The Frustrations of a DSL Buyer

FRAMINGHAM (03/06/2000) - Industry analysts are often caught up with projecting a vision of the future rather than the reality of the present. Take the implementation of broadband services, for example. Digital subscriber line (DSL) was going to be the simple solution that brought inexpensive broadband services to the home and small business. But DSL's potential is being impeded by service provider provisioning incompetence and politics.

My firm has experienced firsthand the complexity and frustration of ordering and implementing DSL. We recently decided to switch one of our offices from ISDN to symmetric DSL (SDSL) and change the provider of our Internet access, hosting and e-mail services. After searching for SDSL vendors in our area, we began vendor and service selection. First we went to the Web and gathered service plan documentation. No two plans were alike, preventing a simple apples-to-apples comparison - good marketing differentiation, but frustrating to the buyer.

Then we began to contact the vendors' sales departments. Frustration now began in earnest. Some vendors neither called back nor replied via e-mail. Some lacked knowledge or understanding of their own Web-based literature. A few were responsive and could explain and differentiate their offerings. We solicited sample order forms from these few for final comparison and chose an ISP.

Selection was based upon vendor quality, availability of service, monthly cost, service plan and features including service commitment level, installation cost and sign-up incentives.

With vendor and service plan selected, what should have been an easy install became hell. The promised due date for the service came and went; our voice and e-mail complaints were unanswered. Finally, we were informed that we had been assigned an account manager - a person who communicated only via e-mail and never gave a straight answer. Our frustration was now due to organizational incompetence.

We were then informed that the ISP had passed our order on to a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC), which was having scheduling difficulties with the local exchange carrier (LEC). In addition, we were told our order was promised for 60-day rather than 30-day delivery. The next e-mail notified us that the LEC had missed its install date. The rescheduled date came and went, yet still we were informed that the LEC installation was complete.

When the CLEC installer finally arrived several weeks later, he couldn't find the LEC termination. An hour of research revealed that the LEC had mistakenly installed the termination in another building in the complex. Luckily, the installer was an ex-LEC employee and able to reroute the termination to our building. But if an operational problem occurs, it will be a diagnostic nightmare to isolate the connection path.

With the DSL installation completed, our ISP service should have been available. Well physically, yes, but logically, no. The ISP had provided the CLEC with incorrect router addresses. Once we resolved the address problem, we had DSL Internet access service on the LAN.

Next we had to move domain names from the old ISP to the new one. Although multiple domains are standard in most ISP plans, we found out that the one we had selected included only one domain. We went back to our ISP sales representative, who told us that because this was an order add-on rather than a new order, we required a new contact. After another series of e-mails, we finally contacted an add-on sales person.

We then discovered that in order to change domain addresses, we had to make a request to InterNIC in conjunction with the ISP. Our ISP sent the base request to InterNIC, which sent a set of e-mails to us for updating and confirmation.

We completed these and sent them back to InterNIC - only to be told that InterNIC could not process the request because it "was not submitted from the appropriate e-mail address." This problem took a while to analyze and correct because we had no idea what "appropriate e-mail address" was originally used to order each domain name. Then it was a simple task to update our LAN e-mail software. Finally, we were able to cancel our old ISDN and ISP services.

The entire effort, not including vendor selection, began with an order on Oct.

21, 1999 and ended with the canceling of prior vendor services on Feb. 16, 2000 - almost four months of frustration for an order that should have taken less than two weeks to fulfill.

Yes, DSL is a better, faster and less expensive way to access the Internet.

Unfortunately, it's saddled with back-office systems that belong in the Dark Ages and politics that may require regulatory oversight. These problems must be addressed or DSL will continue to frustrate everyone.

Dzubeck is president of Communications Network Architects, an industry analysis firm in Washington, D.C.

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