SBC / AT&T Customer Service Rant

Well, it took 2 days, but I did it. I beat the odds. I kicked some butt.

Well, sort of.

A couple of days ago, I noticed that my bloody phone at home wasn’t ringing. For all I know, it could have been weeks since it last rang (I don’t get a lot of phone calls and nobody ever leaves me messages, so I had no real way of knowing). Turns out, this time I was waiting for a call and all that I heard was a short blip on the phone. Weird. I could call out, I could use my DSL line. Everything *seemed* fine. So…tried to report the problem to SBC. Don’t ever try to actually call SBC! Waste of time, especially when the poor schmucks on the phone start reading a script and find out you have DSL. To make matters worse, if you have static IP DSL (like yours truly) matters become impossible. Seems like SBC sold a product they can’t script tech support for. But I digress.

So, I gave up trying to call the phone company. Didn’t work for beans. Instead, got online and reported the problem. Only problem with reporting the problem was after 5 minutes of filling out online web forms, I click the bloody submit button and get the “Server is unable to process your request at this time…” (translation: we’re a phone company, why would you think of using the web to contact us).

Oh, and there is another problem. Turns out SBC charges you $55 for a house call if it is not their problem. But do they actually give you hints on how to diagnose the problem? Nope. That would cut into their revenue stream! So, I spent a good hour completely dismantling my phone system inside my house and isolating it down piece by piece (thank god I created a custom patch-panel years back and a custom phone-line test tool). I couldn’t find the problem, and I was able to get my phone to ring. So, I figured it was SBC’s problem.

After finally getting the problem form to go through, i got a technician out the next business day. And this guy calls me at work and says “it’s your problem”. I say “no way…i’ll be there in 10 minutes”. And the guy was right!!!

Now, here’s the rant section for real. Turns out all that they do is hook up a multimeter to your box and measure the resistance. Take note: 3.5mega-Ohms or greater is a good line. 1.5M-Ohms is kinda the minimum. With this kind of powerful knowledge, the tech and I are able to isolate the problem (a pre-existing line that, in fact, did not go through my patch panel….no wonder I didn’t catch it). Well, as of this point I am out $55 (I figure I’d take the guy to a fancy dinner instead), but we weren’t out of the woods.

So, these SBC guys have one other tool at their disposal. With their super-fancy wireless ruggedized laptops (this particular laptop was missing the “S” and “D” keys, so it couldn’t have been that rugged) he was able to call in an airstrike from the main office. Translation, he could ask the main office to run a line-test and it would report the resistance measurements from afar. Turns out one of my lines was still sub-megaOhm. Worse yet, unhooking my DSL modem did the trick.

Bad news. My DSL modem was working, and had worked for 5+ years. It was an ancient Alcatel 1000 that was configured by a $200/hr type PacBell technician.

So off to Fry’s I go. Find myself a brand new Zoom X5v ADSL modem. I didn’t really need all the features, but it was the only unopened box at Fry’s…..and one should NEVER buy opened boxes at Fry’s.

And here’s where the rant gets even better. Before doing anything, I tried to log into the Alcatel 1000. But after multiple attempts, figured I was locked out from gaining access. This meant that I could not get the settings and would be flying blind (nightmare of biblical proportions). So, down in the basement I sat with my new modem for 3 hours hacking away. Nothing. Nothing and n-o-t-h-i-n-g! I tried every bloody configuration, encapsulation, VCI, VPI setting and everything.

Did I mention I was a static IP subscriber and things were different (aka difficult) to set up? Well, after this three hours, I sucked it up and called SBC. Since it was midnight Pacific time, I got a call center in (gasp) India. The dutiful actress read the script and we got nowhere. At one point the script made her say “have you logged into SBCs help site at help.sbc.net….you will find it quite helpful”. I was too tired to yell at this point and simply explained to her that my network access was not so good at this time and that all the searches conducted on SBC’s worthless help site were in fact worthless after all. Then she says “Have you tried google?”

No joke….the SBC help staff recommends GOOGLE! I could not believe it! My befuddled response was lost in translation….and so I asked her a technical question (to keep her on the phone line trying to find where in her script the Encapsulation settings were located) and began to google. And lo-and-behold I found the first major piece to the puzzle. Turns out Pacbell wired DSL on yellow/black (outer pair) instead of the inner pair (red/green) that is most common now. I ran into the basement, quickly re-wired my junction box and suddenly my new DSL modem had a solid Link light.

But I wasn’t out of the woods. I still had hours of trial and error to work on. Every reboot of the modem took nearly one minute. Did I mention I was in the basement on my laptop this entire time?

Well….and then came the nasty part….when I did get the internet connection working, I could NOT get back to the Zoom Web Control Panel for the modem! This meant that since I was changing so many things I had forgotten some details and HAD TO HARD RESET THE MODEM AND START OVER!

This hard-reset and start over thing went on for several more hours. Finally, at 2am, with settings written down, I had internet connection but no ability to tweak modem (firewall, NAT, etc etc) settings.

Thanks to Zoom tech support though….they had live chat (the next morning) and were quick (24 hours) to respond to my email questions. I only got slightly annoyed once when they asked why I would need to get onto the Web Control Panel once everything was set up. Other than that, they were very good about answering my setup questions. Definitely a recommended brand!!

Anyway, the important puzzle pieces are as follows. In my area (MtView, CA) with old PacBell static IP, it took a VCI/VPI of 8/35 and an Encapsulation of 1483 Bridged LLC (whatever all that means). Make sure you have the jack wired to use the red/green center pair as well. Contact me if you want more details, but suffice it to say that overall it took 10 hours to get this thing online.

So the questions remain WHY IS IT SO BLOODY HARD TO SET UP A DSL MODEM? Why are there so many encapsulations and why do they not auto-discover!?! Why will Pacbell/SBC not simply give out the settings on their web site!?! Why is it so hard to get a Web Control Panel to work on the internal LAN when I’m connected directly to that LAN port!?!

That’s enough for now…looking forward to my Vegas trip now!

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