
“The Danube is blue!”  “So Blue! So Blue!”  “It’s always been Blue!”  “For Me, and You!”  “It’s never been Brown!”  “Not Brown! Not brown!”  “Or pink like a–”
“Hello, this is xxx internet tech support, my name is George, how can I help you?”

(I should mention that “XXX Telco” is a local company that was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when the region’s mushrooming vacation home/second home/resort development took off.  Their explosively growing business paid the way for them to be one of the first companies in the country to convert to all-electronic switching.  They were right on top of the DSL thing, and for the last few years they’ve been eating the local cable company’s lunch by providing a superior TV-over-IP product.  And their support people are local.)

“Hi George, this is O.G., account #####.”  (Fortunately, my name is the same as Aged P’s, so in situations like this I can tell the truth, and still avoid getting bogged down in complicated explanations.)  “My DSL is out. I have lights on all the boxes, I’ve checked all the connections, and I can ping the router.  Where do you want me to start?”

(Omitted:  Verifying telephone and account number, re-resetting the modem, and waiting while George sends the modem a reset signal.)

(George) “Okay, now is this wireless?”

“No, it’s hard wired.  One computer.  Ethernet cable.”

“Is there just a modem?”

“No, there’s a router, although it’s only got an input and an output.”

“Let’s try logging on to the router.  Open your browser and type in...”

(me, thinking, as we proceed) “Hmmm, they didn’t bother changing the default username/password, did they?”  (aloud) “Okay, we’re there. I see the setup screen.”

“Alright, I want you to put in the username and password.”


“On the screen, next to where it says ‘PPPoE’.”

“I don’t see ‘PPPoE’.”

“You are on the setup screen?”

“Yep, says  ‘Welcome to Routemaster setup. A Routemaster bus is a happy bus!’.”[2]

“Okay, what else do you see?”

“Well, there’s a select box that says ‘blah’,”

“Change it to ‘PPPoE’.”

“Okay, now I’ve got two input fields: ’Username’ and ‘Password’.”

“Right. Now, put in the username ‘A-G-E-...’”

“Does case matter?”

“No. ‘A-G-E-D...”

(me, repeating) “a-g-e-d”


“a-g-e-d-p-6-6-6. Got it.”

(George) “Okay, I need the last four of your Social.”

(me) “What?”

“The last four of your Social.”

“My what? I don’t understand you.”

“The last four digits of your social security number associated with the account, so I can give you the password.”

“Ummm... I’ll have to get that. Lemme call back.”

I must explain here that, in the intervening time, the Aged P, whose name is the one on the account, has toddled off for an afternoon nap.  But knowing the way things work around there, the account was actually set up by the WS, and if there was any social security number involved, it was hers.  The WS, at the moment, is on a cruise somewhere in the Bahamas, and that absence is the reason that I’m there in the first place.  So let’s see if there is a way around this.  I’ll call customer service and explain what’s going on.

“Hello, this is XXX Telco Internet Customer Service.  My name is Joyce; how can I help you.”

“Joyce, this is O.G..  I’m down here visiting my “aged,” and we’re having trouble getting his DSL to work.  I talked to tech support, and we got part of the way there, but then he wanted a social security number.  Well the aged is presently not available.  But I believe the account was actually established by the WS, who is out of the country on a cruise and is not reachable.  And I don’t have either of their social security numbers.  I’m just trying to get the existing service working, is there some way we can do that?”

(Joyce, reading off her caller ID)  “Is this the account at xxx-xxxx?”


“Let me check.  Hang on.”
“Iiiiit’s a Small World aaaf-ter all, iiiit’s a Small World aaaaf-ter all. Iiiiiiiit’s a Small–”
“Mr. G, I don’t find any social security number associated with this account, but you shouldn’t need one anyway.”

“So what do I do.”

“Tell them to put in ‘zero-zero-zero-zero’.”

“‘Zero-zero-zero-zero.’  Right.  Do I have to call them back, or can you transfer me?”

“No, just hang on.  And have a nice day!”
“Ooooh Man-dee.  You came and you gave with out takin’.  But I sent you–”
“Hello, this is xxx internet tech support, I’m Fred, how can I help you today?”

“Fred, this is O.G., account number #####, phone number xxx-xxxx.  I’m trying to get the DSL working for my aged, and when the previous tech and I got to the point of entering the username and password into the router, he asked for a social security number.  Now the person whose name is on the account is unavailable, and the person who I believe set up the account is on a cruise.  I don’t have the social secuity numbers for either of them.  But I just talked to customer service, and they said I didn’t need one for this and to tell you to put in ‘zero-zero- zero-zero.’”

“Well no, for me to give you the password, I have to have the Social. It’s secuity, you know.”

“Customer service just told me that you don’t need it.  What happens if you put in ‘zero-zero-zero-zero’?”

“I just tried that, and it doesn’t work.  And I can’t give you the password unless I have that.”

“Alright. (pause) Is there any way that you can set up a three-way with somebody in customer service, because obviously there’s some confusion here.”

“No, you’ll have to call them back.”

(sigh!) “Okay, thank you.”

“Thank you for calling XXX Telco Internet.  Have a nice day!”

(Short pause, to pour myself a small scotch.  I note that, while I was on the phone, Aged P has arisen from his nap and toddled off to the grocery store.)

“This is XXX Telco Internet Customer Service.  Your call is very important to us, and may be monitored or recorded for Quality Assurance.  Please hold for the next available agent.”
“...aaand she’s climb-ing a Stair-way To Heaven.”
“Hello, this is XXX Telco Internet Customer Service.  My name is Alice; how can I help you.”

“Alice, this is O.G., account #####, telephone number xxx-xxxx.
I’ve been trying to get the DSL for this account turned back on, and am not making much progress.  The first tech I talked to got me to the point of entering a password– I guess for login– and told me I had to have a social security number to continue.
The problem is, I don’t know any numbers:  The person whose name is on the account is not available, and the person who set up the account is out of the country.  So I called back to your department and was told that there was ‘no social security number associated with this account,’ and that tech support should ‘just put in ‘zero-zero-zero-zero’.’  She switched me back to tech support.  They tried that; still didn’t work; they still want a social security number.  Now I’m not trying to order or change any services.  I’m not trying to make any changes in the account.  All I want is to get the existing DSL working.  So, is there a way we can get that done?”

“Well, no.  He can’t give you a password unless he has the social security number– it’s for security reasons, you see.”

“Look, I know you can tell I’m calling from xxx-xxxx, and I have the account number and name...”

“You still need the number, for security.  Maybe you could look on a bank statement or something.”

“And meantime I’m stuck with a stack of your equipment that should to working, but is not.  This is unsatisfactory.  Who I can escalate this to.”

“Really nobody.  It’s policy; They can’t give you a password without the social security number.”

“And in the meantime, we have no service.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Oooo-kay. Thank you.”

“Thank you for calling XXX Telco Internet.  And have a nice day!”

Now pour larger scotch, take a swig.  Then, to the Sibling (who had overheard all this): “You know, I’m a conservative right-winger, but I can sure understand why so many people hate business.”


Epilogue:  Before the Aged P returned from the grocery, the WS called (from a payphone on the pier, complaining that her cell phone wouldn’t work in the Bahamas, and asking whether I’d gotten her e-mail fixed yet).  WS told me where I could find the social security numbers, but, amazingly, actually remembered the password.

Fortunately I had kept notes, so I did not call tech support back, but instead just logged into the browser and keyed in the password.  It worked.

But the whole thing still remained a Pain In The Ass.

[1]  The process of digging out the phone bill goes something like this:  “Where can I find a past phone bill?”  “I don’t know, probably in the desk.”  Dig dig dig...  “This desk?”  (still digging) “I don’t see any.”  “No, the other desk– over there.”  “Oh... (raggle snaggle fraggle fratz!).”  “What?  Did you say something?”  “No, no, nothing! I found one!”

[2]  This is a Silly Geek Joke, not what the screen actually said.  If you need an explanation, start here.

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